Big League or Bust


It comes as no surprise that the United Football League suspended operations Oct. 20 midway through its fourth season. Players in the four-team league haven’t been getting paid, attendance in each city has been dismal and former Virginia Destroyers coach Marty Schottenheimer just sued the league for $2.3 million in unpaid compensation, following a similar suit by ex-Sacramento coach and general manager Dennis Green.

But the fact that the league’s Las Vegas franchise faired so poorly in the money game should be an eye-opener. Because when it comes to actual football, the Locomotives have been the class of the UFL. Jim Fassel, who once led the New York Giants to the Super Bowl, gave the Locos a high-profile coach, and he’s the only UFL coach to remain from the league’s inaugural year. His Locos won the first two UFL championships before losing in last year’s title game, and—with the league’s top-scoring offense and stingiest defense—they were off to a 4-0 start this season.

But Las Vegas never embraced the Locos, punctuated by an announced “crowd” of 601 for the team’s last home game, a 41-6 rout of Omaha at Sam Boyd Stadium on Oct. 3. Officially, the Locos aren’t gone yet. UFL officials say they intend to resume the suspended season in the spring, and then return to a fall schedule in 2013.

Don’t bother. Las Vegas has had numerous pro sports franchises fail before, including teams from the Canadian Football League, Arena Football League and the XFL, but this team was different. Not only did the Locos win, but the quality of play was good, with former NFL players on each UFL roster. And in reaching a fourth season, the league lasted longer than any other pro football league co-existing with the NFL since the American Football League—so Las Vegas had plenty of time to embrace it.

Alas, we snubbed it, just as we have every other startup league that has tried to plant its flag in Las Vegas. Even if the UFL returns in the spring—an unlikely scenario given the league’s significant financial problems—the only way it survives is if it positions itself as a farm system for the NFL.

So let’s stop welcoming these wannabe leagues, most of which are destined to fail before the ball is even pumped up. If one of the Big Four (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL) comes calling—an unlikely occurrence—then, sure, it’s worth listening. But if we’re ever going to become a big-league city, we need to abandon our minor-league mentality.

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