When quarterback Ben DiNucci was released by the Denver Broncos last week, the rumor mill went into overdrive, speculating he would be signed by a UFL team, ahead of the playoffs. The prospect was an exciting one. During his time with the XFL Seattle Sea Dragons, DiNucci led the team to the playoffs with a 7-3 record and posted a league-best completion percentage of 272/374 passes for 2,671 yards with 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. DiNucci had a solid ground game and added another three rushing touchdowns that season.

Fans were excited at the thought of DiNucci returning to spring football and with the playoffs looming in just a few weeks, the timing couldn’t be better. But just as rumors began to speculate as to which team he would join, DiNucci announced on X (@B_DiNucci6) that although he’d been contacted by UFL teams and appreciated the fans’ support, he would not be joining the UFL this year.

However, in a subsequent post, DiNucci left the door open to return to spring football in 2025 under a vastly different situation; where he would be both the starting quarterback and owner under a new expansion team. DiNucci’s ideal scenario envisioned a return of the Seattle Sea Dragons where he would become one of the investors purchasing the franchise. Even for a league already known for innovation and rewriting the rule book, DiNucci’s dream of a dual role of player /owner is an eye-popping stretch.

But is there a precedent for athlete ownership and could it happen as part of the UFL’s bid to expand the league? Although it’s unlikely to happen in the NFL, the possibility does exist in other professional sports. Dreaming of a dual role like George Halas enjoyed with the Bears in the 1920s, recently drafted Chicago Bears quarterback Caleb Williams has been very vocal about wanting an ownership stake in the franchise.

Unfortunately for Williams, the NFL operates quite differently today from the Halas era. The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement limits a player’s compensation to his value under the terms of his contract as an athlete. Any deviation from the terms of this agreement would violate the NFL Player Contract. All previous attempts to circumvent the wage/salary cap stipulation through add-on bonus earnings have failed.

There are situations however in other professional sports where owners have been allowed an ownership stake in the teams they play; most notably the agreement Lionel Messi signed with Inter Miami. Messi’s contract allows him to function as a part owner of the team, but only after he has retired from being an active player.

In 1999, two years after retiring from the NHL, Mario Lemieux purchased the Pittsburgh Penguins. Renouncing his retirement in 2000, Lemieux returned to the ice and continued playing for the team until 2005. Today, he is still a minority owner in the club.

Current NBA rules previously prohibited athlete owners such as Michael Jordan (Charlotte Bobcats) and Magic Johnson (LA Lakers) from playing for their teams while acting as owners. The large financial stakes involved in the hugely profitable NBA and NFL franchises pose an inherent conflict between the owners and the athletes that could result in antitrust claims.

However, the UFL is not the NFL where an NFL’s rookie minimum base salary in 2024 is $795,000. Player compensation in the UFL does not come close to the average multi-million dollar contracts signed by restricted free agents this year of $3.116 million. 

Considering that the XFL was initially conceptualized by Dany Garcia who put together a consortium of buyers with Dwayne Johnson and Red Bird Capital to purchase and establish the league as a stand-alone sport that prides itself on innovation and forward-thinking, it might not be that far of a stretch to envision a time when players own a piece of their team. If Green Bay Packers fans can purchase ownership shares in their team, restructuring UFL player contracts to allow a small ownership stake to share in the franchise revenue isn’t so far-fetched.

author avatar
Sue Levine
Sue Levine spent the past five years creating and producing a successful weekly health and wellness podcast starring a wonderful iconic woman as the program host. As part of Sue's responsibilities, she scripted every episode and discovered a genuine love of writing. When the podcast ended late last year, she shifted the focus of her writing to covering pro sports. A passionate fan of NFL and UFL football as well as fantasy, she is delighted to be able to share her articles with other football fans.


  • Posted May 13, 2024 2:39 pm 0Likes
    by Ken Granito

    Hey Sue, I’ve been reading you and you do a good job reporting and when you write stories, they seem to have great relevance, yet you are the only one I would read that gives breath to the story. Very nice follow and I like the outcome. There is a reason for training camp and for QBs it is most important. It also makes senses for him to be in Seattle next year. This year the 4 likely playoff teams already have viable QBs. With NFL and CFL making cuts there may some positions like lock down corner, defensive tackle or end maybe even wide receiver or running back where a team can make a splash. Running back depth Tarik Cohen, Spencer Brown, Deon Jackson and Gerrid Doaks are all newly available. At receiver Shi Smith, Anthony Miller, Dylen Baldwin, Joe Walker and Terry Godwin are newly available. Levi Bell will easily help the Panthers, but Terry Beckner, Deyon Sizer and Thomas Costigan are also free agents. AJ Parker, Quavian White, Mark Fields and Marcus Murphy provide secondary help. Chevan Cordeiro for any QB depth. Just some thoughts for those that may need help finishing strong, while leaving time to sign with the NFL should they garner interest.

    • Posted May 16, 2024 9:47 am 0Likes
      by Sue Levine

      Hi Ken,
      I appreciate the compliment and your feedback. Thank you!
      I’m intrigued by your in-depth analysis. I agree with you that the top 4 teams are set at quarterback. D.C. is still in the playoff hunt and with the recent injuries to Ta’amu and Francois this past weekend, hunt, they need a backup QB option. You mentioned Chevan Cordeiro…is he an option?

      My only concern is with former NFL players who have been inactive, is have they maintained their physical conditioning? Are they in shape to get back on the field? For example, I remember Tarik Cohen from the Bears, but where has he been lately?

      Cheers to a terrific week 8!

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