Although Cedrick Wilson has been released from the Steelers for punching his girlfriend, the NFL brain-trust is hard at work to keep all of that talent hard at work.
While the high profile problems plaguing the NFL are threatening the league's well-earned reputation as the premier stage within the lucrative entertainment industry, the league seems ready to fight back with all of the marketing muscle and business innovation that it is famous for.
According to our informed sources, the NFL is green lighting further research into a new type of expansion program. And, unlike the NBA, the NFL is not eyeing a Woman's Football Conference. No, not a women's conference, but nevertheless we may see a new conference in the NFL to go with the current National Football Conference and American Football Conference, whose champions meet each year in the SuperBowl.
How about the Prison Football Conference? That's right, the NFL is seriously considering a conference of teams comprised of incarcerated "prisoner-athletes". If your first reaction is "How can they do that?", the estimate is that a conference of 3 or perhaps even 4 competitive teams could be assembled to play in an abbreviated season of 6 to 8 games.
Legendary NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr., when questioned about the plan, said, "4 teams would be easy. Just by pulling talent from the California state penitentiary system we could field 2 different teams that would kick the sh*t out of last year's Oakland Raiders."
Not surprisingly, some current NFL players are enthusiastic about the prospect. When asked, one Pro Bowler was quoted as saying, "I never know when I might get on the wrong side of the police again it would be nice knowing that I could still play. You know I'm trying to stay clean and all, but sometimes you can just be in the wrong place at the wrong time." Other players were more skeptical, with one player saying. "I didn't wish nothing bad on Mike (Vick) and all, you know, but I was kinda glad we weren't going to have to play him again, feel me?"
The flexibility afforded by a Prison Conference (already referred to as the "PFC" according to internal documents) is not lost on the NFL front office. Although when called for a reaction to the story NFL spokesman Greg Aiello predictably had no comment, it's easy to see how NFL management could more easily deal with the many transgressions of its players. There would be no more tough decisions on how harshly to deal with the delicate situation of a player facing jail time. It would be a simple process for players to be traded from an AFC or NFC team to a PFC team. Salary caps would be a non-issue in the PFC, where players would play for nominal prison wages (approximately $.30 - $.55 per hour), and the resulting reduction in overall labor costs would help the league's balance sheet across the board.
A prison league would address one of the more challenging current issues of player conditioning and team scouting, since players doing time could still display their skills and be "game ready" when they transition back into the general population. The ability to maintain endorsement contracts alone makes the Player's Union a strong proponent of the PFC conference. Gene Upshaw, head of the NFL Player's Union was quoted as saying, "Hell yes, it's a good idea. It's about time." Although it may seem a bit too creative, the plan is a logical move forward for a sport that struggles to manage such a large number of players moving in and out of incarceration. And while the plan does have a long way to go before it could be implemented, there are some aspects already decided: all NFL suspensions would run concurrently with prison sentences (naturally) and the league isn't ready for PFC teams to be eligible for the playoffs or the SuperBowl.
But, in time, who knows? Based on the direction of things, there may be some flexibility there: it all comes down to the economics of big time sports.