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No Ironman Football A Missed Opportunity for Arena Football

Adam Markowitz
Wednesday September 12, 2012

League meetings are going on in Phoenix as we speak, and the normally tight-lipped Arena Football League decided to tell the world on Wednesday that there would be no Ironman football in the 2013 season. The AFL also announced that the officiating team will be set at five men instead of six as was the case in 2012. Free agency dates were also announced for October.

But of course, my big concern is over the rule of the Ironman, and once again, as has been the case quite a bit over the course of the last few years, the AFL missed a chance to go forward with something unique that might have brought the game some more popularity.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again: Ironman football IS arena football. This game that is being played right now is nothing more than 50-yard football with eight men a side in which there is a minimal level of defense being played with the equivalent of Single-A and Double-A talent on the field.

I'm so tired of these pleas falling upon deaf ears. I know that I don't speak for the whole world when I say that Ironman football is better than the standard, "You play offense, I'll play defense" game that we have now, but I'm a smart enough man to look at attendance figures and see which game the fans prefer.

There was squat for money involved in the AFL in 1992, and we know that the pay structure for the players back then was equivalent to what it was last year. There were 12 teams in the league at that point, and nine of the 12 averaged at least 10,000 fans per game. The league's average attendance was 12,268, and there was just one week over the course of the 10-week regular season in which there weren't at least 10,000 fans.

Fast forward 20 years to 2012. There were 17 teams in the league, just four of which averaged at least 10,000 fans per game, and there wasn't a single week over the course of the year that averaged five digits worth of fans per game. In actuality, this past ArenaBowl was the most embarrassingly attended ArenaBowl in league history. (I don't care what they say. I was there and saw it with my own two eyes. There were a lot closer to 3,000 fans in attendance than 13,000 fans like they announced.)

The game was different then. It was marketed differently as well. It was labeled as a blue-collared game played by the blue-collared player at a blue-collared rate that you could see at a blue-collared price. It was just like the old schoolyard that the average person could relate to. You would go out and play wide receiver against a defensive back and score a touchdown against him, and the very next play, you'd be the DB and he'd be the wide out. This was known as the All Fun League for a reason, and the diehard fans of the game referred to the NFL as the No Fun League.

Memo to AFL officials and league owners: The AFL v2.0 isn't working. It just isn't. The players are unhappy and went on a season-long labor dispute that, as far as we know, still isn't resolved. The fans aren't showing up to games. Our main TV contract forced us into just a stupid start time for our ArenaBowl and showed games on tape delay this year. Injury reports, rule books, and information like, I don't know... which teams are going to actually be playing the game, is still being locked up a tight as Fort Knox in league HQ.

But now, as we go into the 26th year in AFL history, we had a great chance to make a great change. We could have gone back to the way that things used to be. We could have gone back to the way that this league worked.

Of course we're not. That would make too much sense.

Because after all, going to Ironman football could reasonably reduce active roster sizes to 20 players, which would save a minimum of $3,500 per game per team, or you know, a tiny $945,000 for the league for the year. In actuality, between housing, meals, payroll tax, insurance, uniforms, and the likes, that number would probably be well over $5,000 per game per team, which is $1.35M. Even as few as 18 would be plausible, and that could be worth $2M to the league in totality. Because after all, going to Ironman football would give the game something to market once again. Players would be on the field for more than half the game, and they would be more recognizable in their own community. Because after all, heaven forbid that the game of arena football goes back to what it is supposed to be: A different game than what the NFL wants.

I knew it all those years ago. I stated right here in this article, that we were doing things the "AF-Elway." When our dearly departed John Elway came into this game and brought all of his money with him, he wanted to make this game "as much like the NFL as possible." He got his wish. It became more like the NFL. There was money that was put into it like the NFL. There were rules that were put in place to make it more like the NFL. Just one problem. It wasn't the NFL. And as history will tell you, when leagues try to duplicate the NFL that aren't the NFL, they fail and fail utterly miserably. It only feels like a matter of time until we in the graveyard with the XFL, the USFL, and where the second UFL is likely to be really soon as well. That right there, is why the AFL v1.0 failed. It wasn't the game itself. There was nothing wrong with the game before Elway and the gang got their greedy paws on it. It was the money that those owners brought into the game that ruined it.

Heaven forbid that we go back to a time where we just bred arena football players. You want to say we're a niche sport? Then let's go out there and find the best players for our little niche. Because you know what? Back in the day, there weren't all that many players that dropped out of the NFL that weren't quarterbacks or kickers that were able to come into the AFL and learn the nuances of the game. That's just the way that it was. You were either bred for the outdoor game or the indoor game, and you usually weren't very good at both. The transition almost seemed easier from indoors to outdoors than vice versa.

And that's when the AFL worked. That's when guys played the game for the sake of playing the game and didn't care about housing contracts, pay per game, and all of this garbage that essentially cost us two AFL games this past year. Guys played because they loved to play.

The opportunity was there. The idea was in the works. Ironman football could have come back and saved the Arena Football League.

But alas, here we are again, preparing for another season of the AFL, hearing just how great the game is, only to see that there are more franchises that are leaving the league (Kansas City and Georgia) than are coming to it (which appear to be none for 2013, though we know that that could change). We're going to hear just how wonderful these players are that are the "future of the AFL," only to see that over 40% of the guys that were on active rosters at the end of last year won't sniff roster spots in 2013. And again, in spite of the fact that two worst teams in terms of attendance from last year aren't going to be in the AFL this year, I'd bet dollars to donuts that the league average in terms of attendance this year is once again lower than the disastrously low 7,841 that it was this past year.

The definition of insanity is the act of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The AFL had a chance to do something different. It could have broken the monotony of what is a broken game in the mass majority of the 17 (err, 15) AFL markets. Would it save the AFL? Who knows? Would it hurt to try, though? When you're gushing blood, the least that you can do is try to find a way to stop the bleeding. If not, you're just going to bleed to death. Same concept here in the AFL.

But instead of doing something to try to break the insanity, the league officials elected to keep doing the same thing for one more year, after seeing that it just doesn't work, over and over again.

So once again, AFL fans, wave goodbye to the Ironman for at least another season. Maybe then, it won't look like such an insane idea to bring two-way football back to its home where it belongs, right here in the Arena Football League.

Adam Markowitz is an accountant and a freelance sports writer living in Orlando. As a Florida State graduate with degrees in music and history, the garnet and gold will forever be a part of him, but he bleeds the black and red of the Orlando Predators like none other. Adam has been following the AFL since 1991 and has been at well over 200 games, including 16 ArenaBowls. You can follow Adam on Twitter @AFLGuru.
The opinions expressed in the article above are only those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, or official stance of ArenaFan Online or its staff, or the Arena Football League, or any AFL or af2 teams.
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