Sunday, October 30, 2011

Spring Football Might Work for UFL, But Not in Omaha

Crowds like this can't be
accommodated in the spring.
The UFL is currently exploring all alternatives they can to survive into 2012, though their latest idea probably won't work in Omaha. Rather than trying to compete with high school and college football, the UFL is considering switching to the spring, ala the USFL and XFL.  The idea makes sense in many other markets where the league isn't getting the exposure they need...but not in Omaha.  Don't get me wrong, I think Omahans would flock to professional football no matter what season it is.  The problem isn't the fans, but the logistics.  Where would the Omaha Nighthawks play in a spring season?

I don't think TD Ameritrade Park would be available for football. The new downtown ballpark was built first and foremost to support the College World Series, and keeping the NCAA happy is job one.  I can't imaging the NCAA being supportive of football games being played in April and May on the same field, wearing out the turf. Heck, if you saw tonight's Philadelphia/Dallas game, you noticed that they've already had to resod the middle of the field...and it's only October.  Football puts a lot of wear and tear on a field, and the NCAA wants their event played in as pristine of an environment as possible.

Football in July and afterwards is fine; new sod can be laid down in the fall, and repairs can be made in the early spring, with plenty of time for it to grow and mature before the Series begins in mid-June.  So football downtown would be out, so where else could the Nighthawks play?  Probably the best option would be UNO, where Al Caniglia Field sits mostly idle.  But the capacity of UNO's field is under 10,000, though it is possible to add bleachers to extend the capacity to 15,000.  UNO also lacks the skyboxes and other amenities that would make football a better revenue generator.  And let's not forget that UNO football itself was financially unsuccessful there as well.

Spring football is at best a gimmick, in my opinion. Arena football makes it work, but I don't see anything else working. We've seen it tried before...and it's failed.  In my opinion, the only option the UFL has to become viable long-term is some sort of partnership with the NFL. Apparently the UFL once rejected a bid by the NFL to buy 51% of the league.  Oops.

Bring in the NFL as a managing partner is step one to rescuing the league. The schedule shenanigans this season destroyed the credibility of the league with many fans and players.  I don't know how much credibility the current management of the league still has, but the NFL brings instant credibility.  Expand the league to eight cities, and let NFL teams send players from their practice squad to the UFL for development.  When mid-season injuries pop-up, the NFL teams can recall players back from the UFL, just like they do in the NHL and Major League Baseball.  It's a system that makes the NFL a better league because the reserves are in football shape.  Start training camps Labor Day weekend, after the NFL does their final cuts.  Begin playing games late September, and finish up around Thanksgiving.  Play games on Thursday and Friday nights in college hotbeds, and on Saturdays in markets without college football.  Broadcast games on the NFL Network, and promote them as a place to see the young quarterbacks that an NFL team drafted.

But just say no to spring football. It might work in Sacramento and Las Vegas...but not in Omaha.

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