Following in the footsteps of the short-lived Alliance of American Football (AAF) and, more recently, the relaunched XFL, the United States Football League (USFL) is set to become the latest professional football league to try and fill the NFL-sized hole for fans when it begins play this spring.
While neither the AAF nor XFL even made it through a full season, the USFL is hoping a dose of nostalgia combined with solid financial banking and solid broadcast partners will produce different results when the league opens its season in mid-April. Here is everything you need to know about the new iteration of the USFL.
This is not the first edition of the USFL
The original USFL lasted three seasons (1983-85), and it did not lack for talent. Three consecutive Heisman Trophy winners signed with the league directly out of college — Herschel Walker, Mike Rozier, and Doug Flutie. In addition, several future Pro Football Hall of Famers got their starts in the USFL, including Reggie White, Steve Young, and Jim Kelly. Hall of Fame coaches Marv Levy and George Allen are part of the league's history, as is executive Bill Polian.
While the league shares its name, there is no legal connection between the original and this new entity. The new USFL has acquired most of the original league's trademarks, so the team names will look very familiar to those who remember it.
What happened to the original USFL?
Originally a spring/summer league, the USFL planned to directly compete with the NFL for its 1986 season by moving games to the fall, a strategy that was championed by a group of owners led by future President Donald Trump, then the owner of the New Jersey Generals. However, that never came to fruition as the majority of the existing franchises ceased operations for financial or other reasons following the 1985 season and the league shut its doors completely in August 1986.
The USFL also took the NFL to court, filing a landmark antitrust lawsuit against the league with the main claim being the NFL had established a monopoly with respect to television broadcasting rights. The case went to trial in April 1986 and was highly publicized. The six-person jury eventually handed down a verdict that handed the USFL a win but ultimately spelled its doom.
The jury declared the NFL a "duly adjudicated illegal monopoly" but rejected the USFL's other claims, including that the older, more established league did not attempt to prevent its competitor from securing television rights. In essence, the jury said that while the USFL was harmed by the NFL's illegal monopoly on professional football, the league's issues were more a result of its own mismanagement. The USFL was awarded damages that eventually totaled $3.76. After staking its future on the outcome of the lawsuit, hoping to secure a sizeable settlement that would finance the league's operations moving forward, the owners voted on Aug. 4, 1986 — four days after the verdict was announced — to suspend the 1986 season. Even though the league intended to return the following year, it suffered more financial and court-related losses and never resumed operations, officially dissolving in 1990.
Who is in charge of the new USFL?
FOX Sports, one of the league's broadcast partners, owns the league, along with co-founder Brian Woods. FOX Sports also has reportedly committed $150-$200 million over three years to help finance the USFL's operations.
Woods is no stranger to football leagues. He initially launched the Fall Experimental Football League, a minor league that was focused on development that played two seasons (2004, '05). After that, he started The Spring League, a developmental and scouting event for aspiring professional players that began play in 2017. He served as the league's CEO until 2021. FOX Sports also owns an equity stake in as well as the broadcasting rights to The Spring League.
Woods is the new USFL's President of Football Operations with Daryl Johnston, former Dallas Cowboys fullback, a three-time Super Bowl champion, and longtime color commentator, as the executive vice president. Longtime NFL referee and current FOX Sports rules analyst Mike Pereira is the head of officiating, and Edward Hartman is EVP of business operations. Hartman also will continue to serve as SVP of digital partnerships and wagering at FOX Sports.
How many teams are in the new USFL?
Eight teams split up into two divisions will make up the new USFL. All the teams carry the same name as those from the original USFL. Here's how the league looks
New Jersey Generals
New Orleans Breakers
Tampa Bay Bandits
Related: Grading the USFL Uniforms
While all the teams will be based in the city/state that their name comes from, one of the unique aspects of the new USFL is that the entire season will be played in Birmingham, Alabama with the recently opened Protective Stadium (seats 47,100) and historic Legion Field (71, 574) serving as the venues. The league is hopeful that teams will play in their own markets starting next year.
Who are the head coaches?
Many of the eight head coaches should be familiar to NFL and college football fans. The head coaches are Bart Andrus (Philadelphia Stars), Larry Fedora (New Orleans Breakers), Jeff Fisher (Michigan Panthers), Todd Haley (Tampa Bay Bandits), Skip Holtz (Birmingham Stallions), Mike Riley (New Jersey Generals), Kevin Sumlin (Houston Gamblers), and Kirby Wilson (Pittsburgh Maulers).
Related: Meet the USFL's Head Coaches
What about the players?
Each team will be made up of a 38-man active roster with a seven-man practice squad. The inaugural draft was held Feb. 22-23 with camps set to open on March 21. The draft was unique in that it lasted 35 rounds across two days (280 players total) and was broken down by positions.
Quarterbacks went in Round 1, followed by edge rushers and defensive ends in Rounds 2-4, offensive tackles in Rounds 5-7, cornerbacks in Rounds 8-11, and back to quarterbacks in Round 12. Day 2 started with wide receivers in Rounds 13-17, safeties in Rounds 18-19, center in Round 20, inside linebacker in Round 21, and guards in Rounds 22-23. Rounds 24-26 focused on defensive tackles and nose tackles, with running backs and fullbacks in Rounds 27-28, outside linebackers in Rounds 29-31, kickers in Round 32, punters in Round 33, tight ends and H-backs in Round 34, and long-snappers in Round 35. Teams were required to draft at least one player from each position group. USFL teams drafted from a pool of 450-500 players that had already signed contracts to play in the league.
There also was a 10-round supplemental draft held that was held on March 10 where an additional 80 players were selected. While complete details regarding salaries have not been disclosed, the players will receive base compensation and be eligible for victory bonuses, according to the USFL's Web site.
Additionally, players and team staff members will be offered access to a college degree program that is both tuition-free and debt-free through a partnership with Strategic Education’s Capella University and Strayer University. The program will offer participants the chance to take classes online or in person.
Are there any different rules?
Similar to the AAF and XFL, the USFL has introduced several rule changes in an effort to increase scoring opportunities and the entertainment value of the on-field product. Full details can be found here, but the biggest rule changes involve extra points, onside kicks, how overtime works, and the allowance of two forward passes.
While most of the rules are designed to bolster the offense, they also are designed to improve game flow, enhance player safety, and make it easier to get penalty calls correct.
How does the league schedule its games?
The schedule was unveiled on March 7 but after Week 1 it was only opponents with dates and times yet to be finalized. The first game will be between the New Jersey Generals and Birmingham Stallions at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, April 16. It will be played at Protective Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama, and be aired on both FOX and NBC, making it the first scheduled sporting event to air on competing broadcast networks since Super Bowl I in 1967, which was shown on both CBS and NBC.
The regular season will last 10 weeks with two playoff rounds to follow. Teams in the same division will play each other twice and teams in the other division once. The season is currently set to end on July 3. The majority of the games will be played on Saturdays and Sundays with some special broadcasts on Fridays and Mondays. All games will be played in Birmingham, with the majority taking place at Protective Stadium and some being played at historic Legion Field.
How can I watch USFL games?
The USFL's broadcast partners are FOX, NBC, USA Network, and FS1. With FOX Sports and NBC Sports as the official broadcast partners, all 43 games of the inaugural season are set to be televised. FOX Sports will carry 22 of the games, split between FOX (12) and FS1 (10). NBC Sports will share its 21 games between NBC (8), USA Network (9), and its streaming service Peacock (4).