As the proud winner of the only XFL Championship ever played, you can’t accuse Toronto Argonauts’ senior advisor Jim Barker of being a hater of upstart spring football.
However, the four-time Grey Cup champion coach and executive simply isn’t a fan of the latest attempt to enter the market.
“The USFL, I’ll believe it when I see it make it a full season — I’m just not sold that it will,” Barker said in an appearance on The SportsCage.
Following the inaugural USFL Draft, some around the CFL have expressed concerns that the new league will cause a major drain on American talent. Having recently re-joined the Argos front office after a stint on the CFL on TSN panel, Barker does not appear to share that worry.
“The players they have are guys that would be battling for spots in this league, there aren’t a lot of guys you could say: ‘That guy could come here and be a starter.’ I mean, Shea Patterson was the first guy taken in their draft and Shea’s been kicking around our league for a couple years and hasn’t seen the field much,” he said.
“I think there’s a lot of guys like that, guys who are good enough to knock on the door, but you don’t know whether they’re gonna be able to be good enough to ever play in our league.”
The CFL has faced down challenges from countless alternative football leagues over the course of its history, with competitors rarely making a meaningful dent in the talent pool. As a former offensive coordinator with the Los Angeles Xtreme, Barker knows well how quickly they tend to disappear.
The original USFL was a somewhat different story, a viable pro football option with Hall of Fame talents that was collapsed by the ego of a future United States president. The latest version of the league has few similarities.
“The USFL is basically The Spring League in the past and players paid to play in it,” explained Barker.
“They renamed it to try to get people thinking about the old Donald Trump days when he had the New Jersey Generals and Herschel Walker and all of that. There was a ton of [big-name players] and they were trying to out-bid the NFL back in those days. In reality, it’s The Spring League from last year.”
Though the USFL has big TV backers in Fox Sports, the new league will be following the low-cost model of its pay-to-play predecessor by using a hub city. The savings in terms of travel and stadium costs could keep the fragile entity viable, but will prevent it from having any meaningful long-term impact in Barker’s eyes.
“The USFL is now trying to evolve into being a league, but you’re going to have Pittsburgh playing Detroit and they’re going to be playing the game in Birmingham. Every game is going to be in Birmingham. All the players are going to be in Birmingham,” he marveled.
“Are you going to be able to develop a fan base when you do that? People in Pittsburgh, do they care what their Pittsburgh team does when they never have a chance to go and watch? No.”