Will minor league football ever be an alternative to the NCAAs?

Published: Thursday, Sept. 26 2013 9:35 p.m. MDT

Big Ten Commish: Let Players Bypass College

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany made his point clear while talking to reporters Wednesday night: NCAA athletics should not be the minor leagues to the NFL and NBA, if players want to get paid to play.

Delany's comments come during a time when major conference commissioners have been calling for NCAA reformation, with the issue of whether to pay college athletes a hot-button topic.

“I can't tell you the NBA and NFL are going to start minor leagues,” Delany said, according to CBS Sports columnist Dennis Dodd. “I think they should. I think it takes more pressure off us. It lets us be who we are. … Why is it our job to be minor leagues for professional sports?”

Is it viable for minor league football to exist where players could bypass college and get paid to play in preparation for a potential NFL career?

The commissioner said that football and basketball could model a minor league system similar to the one employed by Major League Baseball, where an athlete can sign professionally right out of high school.

"Maybe in football and basketball, it would work better if more kids had a chance to go directly into the professional ranks," Delany told ESPN. "If they're not comfortable and want to monetize, let the minor leagues flourish."

The NBA already has the D-League, which has been around for 12 seasons. But salaries in that league remain low; according to ESPN's Marc Stein, D-League remained at $25,000, $19,000 and $13,000 heading into last season for the league's three player classifications.

And while 132 current NBA players have D-League experience, only 13 players who've played in the D-League have won an NBA title.

The NFL, however, has no other feeder system other than college football.

Every year, more than 1,000 football players are cut during NFL training camps as teams whittle their regular-season rosters down to 53 active players and eight practice squad members.

This year, more than 60 players with Utah ties were on NFL rosters entering training camps. Only 34 are on active rosters now.

There have been attempts in the past to set up a pro football league that is complementary to the NFL, itself a merger of two leagues — the National Football League and the American Football League back in 1970.

The United States Football League was around in the mid-1980s for three seasons; the XFL existed for just one season in 2001. Both folded due to financial struggles; former BYU quarterback Steve Young, selected No. 11 by the Los Angeles Express in the 1984 USFL collegiate draft, is still making millions from his contract with the Express.

Two weeks ago, a step was potentially taken in the right direction. The "new" USFL announced on Sept. 13 it will kick off its inaugural season in spring 2015. Work to assemble the league began years ago, but a criminal investigation against the enterprise's former founder involving fraud and embezzlement has slowed the process.

“We have been hoping against hope that we would be able to play football in 2014,” CEO Jim Bailey said on the league's website. “Everything is coming together really well, but it’s obvious we aren’t going to be able to field a league in 2014 without compromising the quality of our product, so we’re going to start play in March 2015.”

The USFL has yet to announce what cities will earn the league's eight franchises in the inaugural season. According to the league, it will focus on cities where demographically there is not a large major sports presence.

A 2012 Associated Press story listed Salt Lake City as one of the cities that could potentially land a franchise.

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