Fassel’s good character not enough to save UFL

These are not stupid people. You don’t reach their level of wealth and stature by making foolish business decisions.

What then?

Ego. Power.

The desire to exhibit both?

The need for a new hobby?

It doesn’t work, hasn’t worked, won’t work. We are not a country built for or interested in supporting more than one professional football league, and the fat-cat entrepreneurs who continue trying to force another down our throats only end up choking on their own mound of debt.

The United Football League this week went by the way of others that came before and failed just as miserably, and for this I feel bad for the players and coaches and stadium employees and, mostly, Jim Fassel.

No one worked harder than the Locomotives coach/president/general manager/marketing strategist/head cheerleader. No one wanted the UFL to succeed more than Fassel. No one believed in the product like he did.

I never met Fassel before he arrived in Las Vegas and yet rarely have discovered a more profound level of respect for someone in such a short period of time.

If you know anything about how he helped those affected by 9/11 in the weeks and months and years following the terrorist attacks, you know the level of character he possesses. A good man. A great coach.

But none of that was going to save the UFL and certainly won’t resurrect it in the spring, when league officials insist they again will be open for business.

Stop. Please.

Enough already.

The XFL didn’t work. NFL Europe didn’t work. The USFL didn’t work.

People want to believe the latter did when played in the spring, but it folded teams quicker than most do their laundry. Many of its franchises proved as stable as a three-legged chair.

It lost $163 million. That’s not successful.

Here’s the problem with these types of startup leagues: The NFL and television are powerful enough that aligning themselves with a lesser product such as the UFL makes no sense at any level, financial or otherwise.

The NFL has a minor league system. It’s called college football.

TV has its annual windfall. It’s called the NFL.

It’s a perfect marriage not to be wrecked by outside ventures doomed to fail.

The television channels that chose to show UFL games did so with no rights fee agreements, agreeing instead to revenue sharing after expenses. It would be like landing your dream job, only to be told it pays next to nothing.

We are not starving for football like Bill Hambrecht believed when he launched the UFL in 2009 and offered a league that lost more than $100 million the past two seasons. We are not constantly searching for a sports fix in those months college football and the NFL don’t play. We have the NBA Finals and Final Four and rooting against the Yankees for that.

The UFL never was going to capture our imagination to the point it needed to survive, just as the NFL never was going to feel a need to forge a relationship with Hambrecht’s league and television executives never were going to offer any sort of legitimate contracts for markets such as Omaha, Neb., and Sacramento, Calif.

The UFL brand was nonexistent fans. Tens of thousands of empty seats defined most games.

We’re just not interested, is all.

But that doesn’t mean Hambrecht should get away with not taking responsibility for all the money his league owes others. Coaches. Players. Stadium personnel. Radio stations that broadcast UFL games.

How can he or anyone talk about continuing the UFL until every last financial commitment and cent has been paid? I’m sure Hambrecht has more attorneys than most people have teeth, but all the legal maneuvering money can buy doesn’t conceal the fact his reputation gets more soiled with each unpaid obligation.

This was Hambrecht to the New York Times in 2007: “A guy asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?’ I had trouble explaining, except that it made logical sense.”

It made no sense, not then, not now, not when others tried the same thing, not ever.

Which should make us all feel good that the USFL intends on making a comeback in the spring. That’s what we need. Not one, but two startup pro football leagues competing for your money and interest at the same time, each with no chance of long-term sustainability.

“We will not try to compete with the NFL at all,” said Jaime Cuadra, CEO of the USFL-to-come. “We will play in markets where there are no NFL teams or major league baseball teams. It’s a league for guys who are on the bubble for making NFL teams, and we will have complete open access for the NFL. We want to build a model that is sustainable.”

Gee, where have we heard that one before?

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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