New football leagues often pipe dreams
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.