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Will Birmingham play in the Southern Professional Football League?

January 27, 1940
Just after an owner's meeting in Chattanooga of the Southern Association, a minor league baseball circuit, a discussion arose about the possibility of starting their own professional football league.

Four teams posted the $500 fee toward league entry; Atlanta, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Memphis.

Paul Florence, Birmingham Barons president, was given until February 15th to see if he could find a sponsor to organize a team in Birmingham.

Nashville could also join at a later date.

Tentative plans call for the league to begin play this fall, and further discussion will happen at the next league meeting in early June.

S. A. Godman (Memphis) was chosen as president and Joe Engle (Chattanooga) as vice president.

January 30, 1940
Florence returned to Birmingham from Chattanooga with the option to join the SPFL, but the Birmingham Barons will not be operating the franchise.

If the city is to have a franchise, it is up to Florence to find investors quickly.

February 6, 1940
A. T. Levine, Jr., a Nashville attorney, is tasked with putting together a possible franchise for Nashville.

He does not think they will be ready for the 1940 season but could join next year. "We are not going to plunge into this thing blindly. Originally, our hopes were to form a league on a not-too-ambitious scale. In other words, a league of four large Tennessee cities; Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis, and Chattanooga, would be a good nucleus. We could sprout from there after we had established ourselves. I'm afraid the baseball men who formed the league over at Chattanooga the other day are al little over-zealous. They want to start out with a big league, high-salaried officials, and big name players. We've tried to convince them that they were taking a rishk with endager the sports. But baseball clubs can stand $15,000 or $20,000 loss, I suppose. Operating a football team would be like taking money out of one pocket to put it in another, if they made any."

Levine wants to limit each squad to 20 players and set each player's maximum salary to $50 a game. The others want to double that, to $100 a game. "That means the weekly payroll would be $2,000, which is pretty stiff."

March 11, 1940
League president Godman says he plans to make the SPFL a six team league. The first four are set but Birmingham, Montgomery, Nashville, and New Orleans are in pursuit of the final two openings. He prefers to keep the league's footprint small to save travel costs, and that is why he prefers Birmingham and Montgomery. Nashville is a good location, but Godman and the other league officials want to restrict financial backing to the South, and only Eastern financiers are offering money there.

"I've painted no rosy picture for the backers, but told them to expect to take a financial loss at least the first two or three years," Godman said.

Current plans call for each team to have one game a week, most likely on Sunday afternoons. Mid-week night games could also be possible early in the season.

They will use the same rules as the National Football League has.

Godman hopes for the league to become a minor league feeder to the NFL "for players who have the ability but for one reason or another fail to grash the gate right away."

According to Godman, the league will not play in 1940 but will instead "positively" begin in 1941.

Godman's positivity withstanding, the Southern Professional Football League did not make it past the middle of May.

An escape clause was written into the original owners agreement that stipulated fees would be refunded if the Knoxville franchise could not secure a playing venue.

Luckily for the owners, this was indeed the case.

The Southern Association would make another run at establishing their own professional football league in 1944. However, that attempt did not fare any better.
Contact Gene Crowley
Last update: April 22, 2021