New foot­ball leagues of­ten pipe dreams

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - THOM LOVERRO

There has yet to be a sus­tain­able new foot­ball en­ter­prise — other than the go­liath known as the Na­tional Foot­ball League (even the Arena Foot­ball League, started in 1987, ap­pears to be on its last legs).

There’s been the World Foot­ball League, the United States Foot­ball League, the World League of Amer­i­can Foot­ball, the United Foot­ball League and many oth­ers of lesser note.

Yet peo­ple are still able to see the prom­ise and glory of a new foot­ball league — the lat­est be­ing the North Amer­i­can Foot­ball Leagues, whose al­leged founders were ar­rested last month in Florida and charged with theft of money from in­vestors in a league and pro­duc­tion com­pany that would “ri­val ESPN.”

It looks as if all Christo­pher White and his wife Tracy had, though, was a web site, com­plete with lo­gos of teams that would ini­tially play in eight states — in­clud­ing Vir­ginia

— in 2016 and quickly ex­pand to 16 states.

For­mer New York Gi­ants head coach Jim Fas­sel’s name was on a press re­lease on the web site, along with sched­ules of games that were never played. The web site, still up, even has an NAFL Char­i­ties arm, with a “mis­sion to men­tor chil­dren and have play­ers, coaches and league per­son­nel serve as role mod­els in re­spec­tive com­mu­ni­ties.”

Ac­cord­ing to Florida in­ves­ti­ga­tors, it was all a fraud — rem­i­nis­cent of another start-up league that was would have been play­ing 25 years ago, with a team in Wash­ing­ton known as the Wash­ing­ton Ma­raud­ers.

That league — the Pro­fes­sional Spring Foot­ball League — gained a lot of trac­tion, at­tract­ing such es­tab­lished names to its op­er­a­tion as for­mer Green Bay Pack­ers great Boyd Dowler, for­mer Detroit Lions coach Dar­ryl Rogers and for­mer New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots quar­ter­back Steve Gro­gan as head coaches.

For­mer New York Jets head coach Walt Michaels was the league’s di­rec­tor of foot­ball op­er­a­tions, and Rex Lard­ner, a for­mer ex­ec­u­tive at Turner Broad­cast­ing, was the PSFL com­mis­sioner.

The founder and pres­i­dent of the league was a New Jer­sey busi­ness­man named Vin­cent Sette, who said he re­searched the his­tory of those failed leagues and what went wrong. He con­cluded that “un­der care­fully and uniquely struc­tured cor­po­rate guide­lines,” a new spring foot­ball league could work.

“This struc­ture will al­low fis­cal and bud­getary con­trol to in­sure the over­all suc­cess of the league,” Sette said.

“The cham­pion of this league will be who­ever puts the best foot­ball team on the field,” said David As­ton, pub­lic re­la­tions di­rec­tor for the Ma­raud­ers.

There were 10 teams, in­clud­ing the Ma­raud­ers, in two di­vi­sions. Fran­chise fees were $250,000. The av­er­age salary would be $45,000 and ticket prices were re­ported to be be­tween $12 and $25.

The PSFL cham­pi­onship game — the “Red, White and Blue Bowl” — was sched­uled for July 5 here in Wash­ing­ton at RFK Sta­dium.

The Ma­raud­ers were coached by for­mer Philadel­phia Ea­gles and New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots All-Pro cen­ter Guy Mor­riss, and one of the play­ers on the Ma­raud­ers ros­ter was for­mer Red­skins cor­ner­back Barry Wil­burn. In late Jan­uary 1992, I flew to De­land, Florida, to in­ter­view Wil­burn at their train­ing game.

“I think this is a good op­por­tu­nity for me to get back on the field and prove to my­self and to oth­ers that I can still get the job done,” Wil­burn told me.

Wil­burn never got that chance, as the league folded two weeks be­fore the first game at RFK Sta­dium was to be played, leav­ing in its wake a moun­tain of un­paid bills and an­gry believ­ers. None of the venders or more than 400 play­ers who paid their own ex­penses to get to train­ing camp were paid for the two weeks camp of­fi­cially took place.

“We were hurt by this,” said Eric Still, a 25-year-old for­mer ac­count­ing as­sis­tant who was a wide re­ceiver with the Wash­ing­ton en­try in the league, the Ma­raud­ers. “I left a full-time job and had spent about $1,500 get­ting to try­outs and camp. I’m out of work now.”

The founder of the league was also known Vin­cent Set­te­d­u­cate. There ap­pear to have been no crim­i­nal charges filed in the af­ter­math of the PSFL. Five years later, he was charged by the SEC in a wire fraud case, and pleaded guilty, sen­tenced to five years pro­ba­tion and or­dered to pay $300,000 in resti­tu­tion in another busi­ness ven­ture. He has had other brushes with the law as well.

And here we are, 25 years later, another foot­ball league based on noth­ing but a sales pitch, and vic­tims left in its wake.

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