With roughly two weeks until the start of the indoor/arena football season the sport has never been on shakier ground. Teams are folding on the eve of the season, other leagues are suing each other, blocking teams from playing, or have a laughable number of teams left to play the upcoming season.
Here’s a brief rundown of where each of the five high-profile arena/indoor leagues are as their season’s draw closer to starting:
Arena Football League – 4 teams
Dear God, just end this farce already. The league played its 30th season last year with five teams and the whole time talked about the potential and promise the league had going forward.
Things seemed to be true with up to three expansion teams for this year being rumored, which would have brought them up to eight for 2018. That didn’t happen, instead they got one expansion team in the Albany Empire, and two of its strongest teams, Cleveland Gladiators and Tampa Bay Storm, announced they were done.
So the league is down to four teams that are all in the same area on the east coast owned by two people, has no collective bargaining agreement, lost two of its pillars, and has seen many players ink with lower leagues just to be closer to home because there’s not much of a difference in pay anymore. If this league isn’t up to six or eight teams by 2019, just kill it off.
Indoor Football League – 6 teams
The IFL looked like it wouldn’t have a 2018 season for a while with four teams folding in the off-season, the best team in league history trying to leave for a rival league before being threatened with a lawsuit and brought back. Then they stole two teams from rival Champions Indoor Football with bribes to get to eight teams for 2018.
That is until Tuesday when CIF won an injunction against West Michigan and Bloomington, the two teams bribed to IFL, which prevented them from playing in 2018, dropping the league to six teams and forcing them to rework their entire schedule two weeks before the league was set to kick-off.
Honestly, this is probably the end of the IFL after this season, and I’d venture more teams that want to keep playing would drop to CIF, where the travel and pay is less.
Champions Indoor Football – 11 teams
CIF looked like it would play 2018 as the largest arena/indoor football league in the country with 14 teams, but in the world of minor league indoor football league sizes are never set until the season kicks off.
They added an expansion team in the Quad City Steamwheelers, and looked like they were going to add the Sioux Falls Storm and Wichita Falls Nighthawks from the IFL before the IFL ended that dream for both teams. They had two teams fold in the Centex Cavalry and Dodge City Law, then saw two teams leave via bribes for the IFL.
But the league did score a big win over the IFL by effectively shutting down Bloomington and West Michigan. They’ll enter the 2018 season with 11 teams, and honestly could be in prime position to scoop up 3-4 teams next year if the IFL comes to an end.
National Arena League 6 – teams
The National Arena League started last year and had big dreams in its first season, led by the Jacksonville Sharks, formerly of AFL. They played the 2017 season with eight teams, and announced there would be at least two expansion teams for 2018, with talk of playing with up to 12 teams this season.
They have six.
Five teams from 2017 either folded or jumped to a different league, they had to add three expansion teams who are in pretty good markets added just to get to six, and haven’t updated their social media page bios since before the start of 2017.
But NAL could be in a good spot like CIF is with the IFL, but with the AFL. The league is in bigger markets on the east coast, and if the AFL goes tits up after this season, they could scoop up a couple of teams, but given that they were talking about 12 teams for this season and ended up with six, let’s not hold our breath.
American Arena League – 12 teams
This league could be the next CIF, or it could be one of many alphabet soup leagues that didn’t last. Currently, this is the largest league in the country with 12 full-time teams and three affiliate members. Three of those teams were plucked from NAL.
But not all is rosy. This league was formed when the struggling Can-Am League and Arena Pro Football merged what decent remaining teams they had left to make AAL, and less than a week ago the Vermont Bucks announced they were folding. Oh and one of the teams signed former NFL player and domestic abuser Greg Hardy, because they thought that was a good idea.
Honestly, I don’t know what to make of this league. There are probably 4-6 teams that are legit and will keep playing past 2018, but I’d bet there are at least four teams who play this season only, or don’t even make it to 2019.
So there you go, all five leagues have major issues at this moment, fans are mad, and it’s putting into question how long this sport can survive.
Also, how the hell can there be FIVE leagues of this shit when they’re all playing some version of the same game? Five leagues and 39 teams. How do you not merge them into one or two leagues and make an East and a West version? What a sport.