The USFL is coming back. Though we're not sure what it'll look like.
Fox announced Thursday that the ill-fated 1980s football league would be reborn in 2022, though the network didn't offer any specifics. All we know from the Fox release is that the network will broadcast the league's games and that it owns a minority stake in the company that will own and operate the USFL.
“I’m extremely passionate about football and the opportunity to work with FOX Sports and to bring back the USFL in 2022 was an endeavor worth pursuing,” USFL co-founder and current The Spring League CEO Brian Woods said in a statement. “We look forward to providing players a new opportunity to compete in a professional football league and giving fans everywhere the best football viewing product possible during what is typically a period devoid of professional football.”
Fox said the league will have a minimum of eight teams and will "deliver high-quality, innovative professional football." Things like coaches, a schedule, teams, or even host cities for prospective teams were not announced in the release, though the USFL said that it retains the naming rights for original USFL teams.
USFL founded in 1982
The United States Football League was originally founded in 1982 and made it to 1986. The USFL has become a cult favorite for Gen X football fans who remember both the league and the stars that it briefly attracted fondly.
The USFL featured players like Jim Kelly, Steve Young and Herschel Walker during its brief existence as owners of USFL teams tried to outbid NFL teams for star college players’ services.
The league’s demise came quickly after an ill-fated decision to move to a fall schedule. Owners voted in 1984 to move from a spring schedule to a fall schedule in 1986 in an attempt to force a merger with the NFL. One of the owners advocating for a fall schedule and an NFL merger was then New Jersey Generals owner and former president Donald Trump.
That move failed disastrously. The USFL filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL as part of the endeavor and while the USFL won its suit, the league got a whopping $3 when it was ruled the NFL had indeed violated anti-trust laws. Without a huge payday or an NFL merger, the USFL folded.
Spring football's tenuous existence
It's hard to bet on the USFL being anything more than another flash in the pan this time around. Spring football leagues in the United States have found that it's nearly impossible to exist for more than a handful of seasons. Recent leagues like the XFL and AAF have quickly folded after they became reality.
Americans love football, but they love college football and the NFL and they love football in the fall. With the new USFL unlikely to try to compete with the NFL for top-tier professional talent, will it be able to hold Americans' attention in the spring or summer? Probably not.
But that's something the USFL can't worry about now. Given the lack of specifics in the announcement, it's clear that there are bigger things to take care of like finding teams, coaches, players, and facilities before it can worry about other things. You can't worry about people watching games if there are no games to watch in the first place.
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