By: Matt Bressington of Europe’s Elite
Amongst the European scene, there has always been a stigma of “America or bust”, many talented athletes believe they must play football at an NCAA level to be considered the best at their respected position. I have spoken to players from a range of clubs throughout Europe, from the UK Prem leagues to the GFL and everything in between, one recurring factor is that athletes consider both the college experience and educational advantages of the States.
The European competition often being compared to Division 2 or some Division 1 schools, without the addition of education included with a scholarship. However, I wanted to create an open discussion on the natural comparisons and delve into the benefits and opportunities that young athletes can take advantage of in Europe or even in other markets.
As previously mentioned, education plays a huge part in the decision to venture to the US, although it’s the other learning opportunities in other fields.
“I think it would have been beneficial for me to be around a Division one program for four years with nutrition, gym, recovery, games, and practice. You can’t beat that. It’s like a military camp for football players.” Eddie Onamade, United Kingdom.
It’s clear to see from watching any high-level D1 game that they have reaped the benefits of the millions of dollars profit the NCAA makes per year, the athletes are tuned to perform to and required to dedicate a large portion of their life to the team. The counter-argument is that they are very restricted in what they can do with their image, for example, YouTube channels and the selling of jerseys have had players lose the scholarships they have worked their whole life to achieve, whereas in Germany and Austria no such punishments have been issued.
Needless to say, the reach of the College conferences is infinitely broader than the GFL or the AFL, the national coverage allows more sponsorships and lucrative TV deals, in turn, furthering opportunities for the young athletes even after they’ve finished their education.
Naturally, the competition levels in the SEC conferences are as good as you can find outside of the NFL. Having said this, many former players make their way to Europe, specifically into Germany. Nearly every team from the NFL is represented, with the addition of many colleges ranging from around the country with varying levels of success as they transition into the leagues situated in Europe. I had to the opportunity to converse with former Jacksonville Jaguar and current Frankfurt Universe Defensive-Back, Desmond Cooper who had this to say:
“You love seeing new countries start high school teams, but you also wish they’d bring in more resources to coach their coaches and for their offseason. To give kids that equal shot. You can take a very select few kids here and they could compete with American kids but their whole team couldn’t. look at some countries playing 9-man football for their youth.” Desmond Cooper.
This raised an interesting point, that was confirmed by many athletes that were interviewed, people don’t seem to understand the quality of football currently in Europe and the rapid expansion of all the leagues across the continent. As recent as 2012 the GFL has expanded to 16 teams, and in 2016 the Ljubljana Silverhawks from Slovenia and the Bratislava Monarchs from Slovakia in 2018 entered the AFL. It was fairly unanimous that these two elite leagues are comparable to D2 teams in terms of experience and quality, with the star players coming from the NFL and D1 pedigree.
Many of them use the international experience to re-join the Canadian leagues or the NFL, with the addition of meeting more coaches and continued learning opportunities. Not only does this get the European leagues more recognition in North America for preparing talent, but it also gives the leagues more credibility if athletes know they can get experience and move onto the ultimate goal. Evidence of this is the European CFL draft that will, undoubtedly, add more talent into the rosters of the league.
“We had a player last year who is now going to the CFL and he was in the NFL before, but people also use it to travel, I think it’s an amazing opportunity to meet new people” Calvin Stitt, Copenhagen.
To conclude, after hours of interviews and interactions I believe that the European leagues will start to attract more talent adjacent to the funding ingrained into the promotion, production, and facilities of the leagues. A multitude of former NFL players and coaches have all expanded into these leagues for various reasons and periods, it’s clear to see that it’s working slowly with the increased viewing of the various Bowl games.
Perhaps with the growing reputation, more players will be drafted without NCAA experience, following Moritz Böhringer’s footsteps in 2016. Sooner rather than later there will be a transcendent talent that will force the hand of the NFL into possibly funding excursions to an NFL Europe branch of scouting.