My editors at ESPN have always hammered home one point, even mentioning it before I was hired: Readers love lists. That’s why we rank everything – prospects, draft prospects, free agents, and so on. And I guess I’m just as susceptible as any other reader, since I was sucked into Mental Floss’s various lists (discovered by way of Shysterball), including their list of 5 Sports Leagues That Didn’t Make It, including Roller Hockey International and the WFL.
I’m curious why they stopped at five, though. I’ve always been fascinated by the business of sports leagues – a sort of empires rising and falling without all the war and death and backstabbing (okay, some backstabbing) – particularly the ways in which they respond to success (overexpansion, usually) and setbacks. I imagine this economy will prove particularly tough going for some of the fringe leagues out there, such as the National Lacrosse League, which hasn’t exactly been a hallmark of stability but is still going after 22 years with one of its original franchises still extant. (I’ve been to probably half a dozen NLL games, although none since the original Boston Blazers went under in 1997.)
Anyway, here are five other leagues that didn’t make it and included some silliness:
- The North American Soccer League. This league did at least have a peak, packing Giants Stadium for New York Cosmos games and employing some of the best players in the world, including Pele, but they expanded like crazy, ran up huge debts, tried to run a winter indoor season to compete with the similarly ill-fated MISL, and – worst of all – named a team the Tea Men, which was marginally acceptable when they were in New England, but just plain stupid when the team moved to Jacksonville and kept the nickname.
- The American Lacrosse League. This ALL didn’t finish its first season, in 1988, because the entire operation was a financial scam run by the two founders. As if that wasn’t bizarre enough, the league included five teams in the northeast … and one in Denver. That’s a good way to manage your travel costs.
- The National Professional Soccer League. Originally called the American Indoor Soccer Association, the NPSL used a weird scoring system where goals could be worth more points if they were shot from farther away. It didn’t help.
- Major League Volleyball. A women’s volleyball league that lasted a year and a half, and part of the now-quaint trend of giving women’s sports teams feminine names like the Dallas Belles. I actually am surprised that there hasn’t been an effort to start a men’s professional volleyball league in the United States; while it may always be a fringe sport, it’s very popular in other countries (face it – we are a country of people from other countries), is fun to watch, and doesn’t require construction of giant or single-use facilities. But if there’s been a financially successful women’s pro league in any sport in the U.S., it’s news to me – and no, the WNBA doesn’t count.
- World Basketball League. Another of my all-time favorite wacko sports leagues, for two reasons. First, the league had a height restriction: Players over 6’5″ were ineligible to play in the league. Second, the league was funded with money the founder had embezzled from his other company, the discount pharmacy chain Phar-Mor. I thought that Bo Jackson was drafted by an Orange County entry in this league, although the one article I managed to find on the subject identifies that league as the International Basketball Association, which appears to have held a draft (easy) but not to have played a game (hard).