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Although the basketball world now revolves around the NBA playoffs, there was another pretty good brand of pro hoops going on until Saturday.

The NBA Developmental League just wrapped up its 2013-14 season with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants defeating the Santa Cruz Warriors for the title.

The NBADL has "graduated" 149 players to the big league and it is now established as quite a successful farm system.

Troy Vincent is hoping the NFL can follow its lead.

The NFL executive vice president of football operations told the Associated Press earlier this week an NFL D-League is on his list of priorities.

"We need to keep the pipeline of talent flowing, and that means for all areas of our game: players, coaches, scouts, game officials," Vincent said. "I am responsible to look at whatever the competition committee looks at, and that includes a developmental league.

"For all this football talent around, we have to create another platform for developing it. Maybe it's an academy - what would it look like? Maybe it's a spring league. We'll look to see if there is an appetite for it."

The NFL tried a farm system before with the World League of American Football, which became NFL Europe and later NFL Europa.

It groomed a few good players (remember Jake Delhomme and Kurt Warner?) and was a nice Triple-A brand of football played in the spring.

But it lost money lots and lots of money.

So the NFL pulled the plug in 2007 and the league returned to doing what it has always done draft the best college players and give them on-the-job training.

Of course in an ideal world that training would consist of playing regularly on an actual team and getting valuable game experience, which is what the NFL's previous D-league did and what a new one would be designed to do as well.

Still, why would it succeed now when it didn't before?

A spring league makes sense in that it would have no other gridiron competition, and I'm sure any number of TV networks would gladly work with the NFL as broadcast partners.

Yet a real developmental league would need to be played in the fall. That way when an NFL player goes down with an injury he could be replaced by a D-leaguer who is already in game shape and can be counted on to immediately step in and step up.

However, that brings us back to the money issue.

If a spring league underwritten by the NFL was covered in red ink, what are the chances that a minor league played in the fall would be viable?

Not only would it be competing with the NFL for attention, but college (and in many places high school) football as well.

And when would the games be played? About the only nights available are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Thanks to its new TV deal the NFL owns Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays, with a little NCAA crossover on Thursdays and a full slate of Football Bowl Subdivision action on Saturday.

Historically Friday night programming draws low ratings and any NFLDL would have to pull in good Nielson numbers to survive.

As someone who is passionate about football, I'd watch it. I was one of the few people who made a point to tune in to the United Football League.

Still, the NFL is in the business of making money.

And to make minor league football work, commissioner Roger Goodell, Vincent and the rest of the NFL brain trust must create a business model no one else has ever created before.

I'll be very interested to see what that model looks like.


April 30, 2014




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