The UFL Draft got me thinking. The NFL is the only major league in North America that does not sponsor some sort of minor league system. MLB and the NHL have for decades. Less than a decade ago, the NBA talked about absorbing Isiah Thomas' Continental Basketball Association before it folded. Since then, it has launched the NBDL as a farm system. The league used to sponsor NFL Europe, but that folded a few years back.
Coming off the failure in Europe, Roger Goodell is trying a new approach. Instead of a summer minor league system, the NFL will try to market abroad with regular season games and perhaps the Super Bowl in the near future. Just because minor league football did not work across the pond does not make it a bad idea.
Imagine a 32 team AAA version of football. It would give young players like Erik Ainge, who would never see the field, a chance to get game experience and learn the system. A place like Fargo, North Dakota, could host the Vikings' minor league affiliate. Kids out there would actually get the chance to see the future stars of their favorite team in person. It could be a venue to more fully flesh out experiments like moving Kareem Brown to tight end. He would actually get a chance to develop. In the current system, the Jets will not be able to use up a valuable roster spot on him unless he makes immediate strides.
This venture probably would not be a money-maker, but it also would not bankrupt the league. Once the economy gets better, many sponsors would jump at the chance to become associated with something involving the NFL. People are so desperate to see football that ESPN has contracted minor college conferences like the MAC to play weeknight games. Surely Matthew Stafford's debut with the Grand Rapids Lions would be more interesting to viewers. The league could also test out potential expansion cities for fan support.
The NFL is the most successful league in the country. It probably wants to maintain the status quo. Why use up money for a developmental league when there are leagues like the UFL it can just poach players from? Still, the league might be missing an opportunity to invest in its future by passing on this idea.