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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Minor League Football and the NFL: Has the Time Come?

With the demise several years ago of NFL Europe and the fact that nothwithstanding the recent influx of more players from the Canadian Football League its format really only benefits skill postion players (i.e., QBs, WRs, RBs, and DBs) in preparing for the NFL, I think its time for the NFL to implement its own minor league system.

Sports fans are familiar with the minor league format of baseball and hockey. To a less organized degree, NBA teams have utilized the Continental Basketball Association and foreign leagues to supplement their teams. NFL teams do not have a formalized affiliation with another professional league in terms of the development of prospects. Based on a format similar to that used in Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League, the following is a framework of a NFL Minor League system ("NFL Minor"):

Teams: NFL Minor would be composed of 8 teams, consisting of two 4 team divisions. 4 NFL clubs will have a direct relationship with one of the eight particular NFL Minor teams (i.e., 32 NFL teams, 4 NFL clubs per NFL Minor team.) Each NFL Minor club would be owned by the NFL, and be located in those cities (as determined by the NFL) that do not have a regular NFL club nor a perennial NCAA Division I college football power.

Allocation of Players: Each NFL club would allocate, after the completion of its NFL training camp, 15 players from its initial training camp roster to its NFL minor affiliate. There would be no restriction on age or years of NFL experience for allocated players.

Management/Coaches of NFL Minor Clubs: To be determined solely by the NFL. The advantage of such a system would be the training of management and coaching personnel for future NFL opportunities, and accelerated implementation of the NFL's affirmative action program.

Roster Determination: NFL Minor training camps would open the Saturday before the first game of the regular NFL season (i.e., around Labor Day). From the initial 60 man roster (i.e., each of 4 teams allocates 15 players), a final 50 man roster would be finalized within 21 days after the beginning of the NFL Minor camps (which is approximately the same day after the 3rd week of the regular NFL season).

Player Salaries: Any player who is allocated to NFL Minor by his original NFL club will receive $4,500 per week (which is lower than the general $5,200 a week for NFL practice squad players in 2010 and generally more annually than the overall average salaries in the United Football league and CFL). Note that any NFL Minor player who is elevated to a regular NFL club during the season (see below) would be paid the regular NFL minimum salary ($320,000 for 1st year players in 2010, etc.) while on the regular NFL club.

Player Movement: Each NFL club would be allowed to bring up one of its allocated players from its NFL Minor affiliated team without said player being subject to a claim by any other NFL club, up to a maximum of 5 times during a regular NFL season. Any attempt to bring up a player after the "5 time rule" is satisfied will not be automatic and will cause said player to be subject to claim by any other regular NFL team via a waiver system similar to the one currently used by the NFL (team with worst record gets first choice, etc.).

Note that when a NFL Minor player is elevated to his NFL Club, the club will have the option to allocate to its NFL Minor affiliate any player that it has to release to make room for the elevated player, provided that the released NFL player is not claimed on waivers per the NFL waiver system (if applicable). Any NFL player allocated to NFL Minor during the NFL regular season will earn the beforenoted $4,500 week NFL Minor salary, unless a different amount was negotiated in the allocated player's regular NFL contract. This is similar to the NHL, where players are given (after negotiation) "2 way" contracts, providing that they make a lower base salary if they play in the minor league system of the NHL club.

A team's allocated NFL Minor player can be claimed by another NFL club (the "Claiming Club") for activation to the Claiming Club's regular NFL roster at any time, subject to the right of the original NFL club, when provided notice of said claim by the rival club, to preclude said claim by electing to activate the player in question to its NFL roster (note the beforenoted "5 time rule" will not be applicable in this situation thereby allowing the original NFL club to be able to retain its NFL minor player even though it has already had 5 call-ups to the regular NFL team to date). If, however, a NFL club elects to activate to its regular NFL roster another club's NFL Minor player and the original NFL club does not elect to activate the same player to its roster, the new (claiming) NFL club must transfer its 7th round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft to the original NFL club (or if the claiming club does not have a 7th round pick in the upcoming Draft then it must transfer its 6th round pick, or if it doesn't have a 6th round pick then its 5th round pick . . . ).

Games: NFL Minor games would be played during the same time as the NFL regular season, except that a 12 game schedule would be implemented and all games would be played on Wednesdays and/or Saturday nights. The intent of this type of format is that fans would be more receptive to an NFL-affiliated league if it were played during football season and at a time (Saturday or Wednesday night) that does not conflict (usually) with college football games. Upon the completion of the NFL Minor schedule (which would coincide with the ending of the regular NFL regular season schedule), a play-off format would involve the top 2 teams in each division playing in the first round of the playoffs (#1 seed in East plays #2 seed in West, etc.), with the NFL Minor championship being played the following week. Note the NFL Minor playoffs would be on Friday nights since the NFL clubs could have playoff games on Saturday during the same time period.

Completion of NFL Minor Season: All allocated players still on the affiliated NFL Minor team would count against the NFL club's 80 man roster for the next NFL season. Any NFL Minor players released during the subsequent off-season would be subject to the regular NFL waiver rules.

The advantage of the NFL Minor system is that it would allow a NFL club to get a "second look" at a player that does not initially make its regular NFL club without actually having to relinquish that player's rights for any such players could be allocated to the club's NFL Minor affiliate. Also, by having the teams play during the regular NFL season and in the U.S., an NFL club would be able to shuffle players between its minor league affiliate and the NFL club in a manner similar to the system used by MLB and NHL clubs. Unlike the Canadian and Arena Football Leagues, the NFL Minor player would also be playing with the same set of rules and conditions that are used in the NFL. Finally, by locating NFL Minor teams in U.S. cities that would be identified by the NFL as being receptive to NFL-affiliated football, the operating cost of the league should be less that the NFL paid to maintain NFL Europe.