The acronyms USFL, XFL and WFL are reminders of grandiose ideas that fell by the wayside.
They are among the multiple spring professional football leagues that have failed. The reasons for their demise could fill a conspiracy theorist's encyclopedia.
Now we have MLFB -- Major League Football, which may set up headquarters in Lakewood Ranch and have a franchise in Orlando if the league begins play as planned in spring 2016. It would be bucking history and its finances raise questions about the league's long-term viability.
The United States Football League boasted Donald Trump among its owners and substantial outlays of cash. The XFL was run by professional wrestling magnate Vince McMahon with a reported net worth of about $750 million. NBC televised the league's games.
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The USFL lasted three seasons, the XFL one.
The USFL switched to the fall after three seasons and
folded. The XFL got a little too wild in attacking the NFL, which proved taking on the mother ship of professional football is a colossal mistake.
Frank Murtha, senior executive vice president for MLFB, says his league has learned from the failed leagues' mistakes and won't repeat them.
The biggest difference, according to Murtha, is the MLFB will own all its teams, removing fear an individual owner who wants to win at all costs will raise the salary structure for players. The MLFB also won't take an adversarial stance against the NFL, Murtha said.
The USFL featured several marquee players. Trump's New Jersey Generals employed Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker of Georgia. The league also had Heisman winners Doug Flutie of Boston College and Mike Rozier from Nebraska, and future Pro Football Hall of Famers in Steve Young, Reggie White and Jim Kelly.
The league folded in 1986. The NFL eventually placed franchises in three cities successful in the USFL: Jacksonville, Phoenix and Baltimore.
"The USFL would still be playing, and we wouldn't be having this discussion if they had not moved to the fall," Murtha said. "There was a market for spring football, and our studies show that has increased. Many of the other leagues have not been physically and financially well managed or well capitalized. We are a single-entity form of ownership, and that is the big difference between us and the USFL. We are modeled after Major League Soccer."
MLFB will take advantage of modern technology to attract fans, Murtha said. The 10-team league would operate in cities without NFL teams.
So far, he has franchise agreements in Orlando; Oklahoma City; Norfolk, Va.; Little Rock, Ark.; Birmingham, Ala.; Eugene, Ore.; and Salt Lake City.
"Each team will have its own general manager, perhaps a more limited front office because a lot of sales and sponsorship will be done at corporate headquarters," Murtha said. "It has been determined that all of our players essentially will be paid the same amount, which we haven't disclosed. The quarterbacks may get slightly increased pay compared to others."
Training at Premier Sports
The league will conduct tryout camps in mid-July around the country, and it plans to have an overall talent evaluation in February with all players brought to one place -- which could be Lakewood Ranch's Premier Sports Campus, if MLFB headquarters in Manatee County. The league also is considering holding its training camp for all teams at the Premier Sports Campus in February and March.
After the evaluations, the league draft would assign players to teams. The draft would include regional picks that allow teams to select players from their respective areas.
Elliot Washington, a former NFL agent who is the State College of Florida basketball coach, said there will never be a shortage of players. A former basketball player and head coach at Southeast, Washington has worked with numerous area football players helping them get into college and secure tryouts with NFL teams.
"I definitely think there are plenty of players who are right on the brink of needing more reps playing at a pro-style level, and I don't think they will have problems filling rosters," Washington said. "Manatee and Sarasota counties would spark interest among players. I don't think you would have to look far, and they will likely turn players away. You can only take so many guys in (the Canadian Football League), and the Arena Football League is not standard football."
Because of what is likely to be low pay, the league would be more attractive to players out of college rather than veterans looking for another shot, which raises questions about fan interest.
"For fans here, the question is, are you going to go to Orlando to watch a guy right out of college who didn't make the NFL play quarterback?" Washington said. "The market just depends on how many would be interested -- and if the league gets too gimmicky, the true football fan might be turned off."
There are multiple rule changes from the NFL game being considered by MLFB. They include using nine players on each team for kickoffs and punt returns; quicker time between snaps (25 to 30 seconds compared with 40 in the NFL) and digital technology in the stadiums to allow fans a look inside the huddle.
Paul Maechtle, longtime Southeast High football coach now an assistant at Cardinal Mooney, said nine players on returns would create more scoring because the players would have more space to run. He is not so sure about the league's chances of success.
"Starting a new football league seems like a cyclical thing. Every so often, somebody does it and it's probably about that time again to try it," Maechtle said. "From a competitive and economic standpoint it might be good, but will people come out for that? That is the question. There are players around every place that think they should be given an opportunity to play. Getting players is not going to be a problem."
Each franchise will have a coaching staff and general manager, according to Murtha, who said he has many coaches and staff lined up and ready.
The league has not signed all stadium lease agreements with its cities yet, and MLFB is negotiating with a variety of television networks, though nothing is finalized, Murtha acknowledged.
"Everybody is looking for new content and original programming instead of reruns, and right now all major sports, including the WNBA, are under TV controls through 2018 and 2020 regarding live sports," Murtha said. "The NFL cuts more than 1,100 players each year. We are going to go into training camp with 800 players and those guys were all good enough at least to be considered for an NFL team."
MLFB is dealing with a substantial debt, according to filings with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission. The company reports minimal cash, a working capital deficit of $1 million-plus, an accumulated deficiency of $12.8 million and a stockholders' deficiency of $1,008,757.
Universal Capital Management Inc., which took over MLFB last summer, owes the IRS and the state of Delaware approximately $232,000 for penalties and interest from the tax year ended April 30, 2007, according to SEC filings. It also owes $166,129 to a company that sued Universal Capital Management for nonpayment of services.
Murtha said another report the company plans to file in July will show a totally different picture with the lawsuit debt erased. He said because MLFB is publicly owned, it is required by the SEC to file reports that might not show an accurate picture and he is not allowed to show nonpublic information.
"There is a staged time of raising capital. Our needs for capital are coming to the forefront and without getting into nonpublic information, there will be announcements and documented capital raises, all of which are planned and ready to roll out," Murtha said. "We are going to be more than well capitalized and all those questions will be answered in subsequent SEC filings. Just like a startup company, we might raise a million dollars, then $10 million and $100 million. The report was talking about a particular snapshot in time."
The Manatee County Commission approved a $200,000-plus incentive grant for MLFB, but the league must meet certain criteria such as creating jobs to get that money.
"I can't say whether I would be concerned (about the debt) or not. I haven't seen any of that information," Manatee Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said. "Obviously any of their financial capabilities would concern me, but to be honest at this point nothing is in stone. It's being negotiated and worked out and too early to answer that question."
Ivory Sully, who played safety for the Tampa Bay Bucs in 1985-86 and is MLFB executive vice president for branding and licensing, emphasizes patience. He said being a publicly traded company and owned by the public is important to the league's success.
"We are not looking to get there tomorrow. We have a plan and are willing to go the long road. We are not positioning ourselves to be another NFL or training ground for the NFL," Sully said. "We are an entity for ourselves. However, there will be opportunities for development of our players, and absolutely there is dialogue that we look forward to with NFL in regards to those players."
Alan Dell, Herald sports reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him @ADellSports.