USFL Eyes Austin
The birth of the NFL's first minor league
By Alex Dunlap, 2:15PM, Sun. Apr. 8, 2012
Jim Steeg is known as one the great minds behind the business of modern era NFL football. He was COO of the Chargers until 2010, and spent 36 years in NFL front offices, starting out in the unlikely job of accountant with the Dolphins. Steeg is most widely known as the executive responsible for the immense growth of the Super Bowl as a brand in recent years.
He serves now as consultant to various organizations, and is currently director of the Pac-12 championship game. He is also the person in charge of heading up preliminary operations for what will be the NFL’s first true minor league system. The USFL.
“One day, Jamie [Cuadra, new USFL owner and San Diego entrepreneur] just called me up. I thought it was something that should have been done years ago. I believed in it, so I told him I would do it,” Steeg said. Which makes sense considering he is currently being paid a grand total of zero dollars for his expertise and leadership.
“The goal is to give opportunities to everyone. Not just players. New GMs, scouts, coaches, front office folks, everybody. A.J. Smith [GM of the Chargers] and so many great front-office people came from the USFL. The guy who wrote the new CBA." He added, "The NFL has never had this kind of relationship with any leagues. The USFL had a great thing going, you remember guys like Steve Young and Jim Kelly and Herschel Walker, Flutie.” Steeg continued, “The league was gaining in popularity, and a lot of people blame it on Donald Trump … they went against the NFL. They invested in big players, went head to head with scheduling, actually filed a lawsuit and won [[aughs] … made $3.” Steeg went on to mention that compensation would be at a level much higher than the arena league. Initial USFL wage estimates have been speculated to be approximately $3,500 to $4,000 per game.
Steeg said the league will schedule its first season to begin in mid-March of 2013 and be played through the middle of June, so as not to compete with NFL broadcasting and also to have USFL players available to report to NFL mini-camps should they be asked. The USFL will hold its own independent draft process.
We do know that the league will begin as an eight-team entity as Steeg noted, “It is eight teams we’ll be going with, or I guess starting with. It’ll be eight.”
Regarding official affiliation with the National Football League, Steeg offered, “As it stands right now, the USFL will be a league for players who want to move on the to the NFL. Teams will have access to players, and we won’t do any of the UFL stuff [with buyouts, etc.], but as of now the USFL is its own league. Obviously, I’ve spent 36 years in the NFL.” Steeg went on, “And we’ll work with them in all the ways we can. They’ll be some talks, but for now the USFL is its own league.”
Austin appears to be one the USFL’s early targets for franchise consideration. “When you look back at the shortcomings of the first USFL, one was attendance in cities that already had major league franchises,” Steeg noted. “Not just NFL teams, the strange thing was that, across the board, attendance was worst in markets that had MLB teams. We’ll be looking at cities that aren’t currently in NFL or MLB franchise markets.
“The Austin/San Antonio area is of serious interest to us. Passionate fans, great access to colleges – I mean UT is right there. We have meetings scheduled in a group of markets, but Austin is one of major interest where we’ll have a few. That’s what this is about.” Steeg went on, “If there was a team in say … Montgomery. Well, obviously a guy like Greg McElroy, who’s a practice team guy on the Jets, well, maybe he comes and plays there, trains and makes a name for himself for NFL scouts.”
Steeg said the league will be targeting team destinations where facilities are already in place to hold events with a capacity of 25,000-35,000. “As far as announcing the team’s cities, we’re aiming for June, maybe July at the latest. There are obviously a lot of things to get worked out.
“Team ownership is being looked at for some general overriding stuff, but as for ownership, both team and league, those discussions are continuing, and will through the summer. Obviously, we have meetings scheduled, Austin being one, with potential investors and people of common interest.” Steeg quipped, “And that is before we even start talking about the TV and the distribution stuff. There’s a lot to be done, but we’re excited, I’m excited ….I figure if there was one way to leave a legacy for myself after all these years in the NFL, what a great way to do it. I’d like to hang it up being remembered as someone who helped others get to where they want to be. Players, GMs, front-office people like I was. I’ll just say If I can be remembered for helping build something like that, well, I’ll have felt like I did something good.”
[Alex Dunlap is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America, the host of RosterWatch on 104.9FM ESPN Radio Austin, founder of Rosterwatch.com, and a featured expert contributor to the FantasyPros.com network.]