The United States Football League, which lasted only three seasons in the 1980s but changed professional football in several ways, has announced that it will return in the spring of 2022.
According to a news release, the USFL will have Fox Sports as a broadcast partner and field a minimum of eight teams in the spring of 2022. Franchise owners, cities, team names, head coaches, and player draft information are to be announced a later date.
USFL: A Brief History
When the USFL originally debuted in 1983, most experts panned the idea of spring football. But the league ushered in new innovations such as in-game sideline reporters and microphones on the field, as well as the drafting and signing of underclassmen and rules changes that opened the offense for more downfield passing attacks.
The USFL originally competed with as many as 12 professional teams from 1983 through 1985, and several of the biggest college stars entered the league, including Herschel Walker, Steve Young, Doug Flutie, and Jim Kelly. On Thursday, Flutie was seen in a video clip on social media that announced the return of the league that gave him his professional start.
Led by several ambitious and wealthy team owners, the original USFL, which featured teams with names like the Los Angeles Express, Memphis Showboats, Arizona Wranglers, and Orlando Renegades, directly competed with the National Football League for talent. The New Jersey Generals, owned by oil tycoon J. Walter Duncan, signed Heisman Trophy winning college running back Herschel Walker to a record contract worth more than $5 million in 1983. Later, the team was sold to Donald Trump, who upped the ante and agreed to pay Walker a reported $14 million to stay in the league rather than jump to the NFL.
With games played in June, July, and August, the original USFL crowned three champions, the first being the Michigan Panthers. Many notable people got their start in pro football in the league, including Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy, who coached the Chicago Blitz in 1984, and Hall of Fame defensive end Reggie White, who played parts of two seasons for Memphis.
Eventually, economic problems strangled the USFL until they were forced to consolidate and shift franchises and team owners came and went. Trump spearheaded the decision to directly challenge the NFL in the fall, an effort that splintered owners and league officials. Ultimately the league folded, even after “winning” a symbolic court battle against the NFL that netted a $3 settlement.
The USFL Returns
Nearly 40 years later, a new USFL, which will use the same red-white-and-blue logo from the 1980s, enters a much larger market. Professional football is more than a billion-dollar, year-round business, with draft news dominating much of the off-season. This year the NFL has expanded the schedule to 17 games, and reports indicate the league would like to increase it to 18 games within the next few years.
The most recent “challenge” to the NFL was the XFL, which operated originally for one season in 2001 after the NFL season concluded. That iteration of the XFL was operated under a joint agreement with the Word Wrestling Federation, and in-fighting and money problems doomed it. The XFL returned in 2017, but ended the 2020 season prematurely due to the Covid-19 pandemic and financial difficulties. Shortly after, the XFL filed for bankruptcy, but has been revived by an ownership group that includes Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Future plans for the XFL are not clear.
With the immense popularity of pro football with gamblers and fantasy players, a new league would certainly garner interest from sportsbooks, especially as online sports betting is being legalized or considered in many states.