By Peter Schwartz
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When a player gets cut from an NFL team, his choices are limited. He could catch on with another team, get signed to a practice squad or do something else for a living.
But sometimes, a young player needs to develop before he is ready to play in the NFL. However, there has never been a true developmental league that can give someone the playing time he needs to hone his skills.
Until now, that is.
The brand new FXFL, which stands for Fall Experimental Football League, will debut this September with six teams, including a franchise in New York.
“We’re extremely excited,” said FXFL founder and sports attorney Brian Woods. “I think there needs to be a separate platform to develop younger players. All of the major sports in this country have one.”
As far as the NFL using the NCAA as its feeder system?
“I think that time has come and gone,” said Woods. “I think there is a need for (a development league) and I think that everyone knows that there’s a need for it.”
The FXFL’s inaugural season will last six weeks and the league could expand to eight weeks in 2015. They will play on Wednesday nights so they won’t conflict with college or NFL football. Each team will have 40-man rosters, with the players having an opportunity to get “called up” if an NFL team is interested.
The new league will take advantage of the many quality players who will get cut by NFL teams during and after training camps this summer.
“We’re going to get the best of the best available, work with these players (and) develop them, and we would like to have a structure where players could come and go pretty freely,” said Woods. “The players that come to us are going to play. They’re not going to stand on the sideline.”
The league expects at least 95 percent of the players to come directly from the NFL. They will hold a two-week training camp starting on September 15th, with opening night expected to take place on Wednesday, October 1.
Down the road, the league hopes to get a stamp of approval from the NFL.
“Our ultimate goal is to become the official developmental league for the NFL,” said Woods. “We would like to get an official partnership with them at some point. We’re working toward that.”
Woods and his partners spent plenty of time taking a look at minor-league baseball as well as what the NBA is doing with the D-League. A lot of what they saw will be used in the FXFL, but they are not about to label this as “minor-league football.”
This league is all about developing players for the NFL, but it is not going to make the same mistakes as startup leagues of the past, including the XFL, UFL and even NFL Europe.
“We are not a competitor to the National Football League,” said Woods. “We have a business model that’s sustainable. The NFL has gotten so big that the only way a professional football league is going to co-exist is if it is a developmental league. The National Football League knows that there’s a need for it.”
While the league’s primary mission is to get young players ready for the NFL, it’s not stopping there. It also wants to be a training ground for coaches and officials. The league feels that it can also help the NFL when it comes to proposed rule revisions.
As far as coaching candidates are concerned, the FXFL is looking for those who can help the players get to the next level. The idea is also to get the coaches some experience.
“We want to have guys that are teaching NFL schemes,” said Woods. “We do expect to develop just as many coaches as we do players.”
In addition to New York, the FXFL will have teams in Orlando, Omaha, Portland, Boston and either Memphis or San Antonio. The league will own two to three of the franchises while the other teams will have ownership groups. Those groups, as well as the venues for all of the teams, are expected to be announced in the next few weeks.
The league is also on the verge of announcing a television contract.
“We are actively negotiating right now with a potential broadcast partner, and we do expect to have that in place within the next week or two,” said Woods.
The great thing about going to a minor-league baseball game, say on Staten Island or in Brooklyn, is that you see a player who you just might see at Yankee Stadium or Citi Field one day. The same goes for minor-league hockey. as all three local teams have affiliates in the American Hockey League. You could see a future Ranger in Hartford, a future Devil in Albany or a future Islander in Bridgeport.
Starting this season, you can possibly see a future Knick playing for the Westchester Knicks of the NBA Development League.
And now you just might get a chance to see a guy playing in the FXFL on a Wednesday night and then suiting up for the Giants, Jets or another NFL team the following Sunday.
A true developmental league for the NFL has been a long time coming. There are some players coming out of college that just aren’t ready for the NFL and need game experience, something they won’t get if they are buried on an NFL practice squad.
The FXFL has a smart business plan in place and the NFL knows it. The time is right for a developmental football league, and come September it will be a reality. From there, it could be just a matter of time before the FXFL becomes the official developmental league of the NFL.
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