Struggling Arena Football League won't suspend play for now

PHILADELPHIA — The Arena Football League wasn't quite ready to roll up the turf on its 50-yard indoor fields or put those lanky goal posts in storage.

The AFL's 2009 season remains on schedule — for now.

The league's board of directors met via conference call Wednesday but "despite rumors and reports to the contrary" did not suspend the upcoming season.

"The Board will continue to meet regularly to examine any and all long-term structural improvement options for the AFL," the league said in a statement.

The meeting came amid a tumultuous week in which the league seemed poised to cancel the season.

The 16-team league repeatedly has delayed the start of free agency and the release of its 2009 schedule after an offseason of uncertainty. No replacement has been named for longtime commissioner David Baker, who abruptly resigned in July two days before the ArenaBowl championship game.

Philadelphia co-owner Jon Bon Jovi can rock and he still has the Soul. Bon Jovi's team won its first ArenaBowl in July and coach Bret Munsey hopes his team still has a shot at defending their title

"There's no guarantee you'd come back. You never know," he said on Wednesday. "We all know there are some things that need to be corrected, and that's what they're working on. They're working on the economic model, and it needs to be corrected. Maybe this makes the league stronger. We're looking to be around for another 20 years."

The AFL's woes come at a time when the world of sports, once thought to be largely recession-proof, has felt the economic chill. The NFL has said it would cut 150 jobs, while the NBA and NASCAR also have laid off dozens of workers. The NHL is in a hiring freeze while the Internet operation for Major League Baseball also has trimmed positions.

It's still possible there could be big changes to the arena league.

Philadelphia Soul wide receiver Chris Jackson told the AP that the league's players had agreed to take pay cuts and had been told Tuesday that the season likely would be canceled.

Jackson said he still isn't convinced the AFL will play in '09.

"I'm still reluctant to get too happy," he said. "There's still a lot to plan out. We need to figure out how many teams are going to be in it, the finances of it all, and a working financial model for the future. There's still a lot to be done."

Players' union spokesman Carl Francis declined to discuss specifics about the 2009 season.

"We definitely are in discussions with the Arena Football League on these issues," he said.

Officials from several teams said they were proceeding with business as usual for now.

"We're readying contracts right now for when we're ready to move forward with free agency," said Luke Stahmer, vice president of operations for the Colorado Crush. "We're buying helmets and jerseys as if it's a regular season. We don't want to get caught with our pants down, so to speak."

The 22-year-old Arena Football League has lasted longer than the American Football League, World League, USFL and XFL combined.

Since November 2007, the AFL's board of directors has been looking into various ways to bolster the league's finances.

One proposal involved individual franchise owners ceding control of the league to new investors. Sports Business Journal reported in October that AFL owners had approved a tentative deal with Platinum Equity in which the company would invest up to $100 million and assume management control of the league.

That deal, however, has yet to be completed.

There are still no clear answers when the AFL's 16 teams might be able to start signing free agents. The dispersal draft for the players of the New Orleans VooDoo, also delayed indefinitely, was originally scheduled for October.

New Orleans dropped out of the league despite being among the top five in AFL attendance. Saints owner Tom Benson, who also owned the VooDoo, said the decision was based on "circumstances currently affecting the league and the team."

The AFL's minor-league operation, AF2, is still in operation.

ESPN acquired national TV rights to the AFL in 2006 and has a minority stake in the indoor league. ESPN signed a five-year deal to have multimedia rights that included everything from Internet to radio to publishing and international distribution.

Share This Story