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New UFL Out to Break All The TV Rules

ufl-logoNew sports leagues figure they can survive by hooking a fraction of a sport's existing fan base. So football, as the American sports' great white whale, is the most obvious spawning ground.

Since any new pro football league will be seen as inferior to the NFL, you supposedly need an angle. The American Football League was more wide open. The USFL played in the spring and NFL Europe in the summer. Arena Football used 50-yard fields and balls caromed off nets. The XFL combined on-field cameramen with off-field pro wrestling shtick.

But the four-team United Football League, with weeknight games kicking off Oct. 8 on Versus, wants to sell traditional TV football. Says UFL chief operating officer Frank Vuono: "When you tune in, it will be just like tuning into a high-level NFL national game on CBS or Fox on Sunday afternoons."

Except players and coaches can be interviewed during games, viewers can eavesdrop on sideline coaches talking to assistants in overhead boxes and cameras can go into locker rooms. Says Kordell Stewart, the ex-Pittsburgh Steeler who along with Anita Marks was named Tuesday as a sideline reporter for the league-produced TV games on Versus: "All the things you can't do in the NFL, we can do here."

The UFL has ex-NFL coaches such as Dennis Green and Jim Fassel and, says Vuono, its players average 3 1/2 seasons of NFL experience. But Doug Flutie, named Tuesday to call UFL TV games along with Dave Sims on play-by-play, says everybody knows that TV getting total access is Job 1: "The coaches are onboard. They're old-school NFL guys. But everybody knows we're on the same team."

Vuono says the UFL is looking into putting microchips on balls - to see when they cross goal lines - and using lasers to measure first downs without chains. But ultimately, he says, the UFL's angle seems to be no angle: "We're going for real football, not gimmicks. We don't want avid NFL fans to tune us out because we're playing tricks on them."

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