NEW HAVEN, Ct. — Every popular sport — be it football, baseball, or basketball — openly talks about how their given profession is a game of numbers. Let’s take a quick look at the numbers involved in college and pro football
Every year at the end of a college football season, nearly 3,500 players from all collegiate levels in the United States work to make themselves become eligible for the chance to play professional football.
There are roughly 1,700 players that are on active NFL rosters every season. This doesn’t include another group of over 200 players on any club’s eight-man practice roster as well. At the end of their season, there are only about 350 new jobs available when a new season begins.
Those numbers we speak of usually come to a head every April at the Annual NFL College Draft in New York. This year, 255 players were picked by the 32 teams with another handful of players being signed as free agents.
Despite that and coinciding with the demise of NFL Europe earlier in the year, that still leaves a very huge number of talented collegians and players with some professional experience on the outside looking in.
The newly formed All-American Football League — which is slated to begin play in April of 2008 — is looking to carve its own niche into America’s seemingly year-long obsession with the sport of football.
While the basic concept of the league is somewhat of a cross between NFL Europe and the USFL, the AAFL is looking to hopes to tap into a “pent-up demand” during the NFL off season by tying it into college sports.
Teams will be located in high-profile non-NFL markets like Alabama and Arkansas, along with Florida, Texas, Michigan, and Tennessee, and will feature former players for those schools and others.
“In no way are we trying to compete with the NFL”, said the league’s chief operating officer Keenan Davis. “We are clearly trying provide our fans with an opportunity to see great players like (Florida) Chris Leak, (Nebraska) Eric Crouch, and others play again.”
“If they (players) use this league as a springboard to get back to the NFL, that’s fine. If they never play another down in the NFL, that’s fine too. That’s really not our concern or focus right now.”
Both Leak and Crouch are among many players who have signed contracts with the newly-formed venture. The league has held several local and national tryout and combine camps over the past few months.
The only major requirements for all players is that they must have a college degree and have used up all of their college eligibility.
Most importantly, Davis — a former NFL official who has accumulated an extensive football background on and off the field — feels that there is an untapped reservoir of quality players available for the AAFL.
“There are so many talented players out there that don’t get the (professional) opportunity to play either because of politics and systems”, Davis added. “Most of the time, it’s not because of the players’ skill. At least 500 or so players every year very well could have been the 500 players that got an opportunity in the NFL.”
The teams will open training camps in March in Mobile, Alabama with 60 players. Following camp, teams will then be slashed to a 42-man regular season roster along with a four-man taxi squad. The 10-game schedule is slated to begin in April.
At least a minimum of 10-20 players must be from a state school or a surrounding school. For example, Team Florida will include former Gators, Team Arkansas will include former Razorbacks, and Team Texas will include former Longhorns.
This will also include nearby HBCU’s as well. For example, former Florida A&M players would be eligible for Team Florida while Alabama A&M and Alabama State alums will be eligible for Team Alabama.
To also use their tie-in with the colleges, some AAFL teams will be hosted by universities will be hosted by Division I-A programs while other will play in independent venues. Among the noted college venues already committed to hosting a squad is Legion Field in Alabama and Neyland Stadium in Tennessee.
The AAFL has also partnered with the National Football League Officiating Program to provide training sessions for all coaches on AAFL playing rules and regulations during training camp.
The NFL will also provide officiating crews for all 30 AAFL regular season games, two playoff games and the championship game.
It’s no surprise that the league’s relationship with college football is also beginning on the right foot. The AAFL’s chairman of the board is former NCAA president Cedric Dempsey.
Other league board members include former ACC commissioner Gene Corrigan, former Tennessee athletics director Doug Dickey and former Kentucky president Charles Wethington.
Davis added that ongoing talks for television coverage are still being negotiated as well. So far, the national and local media have given the AAFL very favorable coverage.
Salaries have been reported to start anywhere from $50,000 to $70,000, which is much more than any pro league in North America or Europe, with the exception of the NFL.
“The bottom line is that, we’re going to be good for the game of football”, Davis said. “Our greatest marketing tool is to work with schools like a University of Alabama or a University of Florida and have a professional football league that will help generate and increase their graduation rates.”
“By virtue of what we will be requiring from all of our players, kids will be more motivated to attend and stay in school. The bottom line is that the majority of football players who go to school do it to eventually play professionally.”
“Now with the AAFL, we’re telling them that even if the NFL isn’t there, you can still make some very good money in 10 weeks by playing the game you love and in a high quality, professional atmosphere.”
Given its immediate vision, the AAFL appears to be a idea long overdue for both players and fans of football. Davis added that several other schools have inquired about being a part of the league’s future.