WASHINGTON — Ever since the NFL passed college football for overall popularity, the NCAA has operated as a de facto minor league for the pro ranks, honing player talents and providing a talent pool from which the pros are selected.
Now, Tom Brady’s agent Don Yee and former NFL receiver Ed McCaffrey are pitching a semi-professional league called Pac Pro to bypass the oft-criticized amateur collegiate system.
As the name might suggest, it would be based out of Southern California and involve four teams of 50 players, and pay approximately $50,000 to players, with benefits. They hope to get the league off the ground by July 2018, according to the interview by Vice Sports.
“The player population will be players either directly from high school, or up to fewer than four years removed from high school,” Yee explained. “This is a group that has never been professionalized before. Our venture is first of its kind.”
And perhaps there is a good reason for this. The NFL requires players to be three years removed from high school play, claiming that the game is too physical and too intense for younger players. That argument was central to the decision to bar running back Maurice Clarett from joining the Denver Broncos after his freshman season at Ohio State.
Unlike the NCAA and other lesser professional football leagues, Pac Pro looks to market itself as an NFL feeder. It will adopt NFL rules and use NFL regulation equipment. The biggest difference could be an enhanced focus on player safety.
“Some of the ones we’re considering might be to eliminate kickoff and punt returns during games. Another might be to implement more of a man-to-man defense type of game,” Yee explained. “Another might be to look at potentially limiting blitzing—that would enhance safety for quarterbacks, as well as allow offensive linemen to develop in a matchup-type scheme.
“And another might be to look at prohibiting or limiting types of offense plays that use multiple receiver crossing routes.”
Yee and McCaffrey said they have spoken with NFL scouts, who reportedly want to see player athleticism on display. While the game film might not be as complex, it may help top prospects avoid the ever-present risk of injury.
Yee reassured Vice Sports that the group has the financial backing and leadership to make the league viable, but the failures of so many previous pro leagues are enough to cast doubt.
The key will be getting top talent to forgo college football to give the league a try.
“We’re simply going to offer a choice. There’s no question that there is tremendous interest—as evidenced by successful web businesses—in emerging football talent,” Yee explained. “People follow high school football talent and where it goes, and follow that talent earlier and earlier. we’re able to bring aboard really good talent, the fan interest will eventually develop.
“If we’re able to bring aboard really good talent, the fan interest will eventually develop.”