The American Arena League has brought in four new franchises from the Midwest Professional Indoor Football League. The move puts the West Michigan Ironmen, Chicago Aztecs and Indianapolis Enforcers in the new Central Division for the 2019 season and the Midway Marauders will be following up in 2020.
First off, this is good news. All three markets have had heartbreaking problems with logistics. West Michigan has been one of the more well-known examples of what can happen to a franchise when you don't have a home conference and now they have a regular home in the AAL. Chicago will have two franchises to help fix the hole left by the Chicago Rush scandal. Indianapolis had a team at the peak of the AFL but was managed poorly given the area's specialty for being a special event town.
The part of the story that I think was missed is that the MPIF will take a year off and return as a development league, according to the press release sent by AAL Commissioner Tony Zefiretto and MPIF Vice President Rick Sanchez.
Why is this a big deal? Well first of all, a lot of people didn't think it would be the AAL to get a developmental league going compared to the AFL, IFL or NAL. The AAL is newer and had some major flubs in that time. But ultimately the biggest problem in the AAL is consistency among franchises. That gap between best and worst in the AAL this upcoming season may be the biggest ever for any league in the history of the sport.
A lot of that is caused by the professionalism from the top of the league. I've appreciated the professional candor by Zefiretto when speaking with him. The relocation process used by the Roughriders and Havoc have been classy, informative, locally-focused and highlights their roster of champions and their staff equally. It honestly should be something put into a case study at the local universities. High Country and Cape Fear have dealt with some turnover, but have used every available person to keep those franchises working at great levels despite the changes.
The flip side is there are franchises with terrible turf not fit for the end zones of their arenas. Not one, but two franchises misspelled their games against the defending champion Carolina 'Havco' on their official schedules. Social media, press releases and actual gameplay for the players and coaches have been wildly erratic the further you get away from the top. Some franchises also have concerns about ownership changes and the ability to go to the playoffs if they make it.
When you think of a developmental league, you automatically think of growing players and coaches to better talents and skills. Between the indoor game being less common in rural areas to the switch economically of people looking more at trade schools, union apprenticeships and military enlistment, the college game isn't the only option anymore for potential players. Don't get me wrong, there's still going to be a couple of those D3 farm boys fighting for the Monon Bell or something that you'll pick up with a franchise like Indianapolis or Midway, but the pipefitter or steelworker could be just as dangerous coming out of a regional league cause they stay playing despite not attending college.
But for a league like the AAL where consistency is an issue, developing better coaches and front office staffs will have a higher rate on return due to the stability of those roles that a single player never could. Front office skills for smaller sports do not always overlap with all of the masters programs or business courses taught at major universities. Real life experience with the good news, bad bounces and fiscally ugly is absolutely needed when trying to educate about the wonders of this sport.
I'm not advocating for every game to be a Jackie Moon-inspired corndog giveaway either, just that the institutional knowledge and successful operations of the best that the AAL has be shared with the front offices in the MPIF to grow a consistent, stable product. Talking all aspects of a developmental league will improve the AAL faster than I think anybody would expect while building depth for the individual franchises, and that would be good for the sport.