The best way for the Spring League—whatever it does end up calling itself—to find a long, entertaining, and comfortably revenue producing future for itself is simple enough. It needs to produce a watchable product! It will do this by having good looking teams that play good looking football. Let’s first discuss how to prune the USFL’s tv product, then figure out which of the eight teams need to get the axe if we’re cutting the USFL teams down to six to fit in with surviving XFL teams in the merger.
I’m working with the assumption that the NFL’s broadcasting is the gold standard; that is because people watch it in huge numbers. Last year, the average NFL game got roughly 16.7 million watchers
(https://www.forbes.com/sites/bradadgate/2023/01/12/the-audience-disparity-of-nfl-games-and-everything-else-widens/?sh=4a394183113a)-- we could compare this to the USFL’s own average of 60 thousand views, but that might be unkind. Thus when the Spring League models itself on the NFL, it is doing itself a favor. There might be some good things to come out of its fascination with giving unfiltered access to the football world, but mainly this comes off as gimmicky and unprofessional in comparison to the NFL product.
So: let’s cut down on the following:
-Player and ref cams. These seem like an awesome idea, but they don’t actually show you what those guys are seeing because the camera doesn’t swivel like an actual human eye. So they just show you a confused jumble.
-Gratuitous drone use. Not only does the buzzing make the game irritating to listen to, but they fly so low I’m convinced they’re going to smack a guy one of these days. Cut it out, man.
-Those long periods of booth silence when we’re supposed to listen to the mic’d up guys on the field. The rare times when the talk on the field is both intelligible and family friendly can be caught and isolated and then commented on by the excellent color guys the USFL was able to employ; when all you’re hearing for minutes at a time is grunts, you think something’s broken on your tv.
-Listening to the playcalls. To the uninitiate, playcalls are glossolalia. If we had five minutes between plays for someone to explain what ‘Forty Six Bronco Sweep Left’ means, in layman’s terms, and then show it with a diagram, it might be interesting. Left by itself, it’s unintelligible and therefore irritating.
Once that’s done, we need to think about the play on the field. I’m not saying that the Spring Leagues should attempt to be a carbon copy of the NFL; it can actually prove its worth by being interestingly different in various ways. The way that the USFL did its replays, cutting out the mystery of the situation by letting us hear ol’ Mike Pereira think through the play in question in his definitive way, was brilliant. But there are some variations in play that are, again, merely gimmicky. First, what is the deal with the double forward throw? Unnecessary and impossible to use well. Secondly, the three point play option is an interesting variation, but is way too outside the bounds of normal football to be worth that much (especially with the substandard quarterback play that we’ve gotten in the USFL thus far). I say you lean into your unique and cool overtime rules, and make a three point play contingent on hitting TWO two point conversions. If you convert your first one, you get two points, but you’ll have the option to risk one of those points double or nothing. You see what I mean? Fun but without the desperation of a 4th and 15.
Everybody on the same page? We’re openly copying the NFL in our style unless we’re clearly doing something that’s better or at least an interesting variant (booth reviews and overtimes).
Okay. So. We’ve got eight teams that have played good workmanlike football and we have to jettison two of them. (Sad days, pour one out.) Which should they be and why? Let’s start with the team that absolutely will not be cut and move down the list:
1. Birmingham Stallions. The story of the USFL for the past two years has been the story of the Stallions and seven, mainly interchangeable also-rans. Out of a possible 24 games, they’ve lost 3. They’ve got a great crowd that travels, a great coach, and a uniform that looks clean and strong on the field. Sine qua non or some such thing.
2. Pittsburgh Maulers. Another team with fiercely interested fans, very cool uniforms that are an obvious homage to the other team from town, and a distinctive (sometimes oppressively so) style of play. Plus they’re basically the Canton home team, and it’s totally necessary to keep play in Canton going strong.
3. New Orleans Breakers. ‘Breakers’ sounds menacing, but it’s a pleasing pun with the waves on the uniform. The uniform, with the multiple shades of blue, is one of the best looking things I’ve seen on the football field. Their combined record in the regular season is 13-7; Birmingham accounts for 3/7s of those losses and all of their postseason misery. If Birmingham didn’t exist, this team would be the dynasty of the league. (I’m not adamant they stay in New Orleans, but any costal or river town would work. If this team name and uniform gets scrapped, I’m upset.)
4. Memphis Showboats. One of the cooler off-the-wall type team names I’ve ever seen, and I like getting into a town without a pro team already. Loses points because they’ve been remarkably bad, and also how are you not employing a Mark Twain look alike to smoke a pipe at all your contests?
5. Houston Gamblers. Slick simple uniforms, cool name, and the 80s version of the team produced Jim Kelly. You want to keep that kind of history alive!
6. Michigan Panthers. Snuck into the playoffs, are the only representative of either extant league in the Midwest, and the uniforms are quietly impressive.
And now: the cuts.
7. New Jersey Generals. These uniforms look great, and this team was remarkably good in 2022 (9-1) before falling off a cliff in the offseason (3-7 in a division which produced exactly zero teams with a winning record). The problem is that the East Coast doesn’t really seem to care about their USFL teams, and the XFL’s best team is the equally red and star-using DC Defenders. Makes them redundant! They’re a hard out, but the long farewell to the Generals.
8. Philadelphia Stars. Hideous, electric-ketchup red uniforms. Remarkably bad coaching; rumors of horrible team culture. No one in Philly cares about them. I’m an Eagles fan; I talk to Eagles fans constantly. No one has even heard of this team, which is understandable; they’ve never played closer to the city than Canton, which is almost exactly 400 miles away. They also somehow chose to market themselves with a mascot called Blob, which is a thing I hate so much I’ll write a separate article about it. This is an easy team for the chopping block.