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Pac Pro Football League hopes to provide options for players

Two footballs sit on a field-goal post at Basha High School in Chandler, Ariz. (Photo by Tyler Drake/Cronkite News)

CHANDLER— Introduced in January 2017, Pacific Pro Football is a developmental league aimed at addressing a growing need for alternatives for players aspiring to play in the NFL but who aren’t eligible for college football or just aren’t interested in playing at that level.

The league hopes to begin play in the summer of 2018.

Players fall through the cracks when they have used their high school eligibility but aren’t in a college program and haven’t been out of school for three years, which is the minimum required before players can be drafted or signed as free agents by NFL teams.

While the league delivers fresh ideas, it also comes with some of the same challenges other leagues have faced prior to collapsing.

The difference is, rather than trying to compete with the NFL, Pac Pro backers hope to work with the league to give players another option.

It will initially consist of four teams based in Southern California’s most populous counties, and is incorporating former NFL coaches, executives and players on an advisory board.

“I think you have to have the right people in management to do it,” said Brandon Sanders, football coach at Pueblo Magnet High School in Tucson.

The league’s board includes former NFL coach Mike Shanahan, former NFL Senior Vice President Jim Steeg, former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey and ESPN football reporter Adam Schefter.

Pac Pro’s chief executive is Donald Yee, agent for New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

Over the last three decades, several football leagues have popped up, including indoor and outdoor leagues and NFL Europe. They have tried to provide football fans an alternative to the NFL or serve as developmental leagues. The alternatives do not typically last long.

“You want NFL support…you don’t have to have the NFL logo as far as NFL Europe,” said Sanders. “They don’t have to be apart of it, but they have to be okay with it.”

Sanders is all too familiar with alternative leagues having played for the Las Vegas Outlaws in the XFL and the Amsterdam Admirals in NFL Europe. Neither league exists today, along with others such as the United States Football League, Major League Football and the United Football League.

While leagues have failed for different reasons, one of the most difficult hurdles for them to clear is getting a television deal, with the revenue streams that come with that.

“I don’t know how you sustain people if you are not getting sponsorships and not getting on TV,” Sanders said. “People want to see results coming back.

“If you can get a small following, you can get some kind of relevant people to come watch and play. Then you will be able to survive. You’re not going to do it by paying a lot of money to get players.”

One concern high school coaches have about Pac Pro is how players in the league might use the money they’re paid. The league is planning to pay players $50,000 a season and provide a year of paid tuition and books at local community colleges.

“Most guys don’t make the NFL,” said former Hamilton High School coach Steve Belles, who was recently reassigned after some of his players were arrested because of an alleged hazing incident.

“Most of these guys are going to have broken dreams. I’d be all for it if they set aside money to go back to school and get their education if it doesn’t work out in the pros, because let’s be honest. They are not going to save that money…”

Pac Pro hopes to provide an alternative for players passed over by college programs due to bad behavior or bad grades.

“It’s a way where they can go to community college to develop themselves mentally, physically, emotionally and work on their talents,” said A.C. Caswell, former Glendale Community College and Oakland Raiders wide receiver, who runs Future Pro Sports Marketing, a company aimed at assisting youth athletes who desire to play football collegiately and professionally.

Pac Pro plans to make helping players develop a life path its primary off-field objective.

“Pac Pro’s concept of ‘education’ is expansive,” Yee said in a press release provided by Pacific Pro Football. “Every team will have a counselor to help players develop their interests academically and/or vocationally, and assist with coordinating meaningful internships in their fields of interest.”

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