The One World Leagues imagine an alternate reality based on a simple premise: how might the USFL have fared had the owners stuck with the blueprint outlined by league founder David Dixon. I’ve already written about the way things really unfolded and you can (probably should) read those articles to get a solid feel for how things really worked out to gain a better appreciation for the universe in which the One World leagues will live.
This is the recommended reading order:
- The Dixon Plan – the USFL blueprint
- The Real Story – How & Why the USFL failed
- Facing Challengers – How the NFL had handled previous competition
Now that you presumably have a grasp on how reality unfolded, let’s take a look at the points of departure from reality which forms the basis of the One World Leagues.
- Commissioner: Chet Simmons was hired away from ESPN largely due to the importance of securing a television contract. The owners, however, grew disenchanted with Simmons and replaced him after the 1984 season. He had a difficult time keeping the owners in line and proved unable to enforce the key tenets of the Dixon Plan, especially when it came to keeping payroll in check.
- Salary Cap: The USFL’s League offices were unsure if a salary cap would stand up in court and therefore – in theory – wanted to use a “gentleman’s agreement” to cap team payroll. Almost every team exceeded the suggested cap and some of them suffered disastrous consequences.
- Expansion: The Dixon Plan suggested 4 new teams for the second (1984) season. With Dixon out of the picture the league instead added six teams – and two of these (Oklahoma and San Antonio) were placed in small markets without world-class stadiums. Both these teams had massive financial difficulties.
- The NFL: The USFL was not supposed to try to sign away NFL players and to only draft NFL players that were expected to be (or had been) drafted in the fifth round or later. This would keep salaries down and allow the USFL to, as Dixon described it, “create their own stars.” This was shattered with the arrival of Donald Trump in 1984 who explicitly sought to sign (and did in fact do so) established, quality NFL players such as former MVP Brian Sipe and Pro Bowler Gary Barbaro. Other teams followed suit and several payrolls neared ten times the recommended $1.8 million cap.
- Move to the Fall: The move to the fall pushed by Donald Trump and some of the other owners effectively killed the USFL when their lawsuit against the NFL resulted in a $3 award by the jury. The proposed 1986 fall season never happened – and neither did anything else. The USFL was dead.
- Commissioner: In hindsight, the ideal man to run the USFL was the league’s founding visionary: David Dixon. Instead of selling out his franchise rights (which was his payment for founding the league) Dixon will be the commissioner, and keep his rights as owner of an expansion franchise (not necessarily in the 1984 expansion).
- Salary Cap: The $1.8 million cap will be enforced. Each club will be able to sign two “wild card” players who can be outside the cap (Herschel Walker types). With each team limited to two of these guys, the risk of massive losses is lessened. Wild Card player salaries will set at $200,000 for salary cap purposes. This $200k salary will be the maximum any player can be paid and no team may have more than two of these. The remaining money necessary for a Herschel Walker-type player will be considered a “personal services” contract and be outside the league’s salary cap calculations.
- Expansion: The Dixon Plan’s suggestion of four expansion teams for the league’s second season will be used. There will be no San Antonio or Oklahoma franchises. The four 1984 expansion teams will be the Houston Gamblers, Jacksonville Bulls, Memphis Showboats and Pittsburgh Maulers.
- The NFL: The league will follow Dixon’s plan regarding the NFL and its players. No war will be sought. Only players released by NFL teams or college players of fifth round quality will be available. The only exceptions will be for “wild card” players – and each team can only have two of these players.
- Move to the Fall: There will be no move to the fall. The USFL will remain a spring league. Ownership is abstracted in the simulation and so we can either assume Donald Trump was content in the spring, or just have someone else own the New Jersey Generals.
What this all means in practice in the simulation program (Draft Day Sports Pro Football 2018 from Wolverine Studios) is that the player pool available to the USFL teams will be ahistorical after the initial 1983 season. Procedures will be put in place to determine which players end up willing to sign with the spring league out of college and which go to the NFL. So it will be possible that Dan Marino could play in the USFL while Jim Kelly or Steve Young go to the NFL. Something of a butterfly effect – both leagues will be impacted and history will evolve in a different and hopefully entertaining manner.