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NFL stars taking American football overseas: A fan’s perspective
A historic movement is afoot to bring American football to one of the most populous countries in the world, and the movement has the backing of some familiar names to NFL fans.
The Elite Football League (EFL) of India is already in the process of training the nation's athletes and coaches in the sport of American football, and its inaugural season will kick off in the fall of 2012 with eight teams competing on Saturdays, Sundays, and Monday nights. The league's first season is expected to run from November of 2012 through February of 2013.
The league is backed by some people who know a few things about American football. Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Mike Ditka, fellow Hall-of-Famer Michael Irvin, former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski, and current NFL linebacker Brandon Chillar(notes) are all among the co-owners of the league.
Ditka's Hall-of-Fame career was with the Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, and Dallas Cowboys, and he coached the Cowboys, Bears, and New Orleans Saints. He won three Super Bowls as a player and a coach. Ditka is part-owner of the Arena Football League's Chicago Rush, who won the ArenaBowl in 2006, and is an NFL analyst with ESPN.
Irvin played for the Cowboys from 1988 to 1999, during which time he won three Super Bowls. He was inducted into the Cowboys' Ring of Honor in 2005 and into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007. He is currently an analyst for the NFL Network.
Jaworski played for the Los Angeles Rams, the Eagles, the Miami Dolphins, and the Kansas City Chiefs. He is currently a part-owner of the AFL's Philadelphia Soul, who won the ArenaBowl in 2008, and is an NFL analyst with ESPN. Jaworski will serve as the EFL's Director.
Chillar has played linebacker for the St. Louis Rams and the Super Bowl XLV champion Green Bay Packers. He is the only Indian-American player in the NFL, is one of the highest paid Indian athletes in the world, and is one of the EFL's founding shareholders.
Fellow founding shareholder, largest investor, and Vice President of Strategic Alliances Richard Scheer—who works with Ditka as the co-majority owner of the Rush—indicates that the league has plans to expand to 45 teams in the next few years.
"I envision that in three years, the EFL will be bigger [in India] than the NFL [is in the United States]," said Scheer.
How is that possible?
Simple. The current estimated population of India is 1.2 billion, and at its current growth rate of 181 million per decade, the country is on pace to surpass China as the most populated country in the world after 2030. By comparison, the current population of the United States is approximately 312 million—roughly a quarter of the size of India.
Sure, there are 1.2 billion people in India, but that doesn't mean that a single one of them cares about American football, right?
Well, you might be surprised.
The Sports Authority of India (SAI) is interested. The SAI is a government entity designed to promote Indian sports and games and to maintain the country's sporting infrastructure. In a country that heavily values mental and physical education, this is an important governing body.
Also important to the government are the thousands of jobs that the league will be creating within India.
In September of 2010, Assistant Director V. Bhandarkar of the SAI Training Centre in Mumbai signed a letter providing playing facilities and any other necessary assistance "for the promotion of American football and…to give technical expertise during the process of screening, assessment and evaluation of sports persons and coaches etc so as to establish a strong base to propagate and develop this premier sports in urban and rural India."
The SAI has provided the EFL with access to the Shri Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex located at Balewadi, Pune. The complex was built for the 1994 National Games, and it was the site of the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games. The Athletics Stadium can seat over 20,000 people and includes flood lights and an eight-lane track. The stadium also hosts matches for the Pune FC.
With a TV contract and facilities in place, the EFL just needs players and coaches now.
That's where the Bombay Physical Culture Association's College of Physical Education comes in. The college is affiliated with the University of Mumbai, and its principal, Dr. G.V. Pargaonkar signed a letter of intent in April of 2011 to work with the EFL in developing players and coaches. The college is also establishing the first-ever college-accredited courses in American football at its facility. Students completing this college program will then be hired offered professional full-time or part-time jobs by the EFL.
With a television contract and facilities in place, the EFL is getting down to business and is off to a fantastic start. They have signed over 1,000 players, coaches, and top athletes from soccer, cricket, wrestling, boxing, athletic volleyball, and kabadi.
Scheer says he regularly corresponds with potential players and coaches in India who are very excited to get the league off the ground. "The players and coaches realize the potential and what it means to the whole India sports landscape," says Scheer. "The individuals that I communicate with on a daily basis are truly immersed in promoting and building the league. It's history in the making that a lot of people want to be a part of."
The eight teams competing in the inaugural 2012 EFL season will be: the Mumbai Gladiators, the Pune Black Tigers, the Delhi Defenders, the Kolkata Vipers, the Hyderabad Skykings, the Goa Swarm, the Punjab Warriors, and the Bhubaneshwar Warhawks.
Those who are interested in learning more are encouraged to "like" the EFL's Facebook page and to stay tuned to their website, www.efli.com. The league can also be found on Twitter at @EFLIndia, and in the United States, fans can text 22828—keyword EFLI—to be added to the EFL's e-mailing list.
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