AFL expands to 18-game schedule for 2011

By Etheria Modacure

After successfully running an indoor football business for 21 seasons, the Arena Football League ceased operations in 2008 because of financial woes,  but returned in 2010 with a solid season and increased exposure. Now it has increased its regular season 16 to 18 games for the 2011 regular season.

The AFL, which has a television contract with the NFL through its flagship station, NFL Network, announced it would expand its regular season to 18 games on Aug. 29. This move was done to help each team’s home market increase revenue, according to AFL commissioner

Jerry Kurz.

It comes on the heels of the NFL debating whether it should move to an

18-game schedule.

“It’s something that’s being looked at by the NFL and with the success of [the 2010 season], it was the [right] time to do it,” Kurz said.

Throughout the 2010 AFL season, the league increased its visibility as its marquee games were broadcast every Friday of the regular season on the NFL Network. The AFL playoffs and the Arena Bowl were also on the network.

With the NFL season concluding on Feb. 6, 2011, at Super Bowl XLV, Kurz said having the AFL regular season start and finish before the NFL preseason starts didn’t upset the league.

“They’re perfectly happy we’re going to an 18-game schedule,” Kurz said. “We wanted to move up our season to complete our championship game before [the] NFL preseason starts.”

Kurz said with the NFL being the league’s broadcast partner, not having a conflict with any preseason games was a good thing for both leagues.

For the 2011 season, there will be three returning teams from the 2008 season, including the Philadelphia Soul, who won the Arena Bowl in 2008; the San Jose SaberCats and the Kansas City Brigade.  There will also be one new team, the Pittsburgh Power.

Two teams have relocated to different cities. The Bossier-Shreveport Battle Wings will relocate to and become the New Orleans VooDoo. The Alabama Vipers have relocated to Atlanta to become the Georgia Force.

Kurz said this move wasn’t done to add more exposure to a league that was forced to suspend operations in 2009. The AFL had a television contract with ESPN in 2007 after  broadcasting on NBC from 2003—2006.

After the league canceled its season in 2009, it was forced to find a broadcast partner. The NFL network, which also airs Canadian Football League games, became the league’s broadcast partner

this year.

“If we had 10 teams or 30 teams, the decision would have been the same,” Kurz said. “Had we stayed at the 16-game schedule, that would’ve been fine.”

Kurz said the decision to have an 18-game schedule passed overwhelmingly with the AFL’s board of directors, and it will give teams another vehicle to raise revenue because teams can now offer nine-game season ticket packages.

Former AFL Player Bob McMillen said he thinks this could have an affect on the players of the AFL, as the indoor game can be brutal on a player’s body.

“Eighteen games in Arena Football is a lot of games,” said McMillen, former player and current head coach of the Chicago Rush. “The turf in the [AFL] is pretty much like a carpet laid over concrete or plywood. It beats up a guy’s body, it beats up their legs.”

The new schedule has its benefits as players will receive two more paychecks according to McMillen. Kurz wouldn’t comment on how much AFL players make annually. Most AFL players also participate in the United Football League after the regular season.

McMillen, a former fullback and linebacker for the Chicago Rush, said he believes in giving his players enough rest and will do so this

upcoming season.

Gene Nudo, president of the Chicago Rush, said he feels this move could have been rushed, and he wished the league would have taken more time to look at potential risks.

AFL teams consists of 24-man rosters and most players play two positions throughout the game. Kurz said new rules for the 2011 season will help players alleviate the rigors of the season.

“There are a lot of unknowns and when you have a 20-man roster, sixteen games is a long season. Eighteen is going to be interesting,” Nudo said.