For the first time in a decade, the NFL is preparing to make a serious run at creating a new developmental league.
CBS Sports is reporting that Troy Vincent, the NFL’s head of football operations, will begin the process of meeting with the Competition Committee, coaches, and the NFL Players’ Association after this season. The Competition Committee has not considered a developmental league in more than 10 years.
Notables ranging from John Madden to Tom Coughlin have expressed support and offered advice on the creation of a developmental league, and the issue now has enough support from notable coaches and front-office personnel to move forward. The NFLPA has not been as effusive in its praise of a new league, but has expressed willingness to discuss options, according to CBS Sports.
Also under consideration: an in-season “academy” designed for players who have been cut or have been out of the league for a relatively short period of time. The academy and the developmental league would offer teams and players a chance to improve skills in a systematized version of NFL football. (NFL Europe, an expansion/developmental league, ceased operations in 2007.)
“We lost a lot of money on the NFL Europe, but there were a lot of things the league did well, and for all of those reasons—coaches, officiating, players, quarterbacks in particular—[a developmental league is] something we really do need to be looking at and studying,” Cowboys CEO Stephen Jones said. “The time might be right to do it.”
Of course, there’s the question of whether fans will rally to these developmental teams, and whether too much football is a good thing. The glut of NFL games is one potential reason for ratings declines; you can watch NFL football three, sometimes four nights a week in the fall. And leagues from the USFL to the XFL have tried, and failed, to make spring football stick.
On the other hand, the need for a developmental league is obvious. NFL teams are trending younger, in large part because general managers embrace a “Next Man Up” theory and happily dump skilled veterans in favor of far cheaper rookies. NFL offensive schemes bear ever less resemblance to the college game, meaning players, particularly quarterbacks, are arriving in the league ill prepared for the demands of a machine already operating at maximum efficiency.
Plus, it’s worth noting that not only the players could benefit from a few extra reps. Referees long derided as unprepared or unaware of the rulebook could get some live game action under somewhat calmer circumstances. And younger coaches could have a go at more time with the headset, perhaps demonstrating to gun-shy NFL teams that hiring a new face could pay off far more than hiring that on-his-fourth-team retread.
If the NFL could swallow its rule-everything-around-us ego and take a more go-along-to-get-along approach with the developmental league, teams could play a role very similar to that of minor league baseball: ensconced in the local community while developing young players with an eye toward the pros. The NFL already prizes the team-above-the-individual approach that characterizes baseball’s minor league teams; a similar approach could pay dividends for the fans in the stands in the springtime, and fans of NFL teams in the fall a year or two down the road.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.