The United States Football League (USFL) will begin play once again. This time, the second version of itself will kick off beginning April 16 in Birmingham, Ala.
This league will also play a spring format and has resurrected eight of their former teams as well as their team names, logos and colors. In all, eight clubs will play 43 games over 10 weeks.
The USFL will have plenty of national television coverage. The main broadcaster will be FOX, but additionally contests can be seen on Peacock, NBC, USA and FS1.
Because of COVID conditions that still exist, all regular season games will be played in Birmingham while the playoffs and championship game will be hosted in Canton, Ohio home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The regular season format in Birmingham is for the inaugural season only as most clubs will be relocated to their respective stadiums next year as long as pandemic situations subside.
The teams are the Birmingham Stallions, Houston Gamblers, New Orleans Breakers, Tampa Bay Bandits which will comprise the Southern Division, and the Michigan Panthers, New Jersey Generals, Philadelphia Stars and Pittsburgh Maulers of the Northern Division.
Even though the USFL and its logos remain unchanged from the 1980s version, it is not affiliated with the original entity. For one, the league will run all of its franchises whereas before there were individual club owners. Brian Woods is the primary owner with FOX having minority ownership.
For another, the former league was an NFL rival league whereas this version is a stand-alone league ready to give athletes a chance to continue their dream of becoming a professional football player.
Most tickets are general admission and available through TicketMaster.com. Each adult ticket cost $10 with up to three free tickets for children under the age of 15. Reserved Club seating tickets are $40 each.
Former Giants in the USFL
Every year, there are 90 football players signed with 32 NFL teams during training camp. On the final cut down day which trims each roster down to 53, this means 1,184 players are suddenly out of work. Practice squads are then filled which have been as many as 16 guys because of the pandemic but prior was usually just 10. In the end, there are still 672 athletes not playing professionally; not to mention guys that have lingered in the various indoor leagues which don’t pay much who are looking for another avenue that may become a brighter light to their skills.
The USFL has had several drafts to which many former Giants are on a team’s roster. Here’s the list complete with years they were in New York:
RB Jordan Chunn (2021)
QB Clayton Thorson (2020-2021)
DE Kristjan Sokoli (2017-2018)
S Orion Stewart (2018)
New Jersey Generals
RB Mike Weber (2021)
New Orleans Breakers
DT Elijah Qualls (2021)
QB Case Cookus (2020)
QB Kyle Lauletta (2020-2021)
Tampa Bay Bandits
OT Jarron Jones (2017)
WR Derrick Dillon (2020-2021)
OG Damien Mama (2017)
In addition, there are a few coaches in the USFL that were either a former coach or player that has found employment in the new league:
Tim Lewis (2004-2006): DC/DB Houston Gamblers
Pepper Johnson (1986-1992): DC/LB Tampa Bay Bandits
The pandemic. Is it going away, or is it going to spike again? That is the question that the USFL was faced with.
COVID came out right smack in the beginning stages of the second stint of the XFL in 2020. It subsequently closed down that league completely. That league gave the USFL an example to visualize as a possible scenario to their own maiden season, they decided it would be best for the inaugural season to play all of its games in one location.
This situation is not a true bubble such as what the NBA experienced last year. But it just made sense to attempt to minimized the pandemic conditions with on-site medical and testing sources directly on-hand.
Then there are the travel issues and all of that. By remaining in one location, none of the extreme regulations set by any travel option has been eliminated that address COVID protocols. This also became a savings option as well in so many areas. Just for one year.
So a site was necessary for these players, coaches, front office, trainers and the like to be involved in the football version of a COVID bubble.
Birmingham has two major stadiums within their reach. This alone meant that two games could be played simultaneously or even four on a single day. What this presented was the fact that the schedule would never be bogged down by waiting for one game to end and then the delay of having to clean up the mess that fans can certainly produce during a game before the next game can begin.
Legion Field, a.k.a. the old Gray Lady, seats 71,594 and has been home to numerous Birmingham professional football teams in so many leagues. It opened in 1927.
It’s field surface is FieldTurf, which is widely used in many major outdoor football venues. It was once the home of the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn, annually hosts the Magic City Classic between Alabama A&M and Alabama State, has hosted Olympic soccer matches, plus was once home to the Birmingham Bowl. The stadium is located deep inside Birmingham just south of I-20 and 12 blocks west of I-65.
The other stadium is located on the campus of University of Alabama-Birmingham south of downtown Birmingham. This stadium is named Protective Stadium and holds a capacity of 47,100. It opened in 2021 and is home to the UAB Blazers football team, the TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl, the Super 7 Alabama state high school football championships, the 2022 World Games, plus is home to the Birmingham Legion FC Major League Soccer club.
Plus, the southern location is ideal weather in springtime.
FOX made a pitch to commit $150 million over three years to assist the USFL’s operations and play the entire 2022 season in Birmingham. This would entail bringing in a bevy of players, coaches, trainers, nutritionists, front office, equipment personnel and the likes to the City between April and July. The end result would be about 40,000 rented hotel and motel rooms, a lot of restaurant visits and taxi rides which would have a local economic impact of about $15 million for just a short few months.
The City of Birmingham and Jefferson County officials realized that this offer was coming from one of the world’s largest media companies.
So the City of Birmingham committed a few million dollars of public funding so that the new league will have a home. The first entry to commit money was The Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau which makes a ton of sense.
All eight rosters will not only be housed in the city’s hotels but will use local facilities for practices, meetings, meals and the actual games.
The initial idea was for the entire season to be hosted by Birmingham, but due to a scheduling conflict with the 2022 World Games which will consume 10 days in the City, the subsequent playoff matches and championship game will be relocated to Canton, Ohio, home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium holds 23,000 with a natural grass surface.
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A summary of the USFL’s distinctive rules governing gameplay and penalties follows:
1. Scoring teams will have three options to attempt extra points. Teams will receive:
- One point for a successful kick between the uprights snapped from the 15-yard line.
- Two points for a successful scrimmage play from the two-yard line.
- Three points for a successful scrimmage play from the 10-yard line.
Effect: Teams trailing by nine points or less have an opportunity to close the gap to one score.
Reason: Add late-game excitement by improving chances of comebacks.
1. USFL Replay Command at FOX Sports Control Center in Los Angeles will make all replay decisions.
Effect: One replay crew will make all decisions.
Reason: Achieve accurate, consistent, and faster rulings.
1. Each coach will be allowed one replay challenge.
Effect: Fewer challenges needed thanks to expedited reviews and video assistance.
Reason: Improve game flow.
1. USFL Replay Command will have the authority to overrule incorrect personal foul calls, including roughing the passer, hits on defenseless players, facemasks, horsecollars, and more. USFL Replay Command will also be responsible for determining whether the act of pass interference is obviously intentional when it occurs 15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
Effect: Correct obvious officiating miscalls related to personal fouls.
Reason: Get the call right and achieve greater fairness.
1. All kickoffs will be from the 25-yard line. No kicking team member may line up any further back than one yard, while the receiving team must have a minimum of eight players in the set-up zone between their 35- and 45-yard lines. After a kickoff travels 20 yards, the first touch must be by the receiving team. If an untouched kick becomes dead, the ball belongs to the receiving team at that spot.
Effect: Create more, yet safer, kickoff returns.
Reason: Increase big-play potential with more returned kickoffs rather than touchbacks.
ONSIDE KICK VS. SCRIMMAGE PLAY
1. Teams will have two options to retain possession of the ball after scoring. The first option will be a traditional onside kick attempt from the 25-yard line. The second will be running a fourth down and 12 play from their own 33-yard line – if the team makes a first down, it retains possession, if it fails, then the defense gets the ball.
Effect: Create an alternate way for trailing teams to keep the ball after scoring.
Reason: Successfully executing and recovering an onside kick is rare, so this provides another option while increasing risk/reward strategy for coaches.
- Overtime will be a best of three-play shootout. Each team’s offense will alternate plays against the opposing defense from the two-yard line. Each successful scoring attempt will receive two points. The team with the most points after three plays wins. The subsequent attempts become sudden death if the score is tied after each team runs three plays. The overtime period will extend until a winner is declared.
Effect: Both teams have an equal chance of winning.
Reason: Create more excitement and fairness with a designed shootout overtime period.
2. Gunners may not line up outside the numbers and they cannot be double-teamed blocked until the ball is kicked.
Effect: Fewer player injuries and fewer penalties.
Reason: Enhanced player safety and game flow.
- The clock will stop for first downs inside two minutes of the second and fourth quarters.
Effect: Create more offensive plays during the final two minutes of each half.
Reason: Adds offense and excitement before halftime and at the end of the game.
DEFENSIVE PASS INTERFERENCE
- The penalty for defensive pass interference will mirror the NCAA rule with exceptions. First, a defender intentionally tackling a receiver beyond 15 yards would become a spot foul. Also, the penalty will be a spot foul if it occurs 15 yards or less from the line of scrimmage or a 15-yard penalty from the line of scrimmage if the spot of the foul is beyond 15 yards.
Effect: Reduce penalty yardage.
Reason: Decrease punitive nature of defensive pass interference penalties.
OFFENSIVE PASS INTERFERENCE
1. If a pass does not cross the line of scrimmage, there can be no pass interference or ineligible player downfield penalties.
Effect: Opens the offense; forgoes punishment for infractions unrelated to play.
Reason: Add offense without undermining defense.
TWO FORWARD PASSES
- It will no longer be illegal to throw two forward passes from behind the line of scrimmage.
Effect: Adds plays to offensive game plans.
Reason: Add excitement and trick-play potential to the game.
Barry Shuck is a pro football historical writer and a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association