Pacific Pro Football League: A welcome alternative to the NFL?

For players who aren't yet eligible for the NFL, the Pacific Pro Football League could provide a route to meet financial obligations – without sacrificing their education.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP/File
Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey leaps into the end zone on a 23-yard touchdown reception during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Rice, in Stanford, Calif. in November. His father, former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey, is one of the founders of the Pacific Pro Football League.

The road to professional football is long and financially treacherous. By the time an athlete reaches high school, their families have often footed the bill for thousands of dollars in training expenses. 

In college, though many athletes receive scholarships, the financial rewards are slim, even as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rakes in billions of dollars from the sport. Now, a new league looks set to change that.

The Pacific Pro Football League plans to begin playing games in summer 2018. Its four teams will each sign 50 players who, because they’ve been out of high school for less than 3 years, are ineligible for the NFL draft. These players will receive an average of $50,000 in salary and benefits for each season (8 games) that they play. Since the games will take place over the summer, players will have the opportunity to attend college during the rest of the year, taking advantage of a 1-year scholarship to community college provided by the league. At the same time, they will work with coaches to hone their skills in preparation for the NFL draft.

Both in terms of finances and education, the new league represents a shift away from the typical NCAA model, which sets strict limits on practice time and limits financial benefits. This approach may provide a welcome alternative to the traditional college path for some players.

“It’ll make sense for a lot of young men and a lot of families,” Pacific Pro Football League co-founder Ed McCaffrey, a former NFL receiver, told USA TODAY Sports. “We’re hoping to provide them with that choice.”

The new league may help bring football in line with sports like baseball and hockey, where that choice already exists. Athletes can choose to play in college, or head straight to professional leagues: juniors in hockey, and minor league or independent league baseball. There’s also the option to go abroad: the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews spent a season in Switzerland before becoming eligible for the NHL draft.

One reason these alternatives don’t exist in football: The NFL wants players to have the opportunity to develop physically and mentally before starting to compete, according to USA TODAY. To many people, that kind of development requires going to college.

But according to the founders of the Pacific Pro Football League, there’s another way to achieve even better results. They plan to combine traditional education with professional-level training, geared toward developing these athletes for a future in the NFL. 

"Pac Pro's concept of 'education' is expansive. Every team will have a counselor to help players develop their interests academically and/or vocationally, and assist with coordinating meaningful internships in their fields of interest," Don Yee, a league co-founder who represents New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, said in a statement, according to ESPN.

And because their athletes will be paid and be eligible for sponsorship deals, they’ll have a longer window to cash in on their sporting prowess. That could make all the difference for players and their families. It could bring benefits for the NFL, too.

"Pac Pro Football players will be paid as professionals, treated as professionals, and trained as professionals," Mr. Yee said in a statement, suggesting that the approach will result in “higher quality football players,” CBS Sports reported.

Financing the league remains an issue, with some estimating that it will cost millions of dollars to get the league off the ground. The league is currently looking for sponsors, ESPN reported.

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