2022 Destined for Alternate Football Greatness
Thoughts on the state of the Alternate Football scene and key info on some leagues in 2022! (OPINION PIECE)
As we look back on 2021, a multitude of alternate football leagues saw success. Whether you fancied traditional 11-on-11 in the form of the TSL or ELF, or the various Arena leagues like the FCF, NAL, or IFL, or the many other international leagues in the world, the pigskin was thrown with pride throughout last year. So, how can 2022 compete with the previous year's success? Here’s my opinion on how this year will be a giant leap for Alternate Football and the masses who consume it.
Better known as the USFL to most, the league aims at a full-fledged comeback in 2022. Media powerhouse FOX has gotten behind the once-popular and ever-intriguing league and will broadcast 43 games in total. The USFL and FOX entered into negotiations with NBC to carry games across both networks for 2022. The USFL will be an eight-team, twelve-week schedule with players expected to make decent money and gather priceless in-game film along the way. This sounds like a dream to many prospects sitting outside the cusp of an NFL roster. The divisions will be broken down as such: The North Division will consist of the Michigan Panthers, New Jersey Generals, Philadelphia Stars, and Pittsburgh Maulers. In the South Division, you’ll see the Birmingham Stallions, Houston Gamblers, New Orleans Breakers, and Tampa Bay Bandits. The eight original USFL teams from the 1980’s and presumably familiar faces sprinkled into the league’s coaching and on-air personality structure (see Doug Flutie) should make for great football and football nostalgia.
With The Spring League’s former CEO Brian Woods at the helm of the USFL’s Player Personnel department, you can expect to see many of the same faces for the TSL’s 2021 campaign. That might seem like a negative to some, but, the TSL produced over dozens of NFL and CFL players following the league’s conclusion in August of last year. While many other leagues will be discussed in this article, the USFL looks to be the clearest pathway for would-be NFL players in 2022.
The ELF showcased talents from around the globe in 2021. Many other European leagues played traditional American Football in ‘21, but the ELF has emerged as a premier league for NFL-style gameplay. With the likes of Madre London, Jean Constant, Jacob Sullivan, and others putting up eye-popping numbers, the ELF has begun to groom stars throughout the league. After a hell of a championship game in which the Frankfurt Galaxy came away victorious, the league has shifted its focus into improving the product for 2022. The league announced expansion plans throughout the tail-end of last year and will now put twelve teams on the field for its upcoming season. The teams that were added include the Vienna Vikings, Rhein Fire, Istanbul Rams, and Innsbruck Raiders Triol. These teams will add an increased level of competition and intensity that is practically unmatched in the European Football scene.
Outside of adding four new teams to the league, the ELF has been extremely busy behind the scenes this off-season. The league added a Players Committee, split the teams into three conferences, began to dabble in the NFT market, changed its kickoff rules, and more! The European League of Football appeals to football should appeal to fans across the seas, and the league is trending upwards as we head into 2022. With many American players choosing the head overseas and play in the ELF, plenty of eyes will focus on this league and the potential it brings to the Alternate Football world this year.
The NAL marches towards another exciting season in 2022. The build-up has been incredible with the league adding a new franchise into the fold for the upcoming season. The San Antonio Gunslingers joined the NAL and bring the team count to six as we head into next year. Founded in 2017, the NAL has picked up momentum each year following and is ready to continue to showcase talent. The players signed this off-season include Steven Johnson, David Gilbert, Hakeem Kato, Malik Henry, Joe Powell, among many others. The league also announced it would return to Ironman rules for the upcoming 2022 season. All in all, the NAL looks to be Uber competitive this season, with a ton of hidden talent sprinkled into each roster.
The IFL will put 15 of its 16 teams onto the turf in 2022. Excitement Oozes from every team as the ramp-up to next season trudges on. Last year, the Massachusetts Pirates defeated the Arizona Rattlers to be crowned champions, and they look primed for a repeat this year. We’ve seen many players re-sign with their respective teams this off-season, citing a chance to “run it back” and chance a championship. Key newcomers to the league for 2022 include Jawill Davis and LaDarius Galloway, among many others. The high scoring style of Arena Football, mixed with the excitement the IFL is sure to bring, should equate recipe for success in 2022.
As the FCF approaches its second season, fans are chomping at the bit for news and updates. The league will add four new teams into the fray, bringing the total to eight for season 2.0. It’s been reported that two of those four new teams will be NFT driven. With the “beta season” now in the rearview, it’s time to see what the league can produce on and off the field. Last year proved to be a year of ups and downs. Rule changes in between games, along with shoddy officiating made the product on the field suffer a bit in 1.0.
Fast-forwarding to 2.0, combines and tryouts have been shown tremendously so far. Fans getting a glimpse into what it’s like to be a professional athlete during said tryouts has been great. On top of that, the league will broadcast games via NBCLX and new streaming partner DAZN. Plenty of news will be coming in the next few months surrounding the FCF. Of the news set to drop, the most important pieces will be the votes leading up to the creation of the four above-mentioned teams. A complete list of prospects, sponsors and various other tidbits of information should trickle in before kickoff in April of 2022.
The CIF has become a mainstay in Arena Football. Home to the oldest arena team in existence, and most recent champion Omaha Beef among it’s nine teams, the league is backed by tradition and history. With the announcement of a new Commissioner back in August of 2021, fans can expect positive changes to the league in ‘22 and beyond. Among those changes, an expansion team will be added in the Topeka Tropics for the upcoming season.
The CIF has been a bright spot for a lot of prospects looking to make headway in professional football. We’ve done Q&A’s with a few CIF players as they prepare for the upcoming season. The league has an eye for talent, and we can’t wait to watch this year!
While the HUB isn’t a league, it’s in this piece for a few different reasons. First, HUB has become synonymous with success in getting players into the NFL. The goal for the HUB Football Camp is exactly that. Show potential teams what players are capable of in an NFL-style workout setting. Secondly, HUB shines a light on players from all different football backgrounds, including many of the above-mentioned leagues that have been covered in this article. Lastly, HUB will try a different sort of showcase in 2022. “The Game” will consist of an entire week’s worth of game planning and preparation, the same as what your favorite NFL team prepares for a game each week. After the preparation is done, an actual game will be played with all the prospects. This is a phenomenal concept when trying to differentiate how players go about their business, both on and off the field. I’m excited to see the growth and development of HUB in 2022, as this sort of showcase is what’s needed in professional football.
With the news of the USFL being rebooted, where does that leave the TSL? Brian Woods, now a mainstay in the USFL’s pro-Personnel department, would in theory no longer be associated with the TSL. It’s been widely speculated that the league would shift back to what it was originally intended for. Being a showcase of sorts for potential NFL and CFL players. Oh yeah, and what about the impending lawsuit claiming the league owes roughly 1.4 million dollars for expenses accrued during the 2021 season? As it pertains to the TSL, major questions have begun to overtake most of the good that has come from the league. TSL news will be super interesting in 2022, and hopefully, some of the questions can be answered.
Perhaps the most intriguing league in 2022 is a league that isn’t even playing a down of football. The XFL will kick off in 2023, with an extensive ramp-up period set to occur this year. XFL Co-Owner Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson recently stated that the league is looking forward to “new cities, new teams”. While the original eight teams from the XFL’s 2.0 iteration still technically exist, could changes to those teams be on the horizon? Will more be added? Will teams be replaced or dissolved? Outside of the team structure, and more importantly, the league will disclose its broadcasting partners this year as well. With streaming services on the up and up, could the league look in that direction for its content in 2023? With finances being backed by RedBird Capital, and global influencers such as Dwayne Johnson and fellow Co-Owner Danny Garcia, the XFL seems to be headed for a monster year this year. In my opinion, it will be the premier Alternate Football league when it kicks off next year. Laying the foundation for such a title will be crucial to its success both short and long term.
While plenty of positives (and negatives) come from Alternate Football, one constant remains. The market for these professional leagues in alive and well. Sure, we’ve had our fair share of letdowns. More than a few nightmare scenarios involving shitty owners and investors. Jaw-dropping stories of stranded or unpaid players. Less than ideal viewing options for fans doesn’t mean fans won’t still tune in. Confusing rules and quirky play designs are exactly what fans are used to. We’ve heard it all. Let me tell you something. WE DON’T CARE. Spring Football keeps rearing it’s beautiful head. Thousands of players continue to strap on their helmets and shoulder pads for a chance at exposure and playing time. So what if most leagues pay pennies on the dollar compared to the top dogs. Athletes getting to call themselves professional football players is all we care about.
It’s very simple when it’s boiled down. Fans love football at any level. Football lives on in other leagues outside of the NFL. I will cheer on these leagues just as hard as I cheer on my favorite NFL team and it’s players. While a clear pathway from these leagues to the NFL has yet to be realized, it doesn’t mean that people should frown up said leagues. Spring Football works, and these various professional leagues are proof of that. So, here’s to 2022 and all the craziness it will bring to the ALT gridiron!