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Does The NFL Need A Minor League System? Our Commentator Thinks So


Of all the major sports leagues in the country, the National Football League is the only one without a dedicated professional minor league system. That could be about to change. Great way to cultivate new, younger talent for the NFL, right? Commentator Kevin Blackistone says not so.

KEVIN BLACKISTONE, BYLINE: I always thought a fullback named Mike Sellers had one of the most remarkable NFL careers, not for the one Pro Bowl he made in 2008 as a special teams player, not because he lasted 12 seasons, all but one in Washington, before he retired in 2011. It's because of how it all started.

Sellers came to the NFL from the Canadian Football League, and he wound up in the CFL at 19, despite not playing major college football. Sellers never took a college entrance exam. So he couldn't accept one of the athletic scholarships offered to him after he was the Washington state High School Play of the Year in 1993. Instead, he wound up at Walla Walla Community College for a year, dropped out and then bolted north of the border for a football paycheck.

And now, Don Yee, the agent of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, is betting there are a lot of guys like Mike Sellers. And he's probably right. So he's trying to start a minor league for high school players who want to get paid to play football, after the senior prom, without having to go to college where they play basically for free. Yee

calls his deal the Pacific Pro Football League. He wants it to kick off a six-game schedule in the summer of 2018, with four teams in and around - where else? - that pro football hotbed of America, Los Angeles.

How did LA go from not having a single NFL team for 21 years to gaining two virtually overnight - and now a minor pro league? But I digress.

Yee proposes to pay players $50,000 with benefits, worker's comp, a 401(k) plan and free community college tuition, or basically do for college-age football players what the multibillion-dollar college football industry should and could be doing for them now. Did you see how much extra Clemson coach Dabo Swinney got for beating Alabama in the college football national championship? Upwards of $1 million to go on top of his $5 million annual salary.

Swinney's players got attaboys, T-shirts, swell ball caps and fake jeweled rings. College-spending rules say the players, who sweat and bleed for coaches and colleges that rake in millions, can only get a few hundred dollars' worth of kitschy gifts for winning the whole thing. And that's the problem.

College football, one of the two cash cows of the NCAA, is under unprecedented legal and moral pressure to give college players a more equitable slice of the pie. As noble as it sounds, Yee's league threatens to let college football off the hook.

MARTIN: That was sports commentator Kevin Blackistone.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO SONG, "A WALK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.