- Chris Mortensen, NFL reporter
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The United Football League has been actively trying to convince the NFL to invest in the junior league in hopes of gaining a valuable senior partner, as well as other investors, according to sources.
However, the latest proposal -- which would give the NFL a 30 percent stake in the year-old UFL -- is not on the agenda for discussion during the NFL owners' meetings, which run Sunday through Wednesday in Orlando, Fla.
Such a potential move was interpreted by one source as the NFL acquiring another pawn in the chess match between the owners and the NFL Players Association when the current labor agreement expires after the 2010 season.
An owners source refuted that notion, saying any financial investment in the UFL would be counter-productive to the NFL's collective-bargaining position that the league has significant economic challenges.
The UFL has proposed that in addition to the 30 percent investment, of which the specific dollar amount was not revealed by sources, the NFL will have at least one seat on the UFL's board and a role in the football operations. Sources disagree on whether a deal is likely.
The potential partnership was first reported as a "rumor" by ProFootballTalk.com in February that the NFL had offered $50 million for a 51 percent share of the UFL, which countered by offering 49 percent for $49 million. At that time, an NFL spokesman said the specifics of that rumor "were flat-out wrong" and that no offer had been made by the NFL.
On the latest information, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said, "We decline to comment."
A UFL official also declined comment. One source said the two sides had signed a non-disclosure agreement.
The UFL is hopeful that a potential partnership with the NFL will bolster its ongoing efforts to add investors as it attempts to expand from four to six teams this year. Currently, the UFL has teams based in Las Vegas, Sacramento, Hartford, Conn., and Orlando.
On the role of the NFL in UFL operations, a source said the UFL would agree to more uniformity in player contracts with the NFL, initially setting terms at two years for each UFL player. If an NFL franchise signed a UFL player who is under contract, there have been discussions about the NFL team paying a rights fee to the UFL team that loses the player, the source said.
In 2009, during a six-game regular season, the UFL released players to sign with any NFL team after the championship game in late November. Some NFL personnel executives were frustrated they were unable to sign or work out UFL players once the upstart league's 2009 season was in progress.
The proposed partnership also potentially would provide additional programming for the league-owned NFL Network, which would broadcast some UFL games, sources said.
If there ever was a partnership, the NFL would likely use the UFL as a training ground for on-field game officials and possibly experiment with a variety of competitive concepts, a source added, such as it did with NFL Europe, which shut down operations in 2007.
NFL players' union officials, who were still in Maui wrapping up their business meetings, did not have immediate comment, but one suggested any NFL partnership with the UFL would be setting the stage to monopolize the 2011 season when an NFL lockout has been projected.
A league source reiterated that the proposals being discussed have been generated by the UFL and have not been warmly embraced yet.
The UFL has its league meeting, also in Orlando, April 21-23. The NFL also has another owners' meeting in Dallas in May.
Chris Mortensen is ESPN's senior NFL analyst.
8hBy Ian O'Connor