For many years, Don Yee has been known as Tom Brady’s agent. Well, going forward, he may be known for something else: CEO of the Pacific Pro Football League, a non-college path to the NFL.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a long, long time,” Yee said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “I’ve been lucky enough to work in football for almost 30 years and just spent a lot of time talking to people in different sectors of the industry. A few years ago, I really started thinking even more deeply about it and writing about it publicly in op-eds. I finally got tired of not doing anything so I tried to challenge myself to do something, so that’s how it really came about. I’ve been very lucky to have the support of a lot of really interesting and significant people in the football business.”
The model is simple. Players who are less than four years removed from high school are eligible to play in a pro-style league. They can earn a paycheck and not risk injury on a college team while receiving no compensation.
“We really have three primary objectives,” Yee said. “One is the professional football development because the professional game is so different now than the amateur game. The second component is we want to make the game safer. We feel that this is a good formula to help develop players, give them enough repetition with a shorter season and reduce their injury risk. The third objective for the league is to really help players start exploring what their passions might be outside of football and help expose them to different people in many different industry sectors and just at least get them going on the right path. They’re going to be former football players much longer than they will be active football players.”
The league, which is expected to begin in 2018, features four teams, all in California. Since going public with his idea, however, Yee has received interest from people all across the country, from Texas to Florida to all throughout the South and Midwest.
The league won’t have to compete with the NFL for ratings, either.
“What we’re trying to do is very, very different,” Yee said. “We’re going to play in the summer months of July and August, and we’ll conclude our season before college football and the NFL even begin. And our season will begin just after the NBA Finals. We think that’s a pretty good spot in the calendar. Football players have, for years, participated in 7-on-7 leagues in the summers and have had training camps in the summer, so I don’t think that’s going to be unusual for the players.”
But it may be unusual for college football, especially if a lot of elite prospects start choosing the Pacific Pro Football League over Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and Dabo Swinney.
“I actually look at this as a supplement to the existing industry. We’re just really trying to create, for the first time ever, an option for the players. If you’re a talented player and you really aspire to be a professional at the highest level, you’ve only really had one path. That’s been a well-worn path for many, many decades. So what we’re trying to do is give that player and his family, for the first time, just a choice. How that plays out, we’re not sure, but based on the last 24 hours, we’ve had a lot of feedback from players who have reached out and left long voicemail messages about their story. It’s actually pretty compelling.”
Yee said that the free market will determine player salaries.
“Maybe there is a very highly recruited high school quarterback that has name recognition already and we feel that person would be a good employee for our league,” Yee sad. “We may make that person a very different offer than some other player.”
Based on that fact alone, it’s difficult to imagine the Pacific Pro Football League not interfering with the NCAA.
“The millennial generation, I feel, is very, very talented, very open-minded about options,” said Yee, who will also provide players with health care coverage and, in the case of injury, workers’ compensation. “For us, all we’re trying to do is put on a good product, pay the players fairly, make the game safer and then help them establish a life path after football. One of the key things we want to do is show them a (financial) chart. If they play with us for one year and they happen to put away $5,000 in an IRA at age 19 or 20– and didn’t do anything else – we can show them what that amount of money will be when they pull it out at age 60. And then they’ll have something for playing just one year in our league.”