Can Major League Football succeed where so many others have failed?
Over the years, smaller professional football leagues have tried to complement the NFL and establish themselves as a spring developmental league for the best players not in the league, and another one will start that process in the next month in Lakewood Ranch.
Major League Football -- MLFB, for short -- sent out about 500 player contracts this week, with a draft set for next week and training camp for eight as-yet-unnamed teams all together in Lakewood Ranch starting Feb. 16. Can they succeed where other leagues have failed? The league will find out in the next few months.
Frank Murtha, a longtime agent who is MLFB's senior executive vice president, said the league will not have teams in NFL or MLB markets, which would make Orlando a likely match for its Florida presence. The plan is for a 10-game season, starting in April and finishing in late June, with a four-team playoff and championship game. Tickets will vary by market, but the general model should be a $40 ticket. The league will generally follow NFL rules, though they will have a shorter play clock to encourage more uptempo play, and field goals will be worth four points instead of three.
Murtha said the league will pay "more than double" the per-game rate of the Arena Football League, which is $875. All players in the league will carry the same salary, with each team taking 80 players to training camp and reaching a final roster of 45, including a third inactive QB, as well as a small practice squad. Doing the math, even $1500 a game for 10 games with 360 players would mean a league-wide player payroll of $5.4-million, but Murtha said the league "has raised and budgeted significant capital, not just for Year One but beyond."
Wes Chandler, the former Gators receiver who played 11 years in the NFL, is the league's president, and Murtha confirmed several names signed to be the league's first head coaches: former Cowboys coach Dave Campo, who is 68; longtime NFL defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, 68; former Gators coach and Penn State assistant Galen Hall, 75, former Packers and Cowboys assistant Buddy Geis, former Gators and Texans assistant Larry Kirksey and former Falcons quarterback Chris Miller.
The league's eight teams will each select a "franchise" player on Tuesday, then add 40 players on Wednesday through a "territorial" draft, giving the roster a local feel with former area and college players, then another draft Thursday. The league has a TV contract with the American Sports Network, which launched in 2014 and airs primarily college sports, along with some MLS games.
The first player to return a signed contract this week was former Jefferson High and South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia, who has gotten looks in the CFL and Arena league and said he's eager for a chance to continue playing, especially on a regulation football field.
"I'm extremely thrilled -- it's always a blessing to continue playing," said Garcia, 27. "An outdoors league, normal size (field), it should be fun and I think there's going to be a lot of talented. I'm going to give it one more go 'round and try to perform my best. "
Garcia continues to train in Tampa and said he knows of several other players with area ties who will be trying to get jobs in the MLFB, like former Plant and Georgia tight end Orson Charles, who played with the Bengals in 2012-13, former Gators tight end Clay Burton and former Tampa Catholic and FSU receiver Christian Green.