A new Midwest minor league football organization sought Toledo as one of its pioneering teams, but could not reach an agreement to lease the University of Toledo’s Glass Bowl stadium.
Undeterred, organizers of Rivals Professional Football League plan to re-engage in negotiations with UT officials to bring professional football to the Glass City for the first time since the United Football League’s Tornadoes disbanded almost 50 years ago.
Rivals, which plans to expand by two teams to six for their second season, views Toledo as a coup because of the city’s proximity to league members in southeast Michigan and northeast Ohio.
“We do want to expand to Toledo and we are looking at Toledo as a hot bed,” Rivals president Quentin Hines said.
Committed to playing in year one are teams from Akron and Chicago. Joining them are two teams from Michigan; one in Gibraltar called the Detroit Cougars, and the Southern Michigan Mustangs in Clinton Township. The league conducted the first of four player tryouts last month. A 10-round draft is scheduled for April 26, and the first game is set for May 16.
Hines said he discussed bringing a team to Toledo with Tim Warga, the University of Toledo’s assistant athletic director for facilities. Warga could not be reached for comment.
“We said we’re going to try next year,” Hines said.
UT released a statement saying the following: "The University often receives requests from semi-pro teams interested in use of the Glass Bowl. UT is always interested in being a good community partner, however details such as schedules and finances can be a challenge to negotiate.”
Toledo last played professional football in 1965 when mounting debt in the United Football League forced the Tornadoes to dissolve. The team, which lasted nine years playing in the UFL and the American Football Conference, began in Michigan in a semi-pro league. The Tornadoes played most of their home games at Waite Stadium.
In 2009, the folding of an Arena League developmental league foiled Toledo’s planned participation. The Bullfrogs were to play home games the following year at the Huntington Center downtown.
In 1999, the Toledo-based Ohio Cannon of the Regional Football League played at various stadiums, including the Glass Bowl, but did not finish the season.
Hines said Rivals is budgeting each organization $80,000 for facility rental, salaries, insurance, and travel. Players will make between $100 and $300 a week.
Bonuses for team championships and individual achievements can boost a player’s pay to as much as $7,000.
For example, a team’s most valuable player will earn $1,000. Organizers are raising money through TV and radio deals and sponsorship.
“Our league is a league of opportunity,” Hines said. “I don’t care if they were at home sitting on their mama’s couch. If they come to tryouts and they can play ball, we’re gonna give them a shot.”
Hines, a Detroit native, played college football at Cincinnati and Akron. The 23-year-old spent last season on the injured reserve list with the NFL’s New England Patriots.