There is a commercial that used to run ad nausea during NCAA football and basketball games, and occasionally you still see it. It profiles a random female NCAA athlete or a male athlete in a non-revenue producing sport and highlights their athletic prowess as well as their pursuit of an academic degree. The tagline is poignant, "There are 380000 NCAA student athletes, and most of them will go pro in something other than sports."
Most of us as fans give our football team unwaivering support. For their time as Wolverines, be it three, four, or five years, they are part of our immediate family. And even when they move on to the next stage of their lives, then remain a part of our family in an extended role. We watch many of them go on to make us proud at the next level, and as tailgater Lisa pointed out in her message board post, we bask in the glory ofmore of our players than any other University. But it's that next tier of players that are often forgotten. Below the NFL roster players, be it pro bowlers, 2nd stringers, 3rd stringers, or practice squad guys, there's a group of Michigan men that are hanging on to a dream. They find themselves moving in and out of NFL camps for tryouts each fall. Making a team is all they think about. They want to participate. They want to play again.
With NFL Europe now defunct, and the Arena League's 50-yard field...enter the AAFL. The game you love, with teams from the hotbeds of college football. And the best part...bullshit free. No mascots. Team Michigan. That's it, that's the name. The rosters are made of men that GRADUATED and exhausted all of their college eligibility, lending a certain amount of credibility to the character of the players. There is also a regional aspect to the roster, as players that wish to participate that went to college in the team's home state are automatically on that team's roster, with the rest of the positions on the roster filled by a draft. In Michigan, they even secured a first class venue in Ford Field.
I was excited to see names like Willis Barringer, Garrett Rivas, James Whitley, and even old number 21. Yep, that's right, Jeremy LeSueur. Sure, not really household names in the world of professional football, but they ARE household names to us. The release of the Michigan roster names made me think about all of the players that have disappeared off of our radar over the years. It would be nice to see some of them again. Plus, seriously, it's football in the spring. There's not that many teams, and in turn not that many games...which is good because that makes it not too much of a commitment for your average fan.
So here's the problem: Garrett Rivas may never get a chance to boot that first kickoff. The league was scheduled to open camp next Wednesday, with games starting in April, but now they are apparently in financial peril. The league has a very well run viral marketing campaign through emails to fans from players, and they have a well-designed website. But now that website is headed by a message from the league that states that they are looking for a new majority owner. Not exactly the thing you want to be looking for going into your first season.
Every effort is being made to insure that the '08 season will be played as planned, but this depends upon locating a new majority owner with the needed liquidity, which in turn depends upon the League being able to finalize a TV deal. Otherwise, the inaugural season will be postponed to '09.
Enter the comedic naysayers...
Luckily, We'll all only have the memories of their draft and its epic covert liveblog on Snarkastic to cherish as we watch Eric Crouch and Chris Leak desperately try to stave off real life for another year. Trust us, men: having done it for years now, it's well worth the effort. Have you considered law school? It's like a pro football career, but with delicious and utterly crippling student loan debt.
The players who were selected in the initial draft may also be an indication as to why the league should just give up now. Headcase/uber-washout Eric Crouch managed to be the third overall pick. I won't lie, when Eric Crouch is your league's third overall pick, it better be for a flag-football league.
Even more hilarious, Peter Warrick was drafted 40th overall. And Wayne Fontes's brother was going to be a head coach. Awesome.
That's John Fontes he's talking about. Um, he's Michigan's coach. OK, OK, maybe it's a little funny.
Maybe I'm crazy, but I still believe there is a place for something like this. Maybe they were thinking too big, maybe they had bad accountants, I'm not sure. If nothing else, the idea of this league should remind you that there is a large amount of amazing athletes that wore the Maize and Blue, men that made a difference at the amateur level, and depending on your level of dedication, made a difference in your life in some way. They now reside in sports purgatory, trying to find their place in "real life" with a dream of making it in professional sports. And wherever they are, and whatever they do, they deserve your support and respect.