June Jones got his start coaching professional football in the United States Football League as the wide receviers coach for the Houston Gamblers, and then as the offensive coordinator for the Denver Gold. If there’s anyone that would copy from the strategy of a long-defunct minor league football operation and call it revolutionary, it would be June Jones.
Appearing on Tampa’s WDEA-AM on Friday, Jones argued that the “have-nots” of FBS – the American, Mountain West, Conference USA, MAC and Sun Belt – should eschew their traditional fall football schedules and instead play in the spring. “I’ll go ahead and say it right now,” Jones said, “I think the have-nots should go ahead and move to the spring just like the USFL did. I think that there’s an opportunity to do a complete other side of that division, and I think that if we don’t think that way as a group of have-nots, we’re going to get left behind. I can see in five-to-seven years, possibly, the public would demand to have the two leagues play, just like I think the USFL had in mind, originally, of the winner of the USFL playing the winner of the National Football League.”
Ignoring the fact that this would never, ever happen for a multitude of reasons, let’s understand the reality that the have-nots are arguably in a stronger position now than they’ve ever been. While the Power Five schools will undoubtedly scoop up the lion’s share of the revenue from the College Football Playoff, the Group of Five (as the conference commissioners like to call them) will split $75 million annually amongst themselves, more than five times what they earned in 2013, according to USA Today. This is to say nothing of the fact that those Group of Five schools now have a guaranteed spot in a CFP bowl, and a greater (although admittedly still remote) shot at playing their way into the four-team playoff. While that isn’t likely to happen, especially now that former mid-major superpowers TCU and Utah have crossed borders into the Power Five, it’s much easier to claim one spot amongst four than to absorb one of two spots, as in the BCS days, or earn an outright No. 1 vote, like in the pre-BCS poll ‘n’ bowl era.
Combine this with the fact that Group of Five conferences are now creating and maintaining ownership in their own bowl games – how does Christmas Eve in the Bahamas sound? – and it’s apparent that Jones is out of touch with the reality in which he’s living.
Second, let’s look at the second part of Jones’ statement above. “I can see in five-to-seven years, possibly, the public would demand to have the two leagues play, just like I think the USFL had in mind, originally, of the winner of the USFL playing the winner of the National Football League.” The public would not demand to see the Power Five champion and the Group of Five champion, because it already knows what would happen if those two teams met and has more than a century of evidence to back it up. Notice how Jones said that the USFL “wanted” its champion to play the Super Bowl champion, but the public didn’t. Thus, in the three seasons in which the USFL was able to draw breath, it never happend.
The USFL may be long dead, but its delusional line of thinking lives on inside Jones’ mind.
Let’s keep going.
The host challenges Jones with just one of hundreds of logistical issues this move would create: that playing in the spring would create an obvious conflict with NFL Draft preparation that occurs during that same time. “All those things would have to be figured out,” Jones said. “You make your own rules at that point.”
Ah, the old “we’ll figure it out when we get there” method of planning. Would schools playing in opposite seasons operate on the same recruiting calendar. Would schools playing in opposite seasons operate on the same recruiting calendar? Would recruits even want to play football in the spring? Would university presidents support moving football to the spring, and then hope volleyball will be enough to bring people to campus during the fall? Would TV networks even fork enough extra cash to make this migraine of an idea worthwile? We’ll figure it out when we get there.
“Football is the number one sport on television right now, and the advertisers want live programming,” he says. “They don’t want Hollywood shows because you can TiVo out the commercials. Live programming is a hot topic right now and I think there’s a market for bigger numbers for the non-BCS teams.”
Advertisers want live programming, yes, and there’s enough of it in the spring to allow Madison Avenue to fatten up and hibernate straight through the summer. How, I wonder, will SMU at East Carolina compete against March Madness, the NBA and NHL playoffs, the start of the Major League Baseball season, the NFL Draft, NASCAR, the PGA and people’s general desire to go outside and enjoy the scenery for the first time in months?
Perhaps it’s because he got out of the USFL before the roof caved in, but there’s a reason every minor league football endeavor has failed, and it’s the same reason the WNBA battles test patterns and 3 a.m. infomercials for ratings. Sports aren’t like potato chips or automobiles, where any number of competitors can survive. Consumers gravitate toward toward the highest level available, and anything else gets ignored.
And, finally, the reason the Group of Five can coexists (quite fine, I might add) is because the Power Five conference subsidize the lower half of FBS through the College Football Playoff thanks to their collective desire to avoid as many antitrust suits as possible. Strike out on their own, though, and the Power Five have no reason to cut their mid-major siblings in to the tune of $75 million a year.
“I think that if we don’t think that way, there’s going to be a whole lot of schools that are going to start dropping football,” Jones says.
The only way mid-majors would ever drop football is if they followed nostalgic thinking not supported by reality to bet their athletics departments on a plan that’s been a proven failure time and time again for decades on end.
Jones was absolutely dead on about one thing he said Friday, though. “I know it’s out-of-the-box, but I said it, and it’s probably going to go national off the Todd Wright Show.”
(Clip starts at 4:30)