— -- LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla. -- A voice comes over the speaker phone.
"Hello, this is Dave Campo."
Former All-Pro wide receiver Wes Chandler, sitting with his laptop open on a broad table in an office boardroom, warmly greets the onetime Dallas Cowboys head coach.
"Camp, how you doin'? It's a historic day for Major League Football."
With that, Chandler invites Campo to begin the draft for a fledgling pro football league. It's a moment seven years in the making, and the coaches and general managers of MLFB's eight franchises are on a conference call to begin assembling teams that have yet to be officially named. After tryouts across the country last year, nearly 2,000 players are under contract for the selection process.
Then Campo announces the first pick in MLFB history: "Today, it's my pleasure to announce the franchise selection for Team Campo: Joe Adams, wide receiver/kick returner, University of Arkansas."
Chandler, the president of MLFB, swivels his chair to the left and watches a staffer write the pick on a whiteboard. He raises his eyebrows, intrigued by the choice of the former Razorback and Carolina Panther and perhaps surprised Campo didn't draft a quarterback.
One by one, representatives from the other seven teams make their opening picks. Five teams use their first selections on quarterbacks, including former college standouts Stephen Garcia of South Carolina, Darron Thomas of Oregon and Dan LeFevour of Central Michigan.
After the initial "franchise" round of the draft, each team adds 40 territorial picks and 29 national selections over three days. It's not unlike a fantasy draft -- right down to utilizing a "snake" order for the national picks -- except that actual hopes and dreams hang in the balance. Chandler runs the draft with a steady hand, flawlessly directing traffic, clarifying procedure and debugging potential conflicts along the way. As MLFB media chief Nick Athan uses an orange marker to cross the names of drafted players off lists arranged by position, Chandler keeps the trains running on time.
"If you're not making a pick, mute your line." ... "Galen Hall, you're on the clock." ... "Nothing negative. That's not what we're trying to do here."
MLFB wants to bridge the gap in player development that exists between college football and the NFL. Players looking for an opportunity to be seen by NFL scouts are keenly aware Kurt Warner, James Harrison, Cameron Wake, Adam Vinatieri and countless others had to hone their skills in secondary leagues before achieving NFL success.
Said Campo, "I think you're going to see a number of guys [in MLFB] who have a chance to go to the NFL."
Chandler insists he isn't whistling past the pro football graveyard.
He sees the tombstones of the WFL, USFL, NFL Europe, XFL and UFL. But Chandler, 59, contends that MLFB has learned from the mistakes of those defunct forerunners, and he speaks from decades of knowledge. The College Football Hall of Fame ring on his left hand points to his days as a University of Florida star. He was selected No. 3 overall in the 1978 NFL draft and named to four Pro Bowls during his time with the New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers. Following his playing career, he spent two decades coaching in the college and pro ranks, including a stint as head coach of the Berlin Thunder in NFL Europe and three seasons as the Cowboys' wide receivers coach under Campo.
"We know we have to walk through the ashes of the leagues that have come before us," Chandler said. "This has taken years of planning. We didn't want to rush to just put a product out on the field or to launch a league. ... I've been a part of three startups: the WLAF, NFL Europe as well as UFL. I've seen the good and bad, including the USFL, and the XFL, the FXFL -- all that have gone before us."
MLFB doesn't have individual team owners. Instead, the league is publicly traded, and investors and shareholders own a proportionate interest in each team.
Last week, the league suffered a financial blow when an expected $20 million investment failed to materialize, news the league is obligated to disclose as a public company. Chandler admits the loss is "unfortunate" but said MLFB is exploring several other viable funding options.
"I feel outstanding about our future and the state of Major League Football moving forward," Chandler said. "If you think any new company won't have bumps in the road, you're mistaken. We're going to do right by these players, agents and coaches."
Said Athan, "There's no chance we're not going to play. We're playing ball this year."
MLFB has yet to announce the home bases of its eight franchises, but it has been in negotiations for stadium leases for some time. Markets such as Akron, Ohio; Birmingham, Alabama; Eugene, Oregon; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Orlando, Florida, have been earmarked as possible destinations. A 10-game schedule is planned to run from April to July and conclude before NFL training camps commence. Game schedules have yet to be determined.
In addition to Garcia, Thomas and LeFevour, notable players include former Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk, former TCU quarterback Casey Pachall, one-time Houston Texans receiver Lestar Jean and Nate Boyer, a former Green Beret who went to training camp with the Seattle Seahawks last year.
The list of MLFB head coaches includes Campo, former University of Florida head coach Hall, longtime NFL defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell and veteran NFL quarterback Chris Miller. Although MLFB is willing to give second chances to players who have made mistakes off the field, Chandler said the league places a premium on character and maintains zero tolerance for domestic violence.
"It's one strike, and you're out," Chandler said. "You don't get a second chance to hit your girlfriend -- not in this league."
Diversity is also a point of emphasis in MLFB. Four head coaches and three general managers are African-American.
MLFB has a two-year agreement to televise games via the syndicated American Sports Network, and its games will be officiated in similar fashion to NFL rules, with a few notable exceptions: