So today was the first time that I had ever heard any rumors that the NFL was considering starting up a developmental or minor league. Now the idea seems crazy no matter what way you spin it. It would be interesting to see it work out nicely and fill a similar role to what minor league baseball does. However, I don’t think that is the case. There are a couple of gaping flaws in the advent of minor league football.
First thing is first. The NFL is all about money. That right there will likely turn them away from the deal. Unless the league suddenly decides to sacrifice money for the development of the game, (not to say it is impossible and that there are not efforts to make the game safer) there is no way a minor league will pop up. I don’t foresee this as a huge attention grabber. It is hard enough to get fans in different cities with a professional team to go see games (ex: Jacksonville and Miami). It will be that much harder to sell cities on going to see a lower level of play. Not to mention you have to find stadiums for these teams to play at. Maybe you can work out deals with small colleges or larger high schools to use them over the summer but once again that is more money spent.
The other major issue I find with this idea is the effect it would have on the college game. NCAA football has a massive following and for the most part a well structured business model. I only see this minor league hurting college football. It would give the players the option to walk away from college even earlier and join the NFL. That really benefits no one as more players would be leaving without a degree. The average NFL career lasts is debated but is likely somewhere around 5 years. After those five years are up…then what? These kids won’t have a degree to fall back on and then they are out in the real world without much they can do to sustain themselves.
Then there is the aspect of the college game. College players cannot get paid when they are at their respective universities but they would be paid to play in an NFL D-league. With such push to get paid as college athletes, many of these kids could take the easy way out and just go to the D-league where they are guaranteed pay. That decreases the talent pool in college football and heavily takes away from development in my opinion. These kids can learn a lot by playing in college. They learn schemes and coverages and how to read the two as well. The coaches in the college game are top notch and I don’t see too many of them leaving to go coach in a second tier professional league. That being said, who would be the ones teaching these kids at the minor league level? And would they really be learning any more at that point than they would playing in college? I just don’t see this as being a way to teach players.
The last thing I want to touch upon is player safety. The NFL has been fighting to get more games into the schedule while the NFLPA has been pushing back in support of better player safety. I see this becoming another fight between the two sides. Playing in minor league games during the off-season would inevitably lead to more injuries. That is not what the NFLPA is looking for and it is not what players are looking for. They don’t want to run the risk of injuring themselves during a preseason game much less a minor league game. I think you will have a tough time promoting player safety if this league comes to fruition.
Now, this is all just my initial take on this. There could be development in the coming months that would offer a much better outline for a NFL D-league. They were mildly successful once with the creation of NFL Europe. It is possible they could do it again. But under the current circumstances and how I foresee this playing out, I do not like the idea.