Keeping a Pro Team Going

It's important to express how important it is to support your local football teams.  Not just your local NFL or high school organizations ... how about checking out the AFL and other indoor leagues along with semi-pro.  A BIG 'hats off' needs to go out to the Arena Football League for following a business plan which is continually in development.  ESPN has mentioned AFL as one of the best innovations over the past several years.  So, why are winning AFL teams struggling?

I have been fortunate to coach pee-wee level to the pros.  But I see football as a business (and think colleges should just admit football is a business for them also) and enjoy working with the ‘professionals’ regardless of the challenges.  In the business of football I have heard a lot of ideas pertaining to “farm clubs” for the National Football League.  Now is the time for people to recognize the fact that several leagues are a developmental program for future NFL players.  The obvious downfall to player development for the NFL in AFL would be the lack of the running game for running back development and linemen size (especially DT / OG) and executing or recognizing stunts.

Now, a quick problem I have is this … at no time does the AFL try to compete with or steal from the king of football, the NFL.  This could be the best part of development the Arena Football League has thought out.  But there are leagues that have formed, or are forming, and are trying to compete with the NFL.  It needs to be recognized that the talent drop from NFL to college is a serious one for players and coaches.  The AFL is a great in-between league for players on the edge to the big show or looking to play professional football.  The talent in the AFL is serious stuff.  Players I work and talk with seem to think gaining a spot on an Arena team is easier than making the NFL.  This could not be further from the truth.  Everyone needs to understand that the expectations for playing AFL are professional grade!  Standards are not lower in order to make an Arena team.

For players who are just short of, or want to join a professional arena team, I would suggest finding a legitimate semi-pro organization in your area.  Make sure they have been around for a while and have coaches that will push and develop you.  Joining another indoor league with promises to pay and whatever else will only add to your problems.  At least with a semi-pro team you understand what’s going on without surprises down the road.  If you are serious about the goal to play pro ball, tuck the ego in the back pocket and make smart decisions.  If you don’t want to play semi-pro to stay in football shape until your next pro tryout and think a year off won’t hurt you are wrong. Go play ball and remember one warning I can offer about playing semi-pro:  “Don’t settle for it, don’t let it make you sloppy , and don’t think you are the king of the hill.”  I’ve seen several top athletes that should be playing at a professional level sucked into the semi-pro level and never come out.  The talent at semi-pro is fantastic but too often age becomes a factor before players decide to move up.  It’s what I call the BLACK HOLE of football.

Back to the subject.  The NFL could send some skilled players to other leagues for further development. Just like it did with NFL Europe.  Think of the cost savings for pro teams in player development and the added interest for fans to attend or watch the other leagues games.  There are players I have personally worked with that were sent to NFL Europe for development but only sat and learned almost nothing further.  This can be based on the format Major League Baseball uses for its minor league system.  The difference is the AFL is not ‘minor league’ instead, professional.  Each NFL club could allocate, after the completion of its NFL training camp, players from its initial training camp roster to an AFL affiliate.  To keep the cost efficiant for AFL fans and the league players would be paid AFL wages for this time. Hey, it’s better than being cut period and they receive coaching along with professional play time.

The advantage of the indoor football system is that it would allow an NFL club to get a "second look" at a player that does not initially make its regular NFL club without actually having to relinquish that player's rights. The operating cost of the player development would be less than the NFL payed to NFL Europe and more opportunity for players getting the much needed play time.

I understand the AFL wants to remain it’s own identity in professional football, as it should, but to help alleviate independent AFL organizations' marketing and sponsorship problems a step could be made to help.  We already see celebrity owners that make an impact to the AFL market.  Couple this with the above idea and things could get interesting.  Fans are upset to lose a professional team in their hometown area and are looking for a bit more stability from the AFL.

In closing I would like to remind you again to go out and support your local football teams.  The players are talented, fans are great, it’s indoor and the price is reasonable. For players looking to play, don’t turn down an opportunity to play AFL or CFL hoping for better things.  The talent and competition is there and players move on to bigger markets continually.

 Yours in football,
 Coach Z


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