Football's Old College Try
A startup professional league hopes to capitalize on Florida's passion for college football.
A few years ago, when the organizers of the All American Football League kicked around the idea for a new football league, they realized they’d need Florida to make it work. The spring league, rather than placing franchises in major cities, focuses instead on college football “hotbeds,” especially those in the South. The league will kick off its inaugural season this April.
Chris Leak, starting quarterback of the Gators’ 2006 national championship team, will play on
the Florida AAFL team. [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]
Florida’s AAFL team, based in Gainesville, will play three of its home games at the University of Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and one each at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium and Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. The season opener, on the road against Michigan, is scheduled for April 19.
The league’s six teams, which include Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas, will be stocked primarily with former college players from their respective home states. Florida’s team, for example, will include “at least one player from every football-playing university” in Florida, says Wayne McDaniel, the team’s president and former executive director of UF’s Alumni Association.
The league’s most notable signing so far is Chris Leak, the starting quarterback of the Gators’ 2006 national championship team. The Florida team’s coach is Shane Matthews, another former Gators quarterback.
The league’s business plan, however, doesn’t depend entirely on nostalgia and old-school alliances. Each team will operate under a salary cap: Top players can earn $100,000 for the 10-game season, while most will be paid $50,000. Rosters will be limited to 42 active players. The league will also have a single owner, Marcus Katz, a longtime football fan who made his money in the student loan business. “A single owner means business efficiencies like a single human resources department and a single group of legal advisers,” Klosterman says. “Costs can be contained that way. It’s a very effective way to run a business.”
By playing in the spring, the AAFL will not compete with the NFL or college football. Klosterman says the AAFL won’t follow the plan of the USFL, a spring league in the mid-1980s that folded after three years. “Our league will stay in the spring unlike the USFL, which decided in year three to move to the fall and compete with the NFL,” he says. “We have no intention of doing that ever.”
Other Notable Players on AAFL Teams
» Eric Crouch, the 2001 Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Nebraska. Drafted by the St. Louis Rams, he played sparingly in the NFL. He was drafted by the AAFL’s Texas team.
» Peter Warrick, a former Florida State wide receiver. Drafted fourth overall in the 2000 NFL draft, the Bradenton native played for the Cincinnati Bengals and Seattle Seahawks. He’ll play for Florida.
» Clint Stoerner, a former quarterback at the University of Arkansas and the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. He’ll play for Arkansas.
» Willie Jackson, a former Gators wide receiver who played for five NFL teams, including the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was drafted by Florida.