It is one of the questions at the top of the list for any new professional football league – how best to initially stock each of its teams with top talent in order to not only keep costs in line, but make sure each team is as even as possible early in the process.
The A11 Football League is going to kick off its first season in the spring of 2015, and when it does, the majority of its players will be allocated among its eight teams via four drafts over 60 days through January of 2015:
- A territorial allocation of players who were eligible for the National Football League Draft from 2009-14.
- A common draft of non-territorial players who were eligible for the NFL Draft from 2009-14.
- A territorial allocation of players eligible for the NFL Draft in 2015.
- A common draft of non-territorial players eligible for the NFL Draft in 2015.
After those drafts, each A11FL team will have a pool of players – most available to those teams immediately, but also some who will make up a team’s reserve list for potential signing down the line.
“We’re not creating anything new,” said A11FL President & Chief Operating Officer Michael Keller, who has previous managerial experience in the United States Football League, World League of American Football and XFL at both the league and team levels. “The only real different thing that was done with the other leagues (USFL and XFL) was adding a territorial aspect to it.
“Teams would get a first shot at better players at universities in their region. The National Football League just has an open draft. We changed that in the United States Football League, where we added a territorial component.”
The 1983 USFL territorial draft saw each team pick draft-eligible players from a list of five colleges. Some of the teams had more natural college allocations than others (one of the Boston Breakers’ territorial schools was Nebraska, one of the New Jersey Generals’ territorial schools was Tennessee, etc.), so the final five-college lists for each team were evened out in terms of college productivity over a period of time.
“It was all done to create a level playing field. As a new league, we weren’t going out and getting stars, necessarily. When we initially started, we had a salary cap,” said Keller, adding that eventually went by the wayside with the signing of players such as Heisman Trophy running back Herschel Walker by the Generals.
The USFL saw each team owned singularly. The A11FL will be a single-entity league, meaning costs will be controlled, and territorial drafts will have more impact.
“Keep your popular players at home, and you can tap into the talent that is developed in the region,” Keller said. “That’s what we’re going to be doing in the A11, as well. It will help us to market and brand our teams and the league.”
Keller was the XFL’s Vice President of Football Operations, and that league used the territorial and common draft approach, as well.
“In the XFL, it was a true single-entity (league),” said Keller. “We signed all the players and had them allocated. We’re doing the same system now that we did in the XFL. We may make an attempt to sign some high-visibility players, but not at the expense of the A11’s future.
“We all know that there are just so many talented players coming out of our colleges and universities with no place to go. The opportunity that the A11 provides will be coveted.”
What the A11FL won’t do is mirror the WLAF’s approach to its initial draft in 1991, which included a “draft matrix” in which teams randomly picked a letter which had a predetermined draft slot for each player position group.
“We did the tryouts and the draft in the same period of time,” Keller said.” We brought them in, worked them out and at the finish of the combine or the workouts, we went right in and drafted the players. Ours (draft process) is going to be much more simple.”