Fresh off an exciting season that saw a new champion crowned for the first time in seven seasons, the Indoor Football League, generally regarded as the top minor league indoor football league in the country, appears to be in some major trouble with as many as seven teams potentially leaving the 10-team league this off-season.
The big news Wednesday was that the Spokane Empire, the western-most team in the league, announced they were ceasing operations for the 2018 season.
Pair that with the news earlier this year that the owners of the Colorado Crush and Salt Lake Screaming Eagles would be shutting their teams down to make their own interactive football league, as well as the rumor that the Wichita Falls Nighthawks are looking to jump to a different league, possibly Champions Indoor Football, for geographic reasons, and suddenly you are down to just six teams.
And depending on what rumors or sites you follow along with, the teams in Green Bay and Cedar Rapids may be looking to leave the IFL as well, which would leave the league in a worst-case scenario of having just three teams heading into 2018: The Iowa Barnstomers, Arizona Rattlers, and Sioux Falls Storm.
Aside from Colorado and Salt Lake, who did well at the gate but are leaving to pursue their own league, the biggest culprit in the league appears to be travel costs, and when you look at the league map, it’s easy to see why.
For teams like Nebraska, Iowa, Cedar Rapids, Green Bay and Sioux Falls, they have a host of other teams around them to cut down travel costs, but for Spokane, Colorado, Salt Lake, Arizona and Wichita Falls, they’re all kind of out on an island and don’t really have travel partners or “local” rivals to help out.
The biggest question if all four of Wichita Falls, Spokane, Salt Lake and Colorado leave, is what happens to Arizona? In its first season in the IFL after leaving the Arena Football League, the Rattlers captured the championship and dominated at the gates, leading the league in attendance by a mile.
Look at the map above and the CLOSEST game to Arizona would be in Grand Island, Nebraska, a 17-hour drive. Again, that’s the closest game they would have if the IFL lost the four previously mentioned teams and added none. It would look exactly like the AFL they previously left did. A strong team out on an island with nobody within 15 hours to play against, more that a little ironic.
And I promise that no matter how many fans they bring in each game, they are not going to keep playing if they have to travel 17-plus hours to every away game, and the other teams in the league won’t want to keep traveling all that way to Arizona either.
Now, there have been rumors that Colorado and Salt Lake might have owners to take over those two franchises, and there has also been talk that a there might be teams in the Boise and Portland areas to try to fill that gap in the northwest.
But again, this is minor league indoor football, where teams and leagues come and go on a weekly basis. The expansion rumors in Portland and Boise are just that, rumors, and there is no guarantee that those teams will play next season, or that the league will just up and accept them.
And that’s the beauty of this sport. You could see a league drop down to just three teams this off-season, and likely send them scrambling to other leagues just to keep playing, or, the more likely scenario, is they will lose 3-4 teams, find 3-4 suckers to join in for a season or two to keep the league and its big team afloat, then repeat the dance all over again.
Regardless, what appeared to be the most steady and high-profile of all the minor league indoor football leagues is in for some big changes this off-season, changes that will have effects on at least two other leagues come the 2018 season.