FXFL Looks to Develop NFL Players

(Photo Credit: FXFLNews.Blogspot.com)

(Photo Credit: FXFLNews.Blogspot.com)

For roughly twenty weekends of any given year, football takes its place at the top of the sports world. Each week features all forms of drama, unparalleled interest, and notoriety with postseason wins and championships the ultimate measure of excellence.

The nature of playing just once per week leads to immeasurable hype and unlike its counterparts, makes football the easiest sport to follow with the shortest commitment. In the Fall Experimental Football League, hopeful prospects look forward to the day when they experience those feelings at its peak and eventually play in the National Football League.

As the country’s premier sport, football has held an unassailable grasp on American culture. Inspired by the rousing success of the NFL, leagues such as the AFL and the CFL have proven to be viable complements and avenues for prospective hopefuls to turn to as they look for a chance to compete on the grandest stage.

Despite the overwhelming appeal of football, neither achieved widespread appeal. In 2001, the XFL, a football contrived by WWE founder Vince McMahon sought to provide a mainstream home for those professionals. While McMahon tried valiantly to create an innovative brand of smash mouth football, interest quickly waned after the first week and its lasting memory today is commentator Matt Vasgersian’s first broadcasting job on national television.

The UFL followed nearly a decade later, but chose to forgo the pop and circumstance of the XFL for a developmental league capable of preparing players for the NFL. Though the league lasted just four seasons, its modest success on the national stage prompted Brian Woods to form the Fall Experimental League, better known as the FXFL.

The FXFL serves at a feeder system for the NFL and other pro leagues. Inspired by an interview from former NFL cornerback Troy Vincent citing a need for a league to develop future players, the FXFL modestly launched in October 2014 with four teams in Brooklyn, Omaha, Boston, and Miami, with only Brooklyn making it out of the inaugural season.

The Brooklyn Bolts would also be considered the most successful team on the field, sweeping their four games and winning the FXFL championship. The league returned for a second season with the Bolts, Hudson Valley Fort, and the Florida Blacktips serving as the three teams. Rosters for each franchise are comprised of roughly 40 players who are either free agents or served time on NFL practice squads making between $1,000-1,250 per game.

Their sole goal is a return to the gridiron on Sundays and have the league serve as a stepping stone to their progression. Though many players are anonymous to the most astute football fan, current and former Brooklyn Bolts quarterbacks Josh Freeman and Tajh Boyd have each spent time in the NFL, with Freeman starting for four seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Freeman, the third quarterback selected in the 2009 NFL draft after Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez, joined the Bolts to play for head coach Terry Shea. During an extensive 45-year coaching career, Shea served as an assistant under Bill Walsh, Marty Schottenheimer, and Dick Vermeil.

His hiring and ability to develop young quarterbacks provided the league with instant credibility and a person adept at imparting the teachings necessary to achieve success in the NFL. “The goals in the league are to survive,” Shea says. “That encompasses the financial structure of the league and that is a big issue when it comes to these leagues surviving.” On the gridiron, the quality of play compares favorably to similar development leagues, but the players are typically on the younger side in their early to mid 20s. “Overall the quality of play is quicker,” Shea added. “These guys have got good legs under them and they play at a faster pace. The defensive guys are more explosive pace, because they are not 27 or 28 years of age”.

As Shea previously explained, the viability of the FXFL is incumbent upon financial growth and widespread exposure. With select contests being aired on ESPN3 across the country, accessibility to the league is easy to find for most football fans.

Starting with roughly four teams enables the FXFL to grow at a gradual pace and slowly become a suitable model for player development. Scheduling around the NFL season however can pose issues with attendance and overall awareness of the league despite these measures.

Since most games are scheduled on Friday or Saturday nights, the league is typically in direct competition with high school and college football. These factors enable the league to take the develop route and serve as a farm system like the NBDL.

Since less college football teams are implementing pro style playbooks, the FXFL has the resources to instruct its players in that department and hopes to eventually develop its own name based on that reputation.