COVID-19 Sacks The Spring League, Need Continues
The 2020 version of The Spring League (TSL) might be better named The Shoestring League.
The TSL began in 2017 to "serve as an instructional league and showcase for professional football talent." While promoted as an “elite developmental league,” it only began operating as a league this season. Previously, TSL operated as a series of practices and round robin games amongst four teams under the guidance of renown coached and before professional football scouts.
The road to professional football is extremely difficult. It is reported that only 6.5% of high school players make a college team. And only 1.2% of those on a college team will be drafted by an NFL team. And for the ones fortunate enough to make a pro roster, the average career lasts only 3.3 years. TSL is designed to improve those odds.
TSL’s business model is a bit precarious and, perhaps, predatory. It depends heavily upon the player’s love of the game and deep desire to advance to the next level. Players, or their agents, pay up to $2000 plus expenses to participate. Additional revenue has been obtained from State economic subsidies, television revenues, and special contracts.
The league earned passing grades as a developmental league. NFL scouts found value in new looks at players that may have originally escaped their view; however, some of the players were long in the tooth to start a professional career.
TSL saw opportunity in 2020 with the financial collapse of the XFL and the Alliance of American Football, and the suspension of the Canadian Football League due to COVID-19. The TSL took the leap and became a full-fledged league, playing in a bubble at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.
But would a COVID bubble work on a shoestring budget?
The pandemic caused some players to pass, fearing a risk to their health. This had a negative effect on a league dependent upon fees paid by the players. Reduced fees created apparent cashflow constraints, causing delayed payments to coaches, forcing coaches to contemplate a walkout.
The pandemic also caused scheduling challenges. The voluminous Alamodome, which is usually used for football stadium type activities, was now an ideal venue for smaller, socially distant events like ice skating. This forced the movement of game s to a nearby Division II college football field.
Ultimately, COVID infected the league, forcing the cancellation of the season in Week 4, the final week.
The United Football Players Association (UFPA) issued a poorly worded press release criticizing TSL. The validity of the UFPA must be questioned. The Association does not have a functioning website, has a LinkedIn presence with only 33 followers, has been on Twitter only since June 2020, and has merely 228 followers with 92 tweets. Further, the UFPA seems to be an outlet for XFL New Hub, the only entity to publish news from the UFPA.
Despite the hard feelings that naturally come in a situation like this, many players left San Antonio very positive. Here are some of their tweets:
- Reggie Gallaspy Jr. - Thank you @TheSpringLeague for giving me an opportunity to play the sport i love once again. Sadly, the unfortunate happened but just knowing you guys did everything you can to make sure everyone had an opportunity makes me blessed and grateful! Alpha Dog Out!
- Mathew Sexton - Thankful for the opportunity you guys provided me! Great to be able to suit up again, meet some great people and put some great film on the field. We are living in weird times right now and this gave me some serious film that I needed. Can’t be more grateful
- Ty Schwab - Covid out here messing everything up but I’m always grateful at an opportunity to ball and have nothing but positivity towards The Spring League. It helped me sign to the AAF, the XFL, and possibly sign again in the near future. Thankful for @TheSpringLeague.
The Spring League may not have gotten it right because of COVID-19, but neither have some NFL and many NCAA Division 1 FBS teams.
Football needs a developmental league like The Spring League, just as other professional sports leagues do. But for developmental football to succeed, it must first be embraced the way Major League Baseball has adopted Minor League Baseball, the way the National Hockey League has welcomed the American Hockey League, the way the National Basketball Association has supported the NBA G-League, and the way Major League Soccer has accepted the United Soccer League.
The ball is in the hands of the National Football League. It’s time to welcome developmental football as a partner, not as a nuisance or a threat.