By Marcelo Metzelar, Contributing Writer
The National Gridiron League is set to begin their inaugural season this spring in twelve cities scattered across the U.S. Their slogan, “Twelve teams, One League” is their motto pounding their chest at their single-entity model.
The League is led by Joe E. McClendon III, who played his college ball for the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. He is assisted by COO Larry Barlow, Board Member and former Arena Football Player Keon Perry and Executive Assistant Daria Ray.
Ray is a former minor league football owner and has been around the game for decades. She has worked with several arena/indoor football teams in the past, including the Indiana Firebirds, and Ft. Wayne Fusion. As a former owner, she has needed to wear several hats. Those skills will come in handy as she will be serving as a liaison between the team presidents and the league. “We are a small staff, so when games are nearby, I’ll be helping with game day operations and help makes things look [and be] professional. [I’ll be] that buffer for the league commissioner.”
Cities and teams were selected based on local economy, business leadership and stadium availability and willingness. NGL believes the single-entity model gives them the opportunity for long term investment into a city. According to Ray, “We want a community presence and community commitment.” Programs to fight childhood obesity, and programs that allow kids to play indoor football are just a few community service programs that league is planning to implement.
Player safety is also going to be stressed. There will be a clearly defined concussion protocol prior to training camp each team must follow. Each team has already partnered with local medical teams to ensure athletes get the care they need. Turf Nation has been entrusted with installing the turf and wall padding for all twelve teams. Turf Nation was selected because of their history creating safe, high quality surfaces and have even manufactured the turf for the 2017 and 2018 Super Bowls.
There will be some mixing of rules between traditional arena leagues and indoor leagues. “There will be no Jack-in-the-Box,” according to Ray, “We are making a few tweaks to fit our style.” One rule – the rouge rule, used in Canadian and some of the other indoor leagues will also be in effect. “We want to make special teams a factor and not just a play that gives people a chance to check their phone.” The “Rouge Rule” allows for the kickoff team to earn a point if the receiving team cannot successfully advance the ball out of the end zone. “We want fans to get as much bang for their buck,” Ray said.
NGL will begin play in late March. Each team will play 16 games, 8 home and 8 away. Games will be played Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday afternoons. Four teams from each conference will make the playoffs with the championship game held in Biloxi, MS. A press conference will be held soon to announce broadcasting partnerships.
“I want people to know it’s going to be exciting, I’m excited about what the league stands for, and I can’t wait to see what happens in Biloxi.” Ray said. Ray also hosts a call-in talk show, The National Gridiron League Show, live on Wednesdays at 8pm Eastern time.
Starting a new league is an ambitious task. More often than not, leagues will fail. However, with twelve teams under one ownership, lease agreements in place, medical partnerships set, and community programs in the works, season ticket prices set, coaches hired, and a business leadership that is experienced, the future looks bright for the new league.