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NFL Practice Squads x International Athletes

Updated: Oct 31, 2023

By now, you’ve heard or seen the news.

The National Football Football league has agreed to expand the practice squad for all 32 clubs to include one international player starting in 2024. Announced on September 13, this change bolsters the NFL’s commitment to grow American football globally while also identifying international talent who can contribute to a club’s pursuit of a Super Bowl championship.

Allocating international players to NFL teams is not new. Since launching in 2017, the NFL’s International Player Pathway (IPP) program has been focused on creating and sustaining an international athlete pipeline from non-U.S. countries to the NFL. The IPP program is part of the NFL’s internationalization strategy to accelerate the development of American football around the world – It’s happening :)

During our Internationalization and Athletics Summit, Will Bryce (NFL International) provided an overview of NFL International and described in detail League-wide initiatives that demonstrate the NFL’s commitment to be a global professional sports league.

NFL Executives have weighed in about this new initiative. “The game grows and improves with global talent from around the world who inspire the next generation in their home nation,” said Troy Vincent, NFL Executive Vice President, Football Operations.

“The practice squad roster expansion for international players will further contribute to our goal of building a sustainable pathway to the NFL for elite global athletes, while also creating local connections with fans around the world,” said Peter O’Reilly, NFL Executive Vice President, Club Business, Major Events & International.

I believe practice squad expansion for inclusion of international talent will also spark meaningful conversation about NFL clubs in non-U.S. countries, primarily Europe. There are only so many roster spots in the NFL. As more international talent becomes interested in American football, the NFL will have no choice but to consider non-U.S. clubs and leagues to support its globalization – relaunch of NFL Europe maybe!?

Below are three additional considerations as we prepare for an historic 2024 NFL season.

  1. Player Development. Player development programming will evolve, period. Similar to internationalizing curriculum, player development staff will need to incorporate intercultural and global dimensions into their learning outcomes, facilitation, and assessment. In the past, American football = American programming. Roger Goodell now considers American football a “global sport,” programming must be globally oriented as well.

  2. Increased enrollment of ICAs in NCAA college football. Another commitment in the NFL’s internationalization plan is to create opportunities for talented student-athletes to secure college football scholarships in the United States. Australian kickers will no longer be the only international football players. NCAA football programs who align their recruitment strategy with the NFL’s vision will benefit greatly from international talent matriculating to the U.S.

  3. Sports Diplomacy. Investing in international athlete participation will position the NFL as a league with strong ties to many non-U.S. countries around the world. As such, athletes from these countries have the potential to serve as diplomats to strengthen sociopolitical relationships between the United States and their respective countries. Keep an eye on this one for sure.

Sport is global. The NFL knows it and is making chess moves for a long-term play that will be unveiled to us along the way.

We will be ready.

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