The indoor version of football is at a crucial point of its existence in my opinion. Whether it is called arena or indoor football, it has been with us since 1987 when the Arena Football League (AFL) gave us a Reader’s Digest version of professional football. Since then, dozens of leagues have come and gone. In the early years, other leagues were not allowed to copy the AFL’s version of the game because they had a copyright enforced which prohibited other indoor leagues for having the rebound nets and even using the term “arena football”. That copyright expired several years ago and other leagues sprouted up. Today, there are seven leagues in existence. They are:
• Arena Football League (1987)
• Indoor Football League (2008)
• Legends Football League (2009)
• Champions Indoor Football League (2015)
• China Arena Football League (2016)
• American Arena League (2018)
• National Arena League (2017)
Aside from the Legends Football League listed above, the other leagues are legitimate indoor football leagues. The LFL is a sad gimmick to exploit women players in my opinion.
The Arena Football League was once considered the major league of indoor football but the league is barely staying afloat as they began this season with four teams all located in the Northeast. The league once had 19 teams in 2007 as well as a minor league system known as AF2 which played from 2000-2009. The AFL is at a critical stage of their existence. The league recently named Randall Boe as their new commissioner last month and former Philadelphia Eagles’ Quarterback Ron Jaworski as Chairman of their Executive Committee. They have promised to being committed to the sport. There have been rumors that the league will expand over the next few seasons and possibly reclaim some of their best markets.
The Indoor Football League (IFL) looked like they were going to step in and take over as the sports’ top league when Arizona Rattlers, one of the AFL’s top franchises defected to the IFL in 2016. The IFL has failed to take advantage of the AFL’s instability with their own issues. On July 25, 2017, the IFL announced that only the Arizona Rattlers, Cedar Rapids Titans, Green Bay Blizzard, Iowa Barnstormers, and Nebraska Danger had committed to play for 2018. On August 30, the Sioux Falls Storm announced that they had joined the Champions Indoor Football League after winning six consecutive IFL championships from 2011 to 2016. The Storm was shortly followed by the Wichita Falls Nighthawks.
The IFL then attempted to lure the Bloomington Edge and West Michigan Ironmen from the CIF. The CIF attempted to sue the IFL, Edge, and Ironmen for leaving the CIF after the two teams had already signed league affiliation agreements with the CIF for 2018. The IFL then threatened to sue the CIF. The CIF then retracted their lawsuit with the IFL but also removed the Storm and Nighthawks from their 2018 schedule. After the IFL meetings in October 2017, the Storm returned to the IFL but the Nighthawks had to suspend operations. While the CIF dropped their lawsuit against the IFL, it filed for an injunction against the Edge and Ironmen teams from participating in the IFL for breaking the terms of their signed affiliation agreements. A temporary injunction from participation in the league was granted on January 31, 2018, with the court ruling determining that both teams had been offered bribes from the owner of the Arizona Rattlers to break their contract with the CIF.
The AFL also had the Jacksonville Sharks to defect to the National Arena League (NAL) in 2017.
Top Ten Indoor Football Teams:
1. Philadelphia Soul (AFL)
2. Arizona Rattlers (IFL)
3. Washington Valor (AFL)
4. Iowa Barnstormers (IFL)
5. Jacksonville Sharks (NAL)
6. Sioux Falls Storm (IFL)
7. Omaha Beef (CIF)
8. Baltimore Brigade (AFL)
9. Columbus (Georgia) Lions (NAL)
10. Lehigh Valley Steelhawks (NAL)
In the past two seasons, indoor football has lost some longtime franchises such as the Orlando Predators, Cleveland Gladiators, Spokane Shock and Tampa Bay Storm. The Tampa Bay Storm had a history of success on the field but often struggled for attention in the Tampa Bay Area. When I lived there from 2012-2014, I barely heard a word about the Storm and was very difficult to find any game stories in the local media.
With the AFL slowly sinking into the graveyard of defunct sports leagues, the sport of indoor football needs to get a grip of the situation now in order to save the sport. I think the sport can be saved.
Here are four ideas that I believe could save Indoor Football:
Have a real partnership with the National Football League (NFL). In the past the NFL has had agreements with the AFL but nothing of substantial significance. It would solidify a strong foundation if the NFL subsidized the indoor sport and use it as a development league for referees, coaches and players.
Unity of all the Indoor leagues. If you really want to strengthen the sport, I think the key is to play together. All the teams should be in the same league and then classified by market size. This “Super League” could be divided by classifications such as AAA, AA and A. This would also help lower travel costs and better create regional rivalries.
Revise the rules. The current game puts a lot of emphasis on the passing game and is more of a quarterback league. The game should make the running game more of a part of the game. One way to do this would be to have one back in the backfield to start the play and one receiver in the formation with four linemen. Another idea would to make the field slightly bigger for arenas that would allow the space.
Develop the game at the local level. This is something that has been a huge oversight for indoor football teams. Each indoor team should establish a local indoor league for high school and amateur players so they can get introduced to the game and possibly move up to the pro team. It would serve as a feeder system for the pro team to develop new talent.
Indoor football is a good, off-season alternative to fall football. It is worth saving and preserving. A few major changes are vital to keeping and growing the sport. The leagues have turned into nothing more than semi-pro football leagues with teams that come and go overnight. Stability is important and the sport needs to find it now.