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The Suburbanite
  • USFL revival may hit Akron

  • The USFL is now seeking to make a comeback in eight cities across the United States and Akron could be one of its new home bases.

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  • Could the next Doug Flutie be playing his football in Akron come 2013?
    Flutie, the diminutive Boston College legend who authored a “Hail Mary” miracle for the Eagles in their legendary win over the vaunted Miami Hurricanes on Nov. 23, 1984, went on to play in the NFL for the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers. But in between those stops, he played for the Donald Trump-owned New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League in 1985 before the league folded in 1986.
    The USFL is now seeking to make a comeback in eight cities across the United States and Akron could be one of its new home bases.
    After a San Diego, Calif.-based business called EndZone Sports Management acquired the rights to the USFL earlier this year, new owner Jamie Cuadra and his support staff set about the process of rebuilding the USFL and establishing teams in interested cities.
    Their travels around the country to meet with prospective owners and civic leaders brought them to Akron on June 25 for a 48-hour whirlwind of meetings with an interested ownership group, the city’s chamber of commerce and Mayor Don Plusquellic.
    Cuadra and USFL vice president of football operations Fred Biletnikoff Jr. also toured potential homes for the possible Akron franchise, including a stop at the University of Akron's Infocision Stadium, where they had a chance to talk with UA football coach Terry Bowden.
    “We visited Infocision Stadium and they took us around. We had a chance to meet coach Bowden and having Fred Biletnikoff Jr., our COO, with me, we run into so many coaches his father has either played or coached with,” Cuadra said.
    Biletnikoff's father, Fred Biletnikoff Sr., is a Hall of Fame receiver who played for the Oakland Raiders from 1965-78. His name, along with the names of former USFL greats like Herschel Walker, Reggie White and Jimy Kelly, were a key part of the deal in acquiring the USFL name, Cuadra explained.
    “The key is starting off with a product that people understand from the beginning. When you have a new moniker and just pick three letters, maybe put “FL” on the end, there is no connection and it doesn't give you the traction you need,” he said. “Grabbing an entity that has some brand equity for me as a businessman was a key thing. My career as a businessman has been built around building brands and making sure people know from the get-go what it really is. Having a name we can really build on was vital.”
    While in Akron, Cuadra and Biletnikoff met with Shawn Mason and Bill Dunn of Team1 Marketing Group, the leading candidate to own a potential Akron USFL franchise. Although the race is still open until a contract is signed, Cuadra said discussions with Team1 went well and the prospects for reaching a final agreement are strong. Once an ownership group is selected, the process begins in earnest for the new owners.
    Page 2 of 2 - The decision on where a team would play is up to the owners and if Team1 is finalized as the ownership group, they plan to purchase and renovate the Rubber Bowl, which has devolved into a crumbling, ignored relic outside the city limits as Infocision Stadium took its place.
    The USFL has a small number of general guidelines for a stadium, including a seating capacity between 20,000-30,000 and a setup that allows for good television coverage. Finding the right facility and generating coverage will be vital if the USFL is to avoid the disastrous fate that has befallen other upstart football leagues looking to become a viable second option behind the NFL.
    “We have to be smart about how we build on this. I have been saying that we get to be students of history, to look at leagues that have failed and stay away from those pitfalls,” Cuadra said. “Pitfalls like start as spring league and trying to move to the fall, giving out huge contracts to players and coaches or like the XFL (World Wrestling Entertainment owner Vince McMahon's failed attempt to start his own football league), which veered away from traditional football.”
    Fiscal responsibility and staying true to football in its traditional form will be the building blocks for the new USFL and they were at the core of the message Cuadra and Biletnikoff shared during their busy 48 hours in Akron. However, the league must also find and develop a talent pool that will facilitate a high level of play on the field. The best uniforms, nice stadiums and catchy marketing campaigns will only go so far and unless the product on the field is good, the USFL will have a difficult time moving the chains with fans.
    Cuadra believes rawing from the pool of players drafted late in the NFL Draft each April who do not survive the roster cuts during training camp in August and finding rising stars who need more playing time before being NFL-ready will give the league the talent it needs.
    “I think the talent base, from talking to former NFL players who have seen it firsthand, comes from a lot of guys who touch the NFL every year, but maybe require one more year of experience. These are guys drafted in the fourth through seventh rounds, or those who go to a D-2 or D-3 school and don't get drafted at all.”
    The current “drop dead” date for determining which cities will get a USFL team is Sept. 1. Salt Lake City, Portland (Ore.), San Antonio, Tulsa, Memphis, Birmingham, Raleigh-Durham and Akron are currently in the running, although other cities could emerge. The USFL plans to debut in March 2013, with eight teams playing a 14-game regular season. Cuadra and Biletnikoff have made it clear they are not attempting to compete with the NFL, but instead offer a high-level of football at a different time of the year. If the attempt is successful, the next great NFL underdog story could have its first chapter written in the Rubber City.

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