IFL Signing Looks Bad For Struggling AFL
"I think it's wrong… Players make a commitment to play through the season, and they should honor that." -Arena Football League Commissioner Jerry B. Kurz (courtesy of the Tampa Bay Times' Brandon Wright, 9 July 2011).
The Commissioner was understandably awfully upset at the end of the 2011 AFL season when a number of players decided to jump ship in the AFL to go to the United Football League (UFL) instead. And sure. I get it. There was a promise for a heck of a lot more money in the UFL than the AFL. These weren't just players that were playing for teams that were out of the playoffs. The Cleveland Gladiators got crippled by the UFL at the end of the year, while the Spokane Shock seemingly lost all of their wide receivers.
Back in the day, when the AFL and the af2 existed, players out of the deuce were not allowed to sign with AFL teams until after their season was said and done with. The NFL generally tried to play nice with the AFL, signing players whenever they wanted, but letting them stay with their current teams until their seasons complete for the most part. And generally speaking, the AFL would leave leagues like the PIFL, IFL, AIFA, and the likes alone until their seasons were over with.
… That is, until this season, apparently.
On Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Power signed Bryan Randall to be their backup quarterback with Andrico Hines going on injured reserve. It has been a rough year at the QB position for the Power. They started the campaign with Kyle Rowley set to lead the team, but he never suited up after the debacle in the scab game against the Orlando Predators to start the season. Hines quarterbacked that game, but he was replaced by Bill Stull the next week. Stull got injured and had to be replaced by Hines once again, but last week, in the rematch with Orlando, Hines was knocked out, leaving Derek Cassidy with the job.
Unless we're talking about the New York Jets and Tim Tebow, generally speaking, signing a backup quarterback isn't really newsworthy stuff. In this case though, it is awfully intriguing to see this move take place.
Randall, a former standout with the Virginia Tech Hokies, was the starting quarterback for the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks of the Indoor Football League (IFL). Last Saturday night, the same night that the Power were busy posting the biggest comeback in the history of the AFL, Randall led the Steelhawks in their win against the Cedar Rapids Titans. The Steelhawks are 4-3 through seven games, and they have seven more weeks left to go in their season. Now, they are going to be without their starting quarterback, presumably for the rest of the year.
Randall was technically released on Wednesday by the Steelhawks and signed by the Power on Thursday.
Somehow, this writer doesn't think that Randall, who is fifth in the league in touchdowns per game with 3.6 and second in the league in TD/INT ratio at 18/3 for the season would just randomly be cut after a win. That means that it is clear that the Power raided this IFL team and really stripped it of any chance that it likely had of being competitive in the weeks to come.
Of course, this isn't even the first time that the Power raided one of the so called "ankle biter" leagues for a player. Cassidy, who did play with the New Orleans VooDoo last season, was the backup quarterback for the Columbus (Ga.) Lions of the Professional Indoor Football League (PIFL) at the start of the campaign. He appeared in two of the five games for the Lions, throwing just two passes, one of which was picked off.
Cassidy was placed on the "exempt" list for the PIFL on April 3rd and was inked to the Power officially on April 4th.
Jason Jones was a member of the Wyoming Cavalry of the IFL from the beginning of their season through April 3rd when he was released. The Power had Jones in training camp, but he was released on March 2nd, only to be resigned on April 3rd, taking a lineman away from the Cavalry just three games into their season.
So at this point, I have to wonder what's going on. Is it okay to go into these leagues and just take players, or is it not okay to do such a thing in the middle of the season? Is Pittsburgh being given different treatment for whatever reason? These are all interesting questions that, of course, no one is ever going to answer.
I have to go back to the very first quote that I put in this story. These players signed contracts stating that they would play for their teams for the entire season. According to an IFL Player Contract, "Player understands that by signing this contract, he has obligated himself to this Team until such time as he is formally released or until January 1, 2013." The contract later goes on to read, "If Player signs with another professional football league other than the NFL, CFL, or UFL, while under contract in the IFL, player will be suspended from play in the IFL for the remainder of the 2012 IFL season and the 2013 IFL season."
So what the Power did with Randall was ask him to violate the terms of his own contract and risk himself being suspended by the IFL for not just one, but two seasons. That being said, because Randall was formally released, he probably won't face this suspension by the IFL, but that surely doesn't make anyone in Lehigh Valley any happier about it.
And that brings me back to the question that I pose to the Commissioner. Kurz continued to state over and over last season at the ArenaBowl during Media Day that the players on the field are the "best arena football players in the world." He said that three times during his State of the League address (once swapping out the word "arena" for the word "indoor"). We used to be beyond going into the lesser leagues and taking their players in the middle of their season. We were better than that. Now, apparently we aren't. Or at least Pittsburgh isn't.
ArenaFan's own Dave Carlson ran a fantastic statistical analysis of the players that returned from one year to the next in the AFL. Of the players that were in the league in 2008, only 195 of the 539 (36.2%) came back to play in the AFL v2.0 in 2010 or beyond. From 2010, 282 of the 487 players (57.9%) returned in at least either 2011 or 2012, while from 2011, there were 267 of the 677 players that are still playing in the league (39.4%).
Interestingly enough, the number of players that were returning from one year to the next from 1998 through 2007 were all at least in the mid-60% range. Also worth noting is the consistency of the number of players that played from one year to the next.
The only years in the history of the league that posted numbers anywhere below even 55% were in 1988, when only 66 of the 171 players came back at some point to the league (38.6%) and in 2008 and 2011.
Another item of note… Last year, there were 677 players that played in this league for the 18 teams, an average of 37.6 players per team. In 2010, that number of players per team was 32.5. Those are the highest two numbers in the history of the league.
Now, go back to 2008. There were 31.7 players per team that year, 30.9 in 2007, 30.7 in 2006, 30.3 in 2005… and the list goes on and on. As you can see though, those numbers stayed relatively consistent from the mid-2000s when the game was in its prime in this writer's opinion, and those numbers have been wildly inconsistent over the last two years.
For those interested this year, there have already been 512 different players suit up in a game, an average of 30.1 players per team. Now, to be fair, 37 of those players were scabs in the first Orlando/Pittsburgh game, so if you take those guys out, we are down to 475 total players and 26.4 players per team. Then again, we are just six weeks into the year.
We don't have the numbers readily in front of us as to which players played in the first six weeks of last season. However, knowing that each team started with 20 guys that played in Week 1, that means that we are averaging right around 18 new players in the league per week. If that's the case, even if you take out the scabs, you're still talking about 727 players for the year, an average of 38.3 players per game, or 764 total players and 42.4 players per team if you add back in the scabs.
Okay, Commish. Answer that one for me. How on earth do we keep advertising that we are the cream of the crop of all of the indoor football leagues and say that we have a league full of the "best arena football players in the world" when we can't even keep our rosters full of our own guys for the whole season?
This type of turnover is just bad for the league. It's terrible. Think about that. Of the first 20 guys that you saw this year on your team, on average, you are going to see 18 other guys over the course of the year donning your team's colors. That's absolutely insane when you really think about it, especially when you consider that, at least as of right now, of the 475 guys (not including scabs) that have suited up this year, only 267 of them played last year in the league. Forget about played for the team that they are currently on. This is just played anywhere in the AFL.
Things are getting worse. They aren't getting better. And I, for one, am tired of hearing about how things are all peaches and cream. Commissioner Kurz: Stop saying that the League is on good footing right now. We're still in the midst of a labor dispute with the players and the owners. We still have owners fighting against owners about how the league should be run. We still have players that are coming and going as they please. We still played a game with scabs at the start of the season. Attendance is down to 7,943 fans per game, as bad as it has been in over 20 years, and there aren't many arenas across the country that look like they have that many fans in the stands. And now, we're taking players out of the IFL and PIFL, leagues that we previous scoffed at as leagues that were below the standard of the af2 when that existed.
And Commissioner Kurz: I would ask of you this question. Go to any game this weekend. Any one of them. We'll take the Friday night NFL Network game, the Tampa Bay Storm vs. Philadelphia Soul. Name me 20 players that are going to be on the field for the game. Bet that you can't do it without looking. Know why that is? Because we, the fans can't do it either, because we don't get the chance to associate with these players any longer.
I'm calling it for what it is. You can say that it is my opinion if you want, and that's all fine and dandy, but the facts don't lie. The players aren't staying in this league, and not only do they not stay season by season, they're not staying week by week either.
How, as the fans of the league in the so called, "Year of the Fan," can anyone expect that we are going to want to support our teams when our teams can't even field the same guys week after week?
So please, I just beg of someone - some league official, some team official, some player… anyone! Please, come out and say it for what it is worth.
The Arena Football League needs change, and it needs it now. The League is broken, and it needs to be fixed. I'm tired of hearing what is good about the League, and I am really getting nauseated when I hear that I should just be happy that we have arena football. I know that there are things wrong with the AFL, and every single one of you reading this article know it as well, and I want to hear what the Commissioner and the rest of the teams are doing to make it better.
And in the so called, "Year of the Fan," for the 25th anniversary season of the Arena Football League, this writer thinks that the best thing that Commissioner Kurz could do for the loyal supporters of the game that are clearly dwindling, what he is going to do to make the things that are bad, better.
To see the statistical study about players returning to the AFL from year to year by Dave Carlson, please visit the ArenaFan Message Boards.