Pro Football: Arena League cancels season
NEW YORK ó Matt D’Orazio heard the rumors every year he played in the Arena Football League.
“There’s always grumbling about potential teams folding or something not going as planned,” said D’Orazio, the league’s reigning MVP for the champion Philadelphia Soul. “But it always seems to start up and always do better than the year before.”
Not this time. The 22-year-old AFL announced Monday it’s canceling the 2009 season as it seeks to mold a better business model in tough economic times. The decision was pending an agreement with the players union.
League officials hope to return in 2010.
“That is the plan,” said Jim Renacci, the Columbus Destroyers’ co-owner and vice chairman of the AFL executive committee, who will lead the restructuring process. “Every owner is committed to coming back in 2010.”
Renacci left open the possibility the 16-team league could play in 2009 with an abbreviated schedule.
The more than two-thirds of AFL owners needed to approve the measure voted to cancel the season during a conference call Sunday night. The league had issued a statement Wednesday night that said the 2009 season had not been suspended.
“That was probably the longest part of the discussion the owners had: Can we still come back in 2009?” Renacci said on a conference call. “And I think the answer to that is it’s always possible, but most likely we need to retool to be fair to fans.”
The decision left clubs shedding employees and players scrambling to find work. The Cleveland Gladiators laid off six people Monday. Some players have offseason jobs, while others rely only on their AFL salaries.
“We were just kind of praying and hoping they would find a way to make it work, but apparently they didn’t,” said Utah Blaze wide receiver Aaron Boone. “It couldn’t have come at a worse time, right before Christmas and right when your savings are getting low.”
Renacci declined to address what would happen if the union didn’t agree to canceling the season. He said acting commissioner Ed Policy was talking with union officials Monday.
“We are in discussions with the Arena Football League to review proposals for play in the 2010 season,” union spokesman Carl Francis said.
Team executives listed several problems with the AFL’s structure. Players’ salaries need to be tied to league revenue, said Michael Young, executive vice president of the Colorado Crush. The AFL itself also must generate more money instead of placing most of the burden on the teams, he said.
Renacci called for the league to become more efficient by centralizing its business operations, such as marketing, sponsorships and ticket sales.