Of the four major sports organizations in the United States, the National Football League remains the only one without any affiliation to a minor league. College football programs have served as the unofficial “farm system” since the NFL’s inception.
The NFL’s lack of a developmental system has left some talented athletes without an opportunity to prove their capability to play the sport. Some players lack the interest in studying at college for years while also being involved with football.
Frankly, there are young men who lack the aptitude to take a full-time load of college courses and pass them. Others waste that chance due to disciplinary problems. Reliance on college football programs to develop and showcase future professionals has shortchanged too many potential team members.
A solution to this situation exists. The NFL should revive its international minor league which it started in 1991 then switched to solely European from 1995-2007. Additionally, the NFL should establish a formal agreement of subordination by the Canadian Football League. The NFL has financially supported both leagues in the past. It is time to make both NFL Europe and the CFL the formally recognized “farm leagues.”
This proposed affiliation will require some changes to the CFL. First of all, this league would have to implement the NFL’s rules for all of its games, scrapping the different rules existing in Canada. Secondly, one of the nine current CFL franchises will have to be eliminated. Seven of the current Canadian franchises are based in the 12 largest cities. The outlier, Saskatchewan, is based in Regina, the 35th-largest city. Sorry, fans of the Roughriders, your team has to be folded.
The reincarnation of NFL Europe would include both new and previous franchises. The popularity of football stood out most notably in Germany. Accordingly, franchises would be placed in the four largest German cities. Three of those, Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne, previously had teams in NFL Europe. Munich would be the newcomer to round out an all-German division. In the other European division, three former members (Amsterdam, Barcelona and London) will join Paris in a Western European division.
Each NFL franchise would have to share a tie-in to one of the 16 minor league teams. Every developmental franchise would have connections to a team in the NFC and to another in the AFC. All of the NFL teams would hold the rights to 25 players not on their active roster of 53. Those 25 would combine with the 25 of the other NFL team affiliated with same farm team.
The 16 teams would be divided into two conferences: Canadian and European. Each of those would be split into divisions: Eastern and Western. The Canadian teams would remain in the same alignment as they currently are. The four Germany-based teams would comprise the Eastern European Division while the other four European teams would be placed in the Western Division.
The schedule would include 12 regular-season contests starting in late March. It would have each team playing the other three members of its division, once at home and once on the road. Additionally, each team would face the other members of its conference, two of those games at home and two on the road. Finally, in the middle of the season, inter-conference matchups would occur, one at home and one on the road, for each team.
The postseason would include half of the franchises. The divisional winners would host a wild-card opponent with seeding based on the NFL’s tie-breaking formula. The winners of those games would face each other for their respective conference championships. The revived World Bowl at a pre-determined site would pit the Canadian champion versus the European champion. The season would end around the start of NFL training camps with minor league players available if their parent club decide to invite them to participate.
Here is how all of the NFL teams would be paired and where their minor league affiliates would be located.
Amsterdam: 49ers and Jets
One team is from city the formerly known as “New Amsterdam.” The other team is based in a city also known for its libertine attitude.
How about some geographic commonalities? Amsterdam is seven feet below sea level, built on land reclaimed from the North Sea. The Jets play their home games in a naturally marshy area known as the Meadowlands. For decades, the 49ers welcomed opponents to a soggy venue on the edge of San Francisco Bay derisively known as “Candle-swamp Park.”
Barcelona: Cowboys and Texans
The Cowboys pioneered Spanish language radio broadcasts of their games in Mexico. That bolstered their fan base south of the border. Could they expand that concept into Spain as well? The additional tie-in with the Texans means Barcelona’s franchise would draw plenty of interest in the football-obsessed state of Texas.
Berlin: Bengals and Falcons
Berlin and Atlanta have drawn in residents from all over their respective countries and from all over the world. Both survived utter destruction during wartime yet rebounded thoroughly. Each city has experience in losing an a monumental scale with much of the world watching and victory seemingly within their grasp (World War II and Super Bowl LI).
In the 1800s, Cincinnati became the destination of many inhabitants of Prussia, the German state in which Berlin is located.
Calgary: Broncos and Rams
The equine nicknames of Stampeders and Broncos look like an obvious marketing opportunity. Could the site of the world famous rodeo/Wild West event share a common bond with originators of the Western film genre? The Calgary Stampede meeting Rodeo Drive should produce enough culture shock for a blockbuster comedy.
Cologne: Buccaneers and Colts
The home of the Gasparilla Festivals is matched with the site of Karneval. The site of the iconic open-wheel automobile race is a kindred spirit of a German city that hosts prominent horse races.
Edmonton: Cardinals and Raiders
For a franchise located in one desert city and another on the verge to relocating to another one, Edmonton may not appear as the logical choice. However, practicing and playing in a cooler climate in late spring and early summer would be a reprieve for the developmental players.
Hamburg: Bears and Browns
All three cities are located near bodies of water known to produce harsh wintry weather. Games in Hamburg early in the season would serve as ideal training for those in November and beyond in Chicago and Cleveland.
Hamilton: Eagles and Steelers
If the Pirates are struggling, might Steelers fans be willing to trek four and a half hours or so to watch football? Tying both NFL franchises in Pennsylvania to the team in Hamilton would ensure some interest across the Keystone State .
London: Jaguars and Panthers
The Jaguars already have a presence in London with an annual “home game” there. It only makes sense to place their farm there as they seek to grow their international fan base.
The English founded the Province of Carolina in 1629, named for King Charles I. The city of Charlotte, home of the Panthers , was named for the wife of British King George III. Both serve as the historical basis for the tie between the Panthers and London.
Montreal: Lions and Patriots
Detroit and Montreal are both hotbeds of hockey. Both cities were founded by French explorers. The cities’ flags contain a fleur-de-lis. Could any those serve as a bond of comradery?
Proximity between New England and Quebec justify this connection. Would there be interest among Patriots fans who do not care about the Red Sox?
Munich: Packers and Titans
The team from the American state known for its beer and sausages should be aligned with a German state known for the same. Would the Packers send some of their fans to Bavaria in order to teach the locals how to tailgate?
The team from Music City would be aligned with the city where renowned composers such Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss and Carl Orff composed and performed for segments of their careers. Such a clash of cultures should lead to interesting choices of in-stadium music before, during and after games.
Ottawa: Ravens and Redskins
The team in the American capital having its affiliate in the Canadian capital shows consistency. A tie-in including the Ravens would mean more people in the area in and around the District of Columbia are paying attention to what is happening in Ottawa.
Paris: Dolphins and Saints
The nation that originated the fleur-de-lis should logically be affiliated with the team that uses it as its logo. That link could help bridge a cultural gap. Sean Payton could fly to Paris and help with player development. With his frequently testy demeanor, he would blend in among the Parisians seamlessly.
Miami and Paris are both cosmopolitan cities that lure visitors in huge numbers every year. Some of those tourists from across the world eventually become residents, lured in by the charm of each metropolis. This influx continues despite glaring drawbacks of each locale: hurricanes causing flooding and wind damage in Miami as well as frequent labor strikes and ill-tempered locals in Paris.
Toronto: Bills and Giants
The Bills have moved several home games north of the border during this century. Having their minor league affiliate less than 100 miles away makes sense as well. One could expect plenty of fans in western New York to make the short drive north to see potentially future Bills in action.
Pairing a team from the largest city in the United States with the largest city in Canada seems appropriate. Maybe some football-starved fans in the Big Apple will tune in to games of their affiliate in Toronto.
Vancouver: Chargers and Seahawks
If the Mariners are slumping, Seattleites might want to watch some components of their football team’s future. They could head north less than 150 miles for an early taste of football.
There would be a noticeable downside to assigning the Chargers’ developmental players to somewhere more than 1,200 miles away. Upon joining their NFL parent club, the young guys would find out the sad truth. More people cared about their games in a minor league than do as “that other football team” in Los Angeles.
Winnipeg: Chiefs and Vikings
Winnipeg is approximately 70 miles away from the Minnesota border. Vikings fans could easily cross the border to see how their farm team is faring. Chiefs fans would face a longer trek but they are surprisingly devoted enough to make the journey.
The NFL would benefit from this venture. It would increase interest in its product outside of the United States. These games would provide some live programming for the NFL Network during the offseason. Players who slipped through process toward football stardom would have another shot at proving themselves. It would be a win for everyone.
— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com.