The State of Developmental Football: When One Door Shuts, Another Opens
The AFL is folding, but indoor football still has plenty of promise.
In an unfortunate bit of recent news for the football world, the Arena Football League has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In an official statement, AFL commissioner Randall Boe said: “We all love the game and tried very hard to make it successful, but we simply weren’t able to raise the capital necessary to grow the league, resolve the substantial legacy liabilities and make it financially viable.”
Having followed this league for as long as I can remember, this is extremely sad and disheartening. As someone who works to get players opportunities in this league due to its higher status, pay, and benefits, it is an extremely unfortunate situation. Players often seek to play in the AFL because it pays significantly higher than smaller sub-regional leagues like the growing Indoor Football League, the East Coast’s National Arena League, and the Midwest-based Champions Indoor Football League.
For developmental football fans, this is nothing new. Charlie Ebersol’s Alliance of American Football took the nation by storm last February, only to ultimately go under due to poor financial planning and lack of working capital. The difference here is that the AFL has been around for 30 years, they’ve had multiple television deals with the likes of ESPN and NFL Network, and this year’s Arena Bowl between the Albany Empire and the Philadelphia Soul was played on ESPN2 in front of thousands of screaming fans in Albany. At any given point during this season, you could find AFL games and full replays available on-demand on ESPN3. This appeared to be a league that was trending upward, as it welcomed back a former franchise in the Columbus Destroyers in addition to a new one in the Atlantic City Blackjacks. Unfortunately for the AFL, it was not able to escape the mistakes made by past commissioners, as they were being sued to the tune of $2.4 million in overdue premiums and payments related to worker’s compensation for a period from 2009 to 2012 by the National Union Fire Insurance Company.
There are still three credible developmental leagues remaining (IFL, NAL, and CIF), and Vince McMahon’s XFL will be making a return in February 2020. Former AFL franchises such as the Arizona Rattlers and the Iowa Barnstormers now belong to the 13-team Indoor Football League, which just added a new franchise in Frisco, Texas this past week.
The Indoor Football League kicks off on March 7th when the closest team for Chicagoans, the Quad City Steamwheelers, travel to Cedar Rapids to take on the River Kings. The Steamwheelers, led by former Baltimore Ravens head coach Cory Ross, missed the IFL playoffs by one game last year in their first IFL season after making the move over from the CIF.
As far as the NAL goes, the two former AFL franchises are the Orlando Predators and the Jacksonville Sharks. The Sharks were the 2019 National Arena League Champions, as they edged out the Carolina Cobras and head coach Billy Back. The Sharks had quite an impressive season, only losing on opening night to the now-defunct New York Streets. Despite the title, Jacksonville did lose a couple of players to Coach Back, as he was able to recruit several 2019 Sharks to his new gig with the Spokane Shock. Back was also able to bring along defensive coordinator Joshua Resignalo and general manager/coach Brian Schmidt with him to Spokane. The NAL welcomes back several franchises, including the AAL champion West Virginia Roughriders. The NAL has yet to release their schedule for the 2020 season, but it is rumored to be out next week.
In the CIF, some of the more well-known franchises include the Sioux City Bandits and the Salina Liberty, the latter being led by head coach Heron O’Neal. The CIF will begin play as the Omaha Beef will take on West Texas. Regardless of where you consume your indoor football from here on out, consider this: with the AFL gone, this is the time for these leagues to grow. Although they may not be at the competition level they want to attain just yet, this is an opportunity for greater exposure.
As someone who works around the clock to help improve and grow the game at every level, I challenge you this — look up one of the three previously referenced leagues, find the closest team to your hometown, and get out to a game. I promise you it will be money well spent. The athletes are extremely talented, the tickets are reasonably priced, and don’t forget the beer! Links to the leagues can be found right here: NAL | IFL | CIF. Now, your job is to go find your team and show your support. You never know who you’ll see out there between those lines. As for the AFL, I want to thank you for the memories, the opportunities for players, and most importantly, 30 great years of hard-hitting football.
Featured Photo: StadiumJourney.com