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The Tampa Bay Rays' investment in the Florida Tuskers of the United Football League prompts unfounded paranoia

Matt Silverman’s Rays will host a UFL game at the Trop.

Matt Silverman’s Rays will host a UFL game at the Trop.

One minute, it's a minor football league. The next, it's a major concern.

Say this much for the paranoids of Tampa Bay. They give you a full day's work, don't they?

Sure enough, it didn't take long for the news that the Rays had purchased a minority piece of the United Football League's Florida Tuskers before the conspiracy theorists were gathering on the grassy knoll.

Just like that, it seemed, there were some who were certain this news meant the Rays were moving to Orlando, or that Carl Crawford was being lost to free agency, or that Michael Vick was coming to town on Halloween to shoot all of our dogs.

Well, relax.

It doesn't mean any of those things.

What it means is a baseball team is buying into a curious football league in order to get a curious football game to St. Petersburg. What it means is, no matter how badly the Rays swoon, there will be activity at Tropicana Field in late October. What it means is there will be pro football, at least some version of it, during the Bucs' bye week.

Yippee, one supposes.

Still, the chatter that followed the announcement wasn't exactly Tuskermania, was it?

Almost immediately, there were those who were concerned this was all just a ploy so Rays officials could buddy up to the Orlando politicians in order to get a new stadium over there. And maybe that would work, except that no one in Orlando seems to care about the Tuskers, either. Or, judging from attendance at games in Orlando, the Rays. Frankly, more politicians would rather build that new Tim Tebow ride at Universal.

Then there were those who were concerned this will affect the Rays' bottom line when it comes to their already-limited payroll. But considering the Rays' investment in the Tuskers — less than $2 million — it won't affect it much. You couldn't re-sign Ben Grieve for that.

Then there were those who wondered this: What, exactly, is a Tusker?

For the record, it's a wild boar. Coincidentally, that's what most of us anticipate from the UFL itself.

Here's what the Rays have done. They have purchased the right to hold a professional (sort of) version of college's St. Petersburg Bowl. And if the league lasts into the second year, and the team gets one or two more games in the Trop, they'll make a little money.

Really, that's all this is.

"There isn't a connection between investing in the UFL and the baseball organization of the Rays," team president Matt Silverman said. "The Rays are run as a business, and they'll continue to be run as a business."

Want to know how small the Rays' interest is in the Tuskers? They don't have a thing to say about personnel decisions. That means if the Orlando franchise does end up with Vick — and they have his rights — the Rays won't have anything to do with it.

On the other hand, Vick for Halloween weekend?

There's a weird kind of justice there, isn't there? As long as you don't dress the kids as puppies, it'll probably work out okay.

Still, there are questions:

Does this mean the Rays will want a new stadium that also accommodates football? Yes, but that isn't new. According to Silverman, the Rays' original plans included the possibility of conversion for football.

Does it mean the Rays now have their own version of Manchester United, but given their budget, the Tuskers were all they could afford? No. I'm not a fan of owners with more than one franchise, but the Rays are not the principal owner here (the UFL owns more than 50 percent of all four of its franchises). Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg does not have a lot of capital at risk.

Does it mean the rage against Las Vegas quarterback J.P. Losman should begin immediately? Hardly. There will be a lot better football available that night. For one thing, USF is at home against West Virginia.

Does this mean that Gruden is coming back? Yes. Jay Gruden is the offensive coordinator of the Tuskers.

Does it mean that Pat Burrell is being moved to linebacker? No. Even the Tuskers need bigger hitters.

All chuckles aside, none of us knows whether the UFL is going to survive or not. Not when you consider the WFL and the USFL and the XFL and every-other-FL that has bombed over the years. Not when you consider the UFL is trying to play during the fall, which is kind of like bringing a sandwich to a banquet.

It isn't the most enticing league, is it? Four teams? Six games?

If it helps, think of it like this: The Rays didn't buy a team. They bought an event.

At these prices, all it has to be is interesting for a night or two.

The Tampa Bay Rays' investment in the Florida Tuskers of the United Football League prompts unfounded paranoia 08/12/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 18, 2009 4:28pm]
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