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Au Revoir, NFL Europa

Found this little tidbit on KFFL.

NFL | League to shut down NFL Europa
Tue, 26 Jun 2007 18:46:15 -0700

Jason Cole, of Yahoo! Sports, reports the NFL is expected to cease operations of NFL Europa after 17 years because of increasing costs associated with running the league, according to two league sources. Commissioner Roger Goodell flew to Germany to meet with NFL Europa officials only days after the league's championship game. It is expected the league will take a $32 million loss for this season.

So, the NFL's official "minor league" is no more.  It has ceased to be.  It's expired and gone to meet its maker.  This is an ex-league.  It's a stiff!  Bereft of life, it rests in peace.  It's run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible.

And so forth.  You know where I'm going here.  Snap, snap, grin, grin, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more.

But on a slightly. . .ever so slightly. . .more serious note, this is something of a blow to the league, I would think.  NFL Europe/a has provided the NFL with a decent amount of players over the years, some of whom probably never would have gotten a shot with the big leagues if they hadn't been allocated to the summer league to work on their skills.  Brad Johnson spent some time in NFL Europe (and, based on his performance last year, probably should have gone back this season), as well as some other names like Kurt Warner, Marcus Robinson, and Adam Vinatieri.

With the talk of a new football league coming from the minds (and mouths) of folks such as Mark Cuban, I find it somewhat amazing that there isn't a viable "minor league" for professional football right here in the U.S.  After all, we Americans LOVE the football.  Following the NFL today is a year-round exercise, with the combine and the draft and free agency and training camp and on and on.  Surely the marketing geniuses at the NFL offices could come up with a way to capitalize on this even more. . .right?

To date, there have been two different attempts at an off-season pro football league here in the U.S., both of which ultimately met with their demise, both for different reasons.  The first was the United States Football League back in the 80s.  Now, the USFL got their hands on a lot of big names in their day, including he whose name will never be spoken here (RB, New Jersey Generals), Reggie White (DE, Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars), Jim Kelly (QB, Houston Gamblers), and Steve Young (QB, Los Angeles Express), among others.  The USFL was in operation for three seasons from 1983 to 1985, and provided us some pretty decent football in the time it was around, from what I remember about it.

The other attempt, the Xtreme Football League (XFL), only lasted for one season (2001).  The football. . .well, it was not so good.  It had very few notable alumni. . .those who did make it back to the show after playing in the XFL were QB Tommy Maddox (who actually started for the Steelers for a spell), K Jose Cortez, WR Mike Furrey, S Kevin Kaesviharn, and the one XFL player that everyone will always remember. . .Rod Smart, better known to the masses as "He Hate Me."

Both of these leagues ultimately met their demise for the same reason. . .they wanted to get too damn big, too damn fast.  After 3 years of spring football, the USFL decided they were going to try to compete head-to head with the NFL.  This idea was apparently sponsored by Bad Idea Jeans, because shortly after this decision was made, the USFL folded up the tents.  In the case of the XFL, it seemed that Vince McMahon and NBC, essentially, created a football league to fill a prime-time time slot.  The ratings were abyssmal because the league hadn't established itself as a viable option, and were placed in a prime-time spot that nobody was interested in.

Done properly, I think that a spring football league. . .particularly one with an NFL affiliation. . .could be huge in this country.  There wouldn't be the worry about trying to "compete" with the NFL, or even with college football.  Teams are always going to have players that they'd like to develop, but can't afford to spend a roster space on right now. . .and they'll need some way for those guys to develop rather than sitting on the practice squad.  An NFL minor-league with 8-12 teams located in cities that don't currently have the NFL (Portland, Las Vegas, Detroit. . .okay, scratch that last one) that was fed largely by the NFL teams itself would have decent potential, in my opinion.

The key would be to start small, though.  The best example of this I can think of is the Arena Football League.  Do you know how long Arena Football has been around?  Next month, New Orleans will play host to Arena Bowl XXI.  Yes. . .if Arena Football was a person, they'd now officially be of legal drinking age.  And they're JUST NOW getting a "Game of the Week" on the ESPN family of networks (though there have been regional broadcasts going back a few years) and will have their playoffs broadcast on the network as well (which I encourage everyone to check out).

So, while NFL Europe is no more, I certainly hope that the overall idea for an NFL minor league hasn't been totally cast by the wayside yet.  The NFL is a multi-gazillion dollar operation, and they probably realize that the need for a minor league is there. . .here's hoping they get one put together sooner rather than later.