Eight Steps Commissioner Kurz Has To Take To Save The AFL
Monday, May 7th, 2012 marks the continuation of another long era for the Arena Football League. Commissioner Jerry B. Kurz has had his contract extended for five years, making him the commissioner of the AFL through 2017.
Many have taken some issues with my writing over the course of the last several years since I have started at ArenaFan. I'll be the first to admit that I am an edgy writer and that I am controversial, sometimes to a fault, but I feel as though this league has taken some tremendous steps backwards from 2010 when it launched again to the present. I don't think that there is a fan out there that thinks that the AFL is in great shape at this point, and if there is anyone that would like to argue that with me, I'd be happy to hear your comments. Just giving Commissioner Kurz a new contract for five years is something that I question and question in a big time way, though obviously, according to the league, the decision was one that was made unanimously.
Regardless of whether I think that the Commish has done a good job or a bad job though, this isn't a day for me to go backwards and look at all of the things that the AFL screwed up. Instead, it is a day to look forward and to see some of the things that Commissioner Kurz has to do in my opinion to fix the Arena Football League. Many have asked you for what I would do to fix the AFL, and this is as great of a time as any to present this list of eight steps that I feel have to be taken to keep the Arena Football League from what could be an impending doom.
Give Teams the Ability to Sign Long Term Contracts with Players
So let me get this straight. The commissioner of the league can sign a five-year deal, but players can't sign more than a one-year deal? There are a few teams this year, namely the Orlando Predators, Kansas City Command, and Pittsburgh Power, that have zero chance whatsoever of getting into the playoffs this year. Normally speaking in other professional leagues, this is the time that teams that are out of the postseason race take time to breed some of their younger players, hoping to turn them into the stars of the future of their franchise.
However, with just one-year deals on the table, there is nothing that says that a player has to stay with his team. Grooming Nick Hill did the Predators a lot of good when he signed with the Tampa Bay Storm in the offseason. (Of course, Hill didn't end up doing anyone any good when he signed with the Green Bay Packers, but that was hard to forecast.) Giving playing time to Justin Allgood in 2010 didn't do the Tulsa Talons any favors in 2011. (Of course, Allgood didn't do much good for the Philadelphia Soul in 2011 either.)
The bottom line here though, is that teams know that they don't have the ability to try to groom young players. Were Nate Davis and Justin Roper total wastes for the Arena Football League? These guys were bad, but with just one-year contracts, there was never any time to tell whether they were ever going to turn out to be good players or not.
If players don't stay with their same teams for the long run, fans aren't going to have those players to identify with, and they aren't going to be able to continue rivalries. Case in point: The War on I-4 has literally become known as the Bore (or the Snore) on I-4. No one cares about the rivalry because there are just a handful of players that ever played in the rivalry game before this year. This is the first year that I ever remember that a bus full of fans from Orlando didn't make the trip to Tampa Bay for the game. That's bad for the game and it's terrible for the fans.
Cut Some Teams
There are just some cities and venues that the Arena Football League is not going to work in. With apologies to the Georgia Force, Kansas City Command, Milwaukee Mustangs, and Pittsburgh Power, these are teams that need to go. The Cleveland Gladiators might not be far behind, and the San Antonio Talons are sure to be on this list soon. Sorry to the fans of these markets. There just aren't enough of you anymore, and these not-even-close-to-half-full arenas isn't cutting it.
What this does is twofold. First off, it gets rid of teams that just flat out don't get the support that they deserve from their fan bases, raising the average attendance of the games across the rest of the league right off the bat. Secondly, it distributes those players that are good playing for those franchises to the rest of the AFL, which will make those teams more talented. Sure, bad attendance doesn't directly correlate to being bad and good attendance doesn't necessarily correlate to being good. However, diluting your talent level doesn't help either. Having 10 teams that are competitive and play a better brand of football is a heck of a lot better than having 17 teams, a half dozen of which play at a high level and most of which are just average indoor football teams at best. And that brings me to my next point…
Cut Roster Sizes and Get Rid of the Standard Contract
What do you really need 21 active players for? If that number was cut down to just 18 or so, there would be a heck of a lot more money to distribute to the active players in the league. Right now, the 21-man roster is making an average of $10,150 per week. Forget about the marketing money to the quarterback and just distribute the rest of that money out to 18 players, and you've got $565 per game per player. Of course, that still isn't going to cut it to bring the rest of the old players back to the league, but at least it is a start.
I also think that the idea of the standard contract needs to go. Not every player is worth $400 to their team. In my opinion, the AFL would be a better place if the league said that the minimum player salary is $200 per week. Then, give the teams the ability to actually bid on these players and give some of the other teams a shot to win. Sorry, but for as long as this stays the same, players are going to flock to the more attractive teams with the more attractive owners, because they would be making the same money regardless of what city they played in. At least give a town like a Kansas City a chance to offer more money to a "big name player" to try to get someone in free agency.
And then there is my next idea…
BRING BACK IRONMAN FOOTBALL!!!!
Pardon the caps and the exclamation points involved with this one, but this is the biggest thing out there. Ironman football is what the league was built on. Players played offense and defense, and everyone on the field had to figure out how to play special teams. It was like old school, backyard football, where there was no such thing as only playing just offense or defense. It related to the fans more, and it made the game more excitable. The Ironman of the Year award used to be the highest individual honor in the league. Now, it is an afterthought of an award that is essentially now given to the player that has the most receiving yards and return yards in the league.
It used to be that the AFL had that niche because of the Ironman. Now, the only thing that separates us from the rest of the "ankle biter" leagues is the fact that we have nets and they don't.
By the way, going to Ironman football might be able to decrease your roster sign down as far as maybe even 16, which would offer up a lot more money to the players on a weekly basis as well.
Stop Raiding the Other Indoor Football Leagues
When the AFL and the af2 existed in conjunction, there was a rule in place (though an unwritten one) that AFL teams could not take players off of af2 rosters until their season was said and done with. The only way that a player could leave from the AFL to go to another league was if it was the NFL, and even then, players usually waited until their team had their season ended, either mathematically or in actuality.
Last year, Commissioner Kurz moaned and complained when the players that he was playing $400 per week left for the bigger money of the United Football League (UFL) with some of the season left to play, and he cited the fact that these players signed contracts to play in the AFL for a full year and should have honored those contracts. The same should be true for the IFL, PIFL, AIFA, and any of the other indoor football leagues that are out there at the moment.
Courtesy of Chris Yow, ArenaFan.com learned that Tony Colston is going to be playing for the Georgia Force this week. Colston is currently playing with the PIFL's Knoxville Nighthawks. He completed 50.8 percent of his passes this year for 731 yards with 12 TDs against 10 picks. It shouldn't be considered all that much of a shock with numbers like that, that Colston was cut from the Nighthawks on April 24th.
It's not like Colston was good in the AFL in the past. He played for the Alabama Vipers in 2010, completing 55.1 percent of his passes for 817 yards with 14 TDs and four INTs in seven games played. He played extensively in five games, and in what shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, the Vipers went 1-4 in those games.
This is the third time this year that a team has gone to the "ankle biter" leagues to find a quarterback. The Pittsburgh Power did it on both of the other occasions, taking a backup quarterback in Derek Cassidy from the PIFL and then Bryan Randall, a starting quarterback in the IFL in consecutive weeks.
This just isn't going to cut it. It just doesn't look good. I'm a big believer in letting players improve with game time, but that's what the af2 used to be for, in theory. Players would be discovered in the lower level leagues and brought to the af2, where they would be groomed to have their shot at the AFL. We saw it with several players in the past, and we knew that there were more on the way like Nick Davila, Tommy Grady, and Kyle Rowley had the AFL/af2 combination continued in 2009 and into the future.
If you're going to be the premier arena football league in the world, act like it. Bring in the best players right from the get go, and when you need other players, have a pool of players that are out there on practice squads that can jump right in and play. Make it better to be on an AFL practice squad than an IFL starting lineup, just as it is better for our players to be in NFL training camps and practice squads than it is to be in the AFL as a star.
Get a New Major TV Network Contract
There aren't many networks right now that are willing to cover the AFL, and it clearly shows that that is the case because of the fact that there are so many fewer national sponsors of the league. However, this deal with the NFL Network is terrible because teams cannot show localized games at the same time as the NFL Network coverage is going on. That takes away Friday night for a lot of teams that would otherwise have thrived on Fridays, or it takes away the games on television. I will forever be insistent that the NFL Network is a slap in the face to the fans in Orlando and Tampa Bay, two of the biggest and most loyal fan bases in the league for two decades, as fans in those two markets cannot get the NFL Network without DirecTV. But aside from that, that rule about not being able to televise games locally when the NFL Network has coverage of Friday night games (or any other night that the NFL Network has games on) is just absurd and needs to be fixed.
Finalize a Legitimately Fair CBA with the AFLPU
We could go round and round over the issue of the AFLPU. I think that the players dug their own graves in Week 1 of the season by tipping their hand and making a big deal out of a players strike that never materialized, and I will forever be insistent that this is why the Orlando Predators and Pittsburgh Power flat out suck this year. These locker rooms were torn to bits by the idea of replacement players, and it is no shock to this writer that just about every player that crossed the line and played that gloomy Friday night has since been cut.
But regardless, the AFLPU is something that I think is very important to the players and to the league. There are just a number of horrendous problems in place right now. It isn't a big surprise that the man that hands down fines to the players is Commissioner Kurz, and the fact of the matter is that there isn't an appeal process, and even if there were, Kurz would be the one heading it at this point. There is no such thing as arbitration, and there clearly needs to be.
Getting a CBA in place will likely increase player salaries and give better benefits to the players as well. That might be able to infuse some more talent into this league, as players know if they come to this league now that they are basically just at the mercy of whatever the league decides to throw its way.
On the other hand though, the owners and the fans know that they aren't going to get any of this garbage like we got in Week 1. That was the biggest embarrassment, arguably in the history of sports as we know them, and it was surely the blackest eye that the AFL ever suffered. It was confirmed to ArenaFan earlier this year that the players for the Jacksonville Sharks and Arizona Rattlers nearly put on a demonstration right before the kickoff of the ArenaBowl last year. It's a good thing they didn't; that was one of the best games that this writer has ever seen in any form of football.
A union really is a necessity, but the old AFLPA just wasn't going to cut it anymore. The demands were just too high, and there was too much money coming out of the pockets of the owners in 2008. Things were literally out of control. That being said, things are now out of control in the other direction right now. Players literally have zero leverage and zero capability to fight anything, and if the AFL has a desire to get back up to the level of competing for the title of the "Fifth Major American Sport," it has to have a situation where its players, owners, management, and most importantly fans, can be treated fairly. There has to be some sort of a happy medium somewhere, and it should be up to Commissioner Kurz to make sure that that happens and happens ASAP.
Stop Acting Like This is All Peaches and Cream
Any time that you see Roger Goodell, David Stern, or any of the other big time commissioners in the major sports leagues in this country, you hear them talking about what needs to be done to make their league better. It is always about trying to better the product on the field, the court, the ice, or whatever surface that their sport is played on.
We used to get a lot of PR type of stuff from David Baker, the league's past commissioner, but in the end, he also spoke a lot about what needs to improve from a league standpoint as well.
Commissioner Kurz just doesn't see anything as bad. He thinks that the coverage that the league is getting from the NFL Network is great, and he is happy with the coverage that his website provides to the fans and has stated that it is the best coverage in the world for this game. He stated on television that the Kansas City Command were playing well and that Matt Gutierrez was the "future of the AFL." My guess? Gutierrez will be benched within two weeks and released within five, then will never be heard from again.
I understand that, as the commissioner of the AFL, Kurz has to be the ambassador of the game, and sometimes that means basically stating a heck of a lot of positive PR jargon even though you know that things are wrong. However, we just hear the same drivel every single time that we see him on the TV and in press conferences, and every statement just looks and sounds the same.
Well you know what, Commish? There IS something wrong with the AFL, and all of the stats and numbers show it. Are we all grateful to have the game back? Of course we are. We are a lot better off right now than we were in 2009. However, the AFL was also on better footing in 2010 than it is now in this writer's opinion, and I'll point to attendance and turnover in the league as proof for that.
These are the things that ultimately need to change and need to change sooner than later. This is the 25th season of the Arena Football League, and it has been dubbed, "The Year of the Fan." It is also the year of the worst attendance in league history (save for 1989) and the most turnover in league history on rosters as well. And it doesn't take a genius to know that that is bad… and very bad at that.
These eight things aren't the only things by a country mile that need to change with the AFL, but they are the ones that will snap a lot of other things into place. One fan, who has been around the game of arena football for quite some time Tweeted me and stated, "Arena Football League extends Commish contract. In related news, the AFL will shut its doors again by 2015."
Normally speaking, had I made that Tweet, it would have been followed by my created hash tag of #AFLFail. However, I don't view the extension of Commissioner Kurz as an epic fail yet… but if Kurz can't figure out how to right the ship and fix these eight problems with the league, I think that the only problem with that Tweet that I received before was the year.
… We might be lucky to make it to 2013.