The Spring League
The Spring League is an American football league and scouting event that began play in 2017 and founded by Brian Woods. Aimed at professional athletes but not paying a salary or expenses, the league's goal is to "serve as an instructional league and showcase for professional football talent."
|No. of teams||4|
|TV partner(s)||FTF/Eleven Sports|
|Fall Experimental Football League|
The Spring League was the second football property to be established by Brian Woods, following the Fall Experimental Football League (FXFL) from 2014 to 2015. The 2017 season consisted of six games that were played during April. There was an additional game called The Spring League Showcase that was played in July 2017.
The National Football League (NFL) has not had an official developmental league since 2007 with NFL Europe. Several other developmental leagues unaffiliated with the NFL have popped up, the FXFL, Gridiron Developmental Football League and the Rivals Professional Football League. On September 2, 2016, the FXFL, after two abbreviated seasons of operation, announced it had suspended operations in hopes of finding a more effective business model. A developmental league continued to be an internal NFL discussion as of December 2016 with a decision deadline of February 2017.
Like the FXFL, The Spring League is built upon the concept of serving as a second opportunity to allow players to advance to more established professional leagues, yet The Spring League has some prominent differences from the FXFL. While The Spring League's core player is around 24 years old, it also took in experienced professionals, which the FXFL discouraged. All four teams are brought to one location, and at first not have distinctive identities or home cities/franchises (this began to change beginning in 2019). Rather, the games are more showcases for the NFL and Canadian Football League (CFL) scouts in the spring and summer months. Also unlike the FXFL, which paid a per-game stipend for its players, The Spring League paid only for room and board. Woods said that the lack of payment is out of financial necessity. To be eligible to participate in the league, a player may not be under contract with a pro league nor be eligible for the current year's draft. Players must also pay a $350 application fee. (By 2019, the application fee had jumped to $2000, as players now also had to cover room and board as part of the fee.) The league also assists in developing NFL referees. Players must also cover their own health insurance. The Spring League earns revenue from a subsidy that the state of Texas provides to hold its events there, as well as from organizations seeking to test equipment and rules changes. In 2019, the XFL served as The Spring League's largest revenue source, paying the league "six figures" to test-run its rulebook.
CEO Brian Woods founded The Spring League in early 2016. On December 22, 2016, SiriusXM NFL Radio initially reported the league as being owned by the NFL, but retracted that by the end of the day. The NFL informed its teams of the league's existence and its plans to operate from April 5 through April 26, 2017. The Spring League's 2017 season consisted of a four-team, three-week single round-robin tournament in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia at The Greenbrier resort in April, and a two-team "Showcase" game in Napa, California in July. The teams in each tournament were only identified with vague geographic names such as North, South, East, West and California. A game streamed on Facebook received 60,000 views while a practice received 30,000 views.
Coaches with long NFL experience included quarterback coach Terry Shea, Steve Fairchild (running backs), Donnie Henderson (defense) and Art Valero (offensive line). For the April games, the league had four teams and 105 players. Its players included NFL veterans Fred Jackson, Anthony "Boobie" Dixon, Ben Tate, Greg Hardy, Ricky Stanzi, McLeod Bethel-Thompson and Ahmad Bradshaw. The players ranged from two to 10 years out from college. The league indicated two CFL and 10 NFL teams had their scouts visit the league while another 20 made requests for video footage. Following the April games, roughly two dozen players were invited to NFL rookie mini-camps. The Carolina Panthers picked up six for their rookie mini-camp.
After the first season, NFL scouts seemed to like the league structure but otherwise gave mixed responses. Value was perceived by scouts as they got updated information on forgotten players or saw a player with a conditioned arm, but otherwise the talent level was below what NFL teams expected for an established developmental league. Some scouts expected younger players that had been to a couple NFL training camp but in the wrong system. Woods indicated that the older and big names brought attention to the league, which has a secondary purpose of providing a veteran annual showcase.
On July 15, 2017, the Spring League Showcase was held at Napa Memorial Stadium in California between Spring League California, coached by Terry Shea and Spring League East, coached by Donnie Henderson. Flofootball.com's FloPRO subscription service streamed the game. David Ash started the game for the California roster and lead several scoring drives. He had 96 passing yards and 9-of-13 passing, including a 4-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Dixon with an interception and 3 runs for a total of 10 yards with his longest for 9 yards. For the East, two quarterbacks, Casey Pachall and Trenton Norvell, made touchdown passes. Pachall completed 4-of-6 passes for 84 yards and a 67-yard touchdown. The game's top rusher was Paul Harris of the East team, who rushed twice for 74 yards and a 6-yard touchdown. East defeated California 23–19.
- Spring League California: David Ash, Quarterback; Diondre Borel, DiAndre Campbell, Jabari Carr, Anthony Ezeakunne, Joshua Hill, Fred Jackson, Jordan James, Gabriel Manzanares, Thierry Nguema, Tyrone Ward, Griff Whalen
- Spring League East: Quarterbacks: Casey Pachall, Trenton Norvell; Anthony Dixon, Greg Hardy, Paul Harris, Nick Kasa, Dontre Wilson and Josh Robinson
- team unspecified: Glen Coffee
The following players signed with NFL or CFL teams following their involvement with The Spring League in 2017:
- McLeod Bethel-Thompson, a quarterback, signed with the Toronto Argonauts on May 23. During his first year with the team, Bethel-Thompson served as a backup quarterback, and also played as a defensive back and on special teams during the CFL preseason. Bethel-Thompson won the 105th Grey Cup with the Argonauts later in the year. Beginning in week 8 of the 2018 season, Bethel-Thompson was named the Argos starting quarterback.
- Zeek Bigger, a linebacker, signed with the Carolina Panthers on May 30, after participating in OTAs on a tryout basis. Bigger was released at the end of the preseason, but spent two weeks on Carolina's practice squad.
- Manasseh Garner, a tight end, signed with the Washington Redskins on May 15 following their rookie mini-camp. Garner was cut following the preseason, but was signed to the practice squad, and was later promoted to the active roster for the final game of the season.
- Cornerback Tyquwan Glass was signed to the Los Angeles Rams on August 22. Glass was released as part of final cuts.
- Tight end David Grinnage was signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars just prior to the preseason on August 14. Grinnage did not make the team, but was given a spot on Jacksonville's practice squad.[unreliable source?]
- Defensive lineman Calvin Heurtelou was signed by the Green Bay Packers on August 21. Heurtelou was waived after the preseason.
- Daje Johnson, wide receiver, signed with the Ottawa Redblacks. After playing the first three weeks of the regular season on the practice roster, Johnson was promoted to be the starting returner for Week 4. After playing two games, Johnson was placed on the injured list, and was later released on August 9.
- Wide receiver Jalen Saunders signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on May 23. After two weeks on the practice roster, Saunders made his CFL debut in Week 3. Saunders finished the 2017 CFL season with over 1,000 yards receiving.
- Quarterback Ricky Stanzi signed with the Calgary Stampeders on May 16 as a backup quarterback.
- Tani Tupou, a fullback/defensive tackle, signed with the Atlanta Falcons on May 14 following their mini-camp. Tupou was the first Spring League player to be signed by a professional team. Tupou was released after the preseason, but was signed to Atlanta's practice squad.[unreliable source?] He spent time on the active roster as well this year.
- Wide receiver Griff Whalen was signed by the Baltimore Ravens on July 21, following his participation in the Summer Showcase game. Whalen was released following the preseason, but later spent two games with the Ravens before being cut again. Whalen then signed with the Oakland Raiders during the offseason.
- Running back Josh Robinson received a workout with the Detroit Lions in August 2017, but went unsigned until he agreed to terms with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL in January 2018.
2018 spring seasonEdit
The league had try-outs in various cities in October and November 2017 and February 2018. On December 7, 2017, The Spring League announced it would play its second season in Austin, Texas beginning in late March 2018. The league was also to have a football-specific tech forum and a joint internship program with the University of Texas’ Center for Sports Leadership & Innovation. Turner Sports announced in mid-January 2018, while the league games would be on its new streaming service, the league was also finalizing a deal to practice and play games at Circuit of the Americas near Austin, Texas. On February 14, the league announced the signing of Heisman Trophy winner and former Cleveland Browns first round pick Johnny Manziel to the league playing on the South team. Games to be played on April 7 and 14. Other former NFL commitments to the league were former Cleveland Browns first round pick Kellen Winslow Jr. and former Baltimore Ravens running back Lorenzo Taliaferro. On March 3, the league did not execute on the contract to play the 2018 season at the Circuit of the Americas and instead announced events to take place at Kelly Reeves Athletic Complex in Round Rock, Texas. Following the April games, the another Summer Showcase was announced for June 2018.
|Spring League 2018|
The following players signed with NFL, CFL or AAF teams following their involvement with The Spring League in 2018:
- Roman Braglio, a defensive lineman, signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on May 6.
- Defensive lineman Harold Brantley signed with the Ottawa Redblacks on May 18. Brantley was released following the preseason, and has yet to accept a practice roster spot with Ottawa.
- Running back Brandon Burks signed with the Toronto Argonauts on April 16. Burks was the first professional Spring League signing of 2018.
- Tight end Paul Butler received an invite to the Oakland Raiders rookie minicamp, and was promptly signed by the team on May 7.
- David Cobb, a running back, signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders on June 4.
- Defensive lineman Breion Creer signed with the BC Lions on May 7.
- Offensive lineman Quinterrius Eatmon was signed by the Carolina Panthers on May 14.
- Defensive back Tyson Graham signed with the Atlanta Falcons on April 17.
- Marcus Henry, a center, was signed by the Seattle Seahawks on May 9, having been invited to participate in rookie minicamp with the team following The Spring League.
- Offensive lineman Cameron Hunt was signed by the Oakland Raiders on May 17.
- Defensive lineman/linebacker Kani Kema-Kaleiwahea signed with the BC Lions on April 17.
- Johnny Manziel, a quarterback, signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on May 19.
- Defensive back Raysean Pringle signed with the Detroit Lions on April 18.[unreliable source?]
- Linebacker/Safety Keith Reineke was signed by the Calgary Stampeders on April 23.
- Tight End Beau Sandland signed with the Arizona Cardinals on April 17, reuniting him with Steve Wilks, his former coach from his stint with the Carolina Panthers.
- Karter Schult, a defensive end, signed with the Carolina Panthers on May 14, after participating in the Panthers minicamp.
- Taylor Symmank, a punter, was signed by the New York Giants on June 5.
- Running back Lorenzo Taliaferro was signed by the Hamilton Ti-Cats on May 28, but released on June 6.
- Defensive back Dwayne Thomas was signed by the Hamilton Ti-Cats on May 18, but released on June 11 following the CFL preseason.
- Defensive lineman/linebacker Lynden Trail signed with the Hamilton Ti-Cats on May 5.
- Zach Mettenberger (West team quarterback) was signed by the Alliance of American Football's Memphis team by July 30, 2018. Mettenberger was one of an estimated 40 players from The Spring League to have signed with the AAF.
2018 fall seasonEdit
The Spring League announced a "Fall Showcase" for Miami, Florida to take place November 6–9, 2018, which the league intends to prepare players for the AAF and XFL, which play winter/spring seasons.
2019 spring seasonEdit
For the 2019 season, The Spring League partnered with the XFL to test rule changes the new league hoped to implement for its own 2020 season. One rule change, originally proposed by Pro Football Talk in 2017, was replacing overtime with a two-point conversion shootout occurring simultaneously at both end zones with five rounds in the TSL. Also tested was the tap rule, which allows a referee to send a player to the sideline for less than a penalty level offense. Both rules and the kickoff formation were later implemented in the XFL.
2019 season practice began March 31, 2019 with double headers on April 6 and 11, 2019. Each of the four teams played two games. For the first time, one of the teams had a brand name; the Austin Generals (formerly South) was named after its host city of Austin, Texas, and used the logo and colors of the former New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League. The remaining three teams will retain their generic North, East and West brandings.
The Spring League was hired by the XFL to hold three mini-camp style tryouts. With this revenue source, the league's revenue exceeded one million dollars and would have its first profitable year. The two leagues are in preliminary discussions of the Spring League becoming the XFL's official development league.
The league held its second Summer Showcase on July 30, 2019 in Mission Viejo, California with 100 pay to play players in a four day camp and a six quarter scrimmage. XFL executives and coaches and ESPN and Fox staff were on had to view rule tests and in-game technologies with the broadcaster giving feedback on how it would effect broadcast coverage.
For 2020, TSL announced a showcase game against the Japan national American football team at the Ford Center at The Star March 1 and the main competition March 7 and 11 at Sam Boyd Stadium. The designated home team (formerly West) was dubbed the Las Vegas Hughes, named after Howard Hughes, who spent much of the end of his life as a recluse in Las Vegas. Mettenberger agreed to return as a quarterback. The league was able to get its abbreviated 2020 season completed just before social distancing mandates tied to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States took effect, shutting down effectively all in-person sports in the United States.
|March 7||Las Vegas||14||North||7|
|March 11||Las Vegas||17||East||6|
|Spring League 2020|
|Las Vegas Hughes||3||1||.750||34||20|
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