Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The First Step Toward Giving the Capital Region a Big 4 Sports Voice: The UFL

Other than what I presume is a fresh lilac scent, what do Las Vegas, Virginia Beach, Hartford, Omaha and Sacramento have in common?

Each falls just outside the realm of a major sports city, yet is trying to make the next step. These are the cities that comprise the UFL. They are what the sports world would refer to as "B" cities if it knew they existed. (Sacramento has the Kings, but after their mayor Kevin Smith announced the Maloof brothers' plans to move the team to Anaheim, how long will it be before California's capital can lay claim to a Big 4 team?)

None of these cities can lay claim to the title of "college town" either. Vegas has UNLV, Omaha has Creighton and Virginia Beach has poor kid's spring break, but in many instances you'll find locals supporting colleges outside the city limits. These are the no-man's lands of the sports geography who have banded together behind a fledgling football league to give themselves an identity and be recognized by the sports world.

The thing is, I do not see why the Capital Region has not done everything they can to support the league with their own eyes drawn towards the future. Does the area not fit the criteria for expansion? We have ravenous sports fans, but our closest Big 4 teams are on opposite ends of the state. We have many DI colleges nearby, yet the majority of fans most closely follow bigger schools like Syracuse.

So here we are, a region without a major sports voice, especially since the magic run of Siena men's basketball has hit a snag. Granted, the UFL is no sure-thing. The league lost $35 million in its first season and $50 million last season. It is, however, broadcast now on Versus and has enough talent that over 100 players have been taken from the ranks of the UFL to play in the NFL.

The NFL itself has the issue of the current CBA disagreement. And if you have been following it with any detail, you have probably been reviled at the squabbles of the bloated league, the children of billionaires bickering over inheritance.

If the NFL is locked out for a series of games, that could draw more interest for the UFL ... or just redirect the attention to the MLB playoffs. It could go either way, but as a sports region we should celebrate every time the UFL takes a step forward, because if they make it and to make it big, there is no doubt that the Capital Region is the type of area that the UFL would look to to expand.

Scoff at it today, but the American League and ABA and American Football League had major mergers to help make MLB the NBA and NFL what they are today. If we want to be a part of something bigger, this may be the first step.

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