Americans seem to have a thirst for more pro football than what we currently get from the NFL. But apart from the indoor oddity known as the Arena Football League, which seems to inconspicuously tread water in the distant background of the sports landscape, no viable supplement to the NFL has emerged.
The UFL (which abruptly disappeared during its 2012 season) felt doomed for the start, with big talk, small budgets, and a stubborn reluctance to fill the much-needed niche for a true minor league.
Enter the USFL, an ’80s league that lured players like Jim Kelly (pictured) and Reggie White away from the NFL. The resurrected four-letter brand has been laying the foundation for a return that wouldn’t rival the NFL but complement it, with franchises in cities that don’t have NFL teams and a free and open path for any players deemed good enough to go to the next level.
“I’m one of those guys who always said when other people got things started: ‘That’s a great idea. Why didn’t I think of that?’” said Jaime Cuadra, the man who brought the USFL back, in early 2012. “That’s what I’m doing. It’s a romantic idea, but a romantic idea with legs.”
Unfortunately, those legs are about to be shackled.
According to U-T San Diego, Cuadra has pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $1 million from a pair of companies. The money primarily went to fund Cuadra’s football league.
He pleaded guilty to wire fraud and to filing a false federal income tax return. The money was taken from Oceanic Enterprises Inc. and Umami Sustainable Seafood Inc. Cuadra faces up to 22 years in prison.
In March, Cuadra quietly resigned from the USFL to “attend to personal matters.” Former Browns/Ravens executive Jim Bailey assumed control of the operation, and he has said the USFL now plans to return in 2014, with an eight-team league playing a 14-game schedule.
Maybe it will still work. But the looming incarceration of the man who chided the original USFL and UFL for not being “fiscally responsible” makes an uphill climb even more steep.