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Arena Football vs. Indoor Football

by Randy Snow

Originally posted on Yahoo! Voices, Thursday, February 23, 2012


I attended my first Arena Football game in 2000. I was also an AFL season ticket holder from 2001-2008 and have been covering the Arena Football League since 2003. I have even covered various Indoor Football teams as well over the years. So believe me when I tell you that there is a difference between Arena Football and the many indoor football leagues that currently play around the country.

All too often I will read a headline by a local sports reporter announcing that an Arena Football team is coming to their town when, in reality, it is an indoor football team that has no affiliation to the Arena Football League. What's the difference? 

Allow me to explain.

Arena Football

Arena Football was the brainchild of Jim Foster who was a Promotions Manager for NFL Properties. On February 11, 1981, while attending the Major Indoor Soccer League All Star game at Madison Square Garden in New York, Foster got the inspiration for the game of Arena Football. He took a manila folder from his briefcase and began to make a sketch of what the field would look like. He also made notes on how many players there would be and some of the rules of the game. (A replica of that manila folder is on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio)

The main thing that makes Arena Football unique is the rebound nets. They are located at each end of the field and keep the ball in play on kickoffs, missed extra points and errant end zone passes. Any ball that bounces off the nets and back into the field of play is a live ball and can be recovered and advanced by either team.

There are eight players on each team; three down linemen, three wide receivers, a quarterback and a fullback. Over 90% of the plays are passing plays in the AFL so the fullback's main job is to act as a blocker for the blitzing linebacker. There are only a handful of running plays in any Arena Football game.

There were a couple of test games in the mid 1980's and the league officially launched in the spring of 1987. There were only four teams that first year (Pittsburgh, Chicago, Washington and Denver) and they only played a six-game regular season schedule, but fans loved it and the sport has continued to grow ever since.

In 1990, Foster was awarded a patent from the U.S. government for the sport of Arena Football. It is the only patent of its kind in the world of sports.

Arena Football was so popular that in 2000, the AFL launched its own 15-team minor league called arenafootball2, or af2 for short. They played in smaller market cities like Moline, Illinois, Roanoke, Virginia and Augusta, Georgia. By 2002, the af2 had 34 franchises playing around the country. Arena Football is played in the spring and summer so as not to overlap with the NFL season.

The AFL did shut down for one season in 2009, but the af2 continued to play that year. The af2 wound up buying the assets of the AFL in bankruptcy court and re-launched itself as the new AFL in 2010 under a new business model. This year, the AFL will celebrate its 25th season on the 50-yard gridiron. There are 17 teams playing an 18-game schedule with a featured game every Friday night on the NFL Network.

Indoor Football

The first competitor to the Arena Football League came along in 1998 when the Indoor Professional Football League took to the field. It lasted only three seasons.

Then came the Indoor Football League in 1999. It lasted just two seasons, but a new IFL debuted in 2009. The National Indoor Football League followed in 2001 and lasted until 2007. Over the years there have been several other indoor leagues that have had various degrees of success. Leagues with names like the Intense Football League, United Indoor Football, the Great Lakes Indoor Football League (which changed its name to the Continental Indoor Football League in 2007), the Southern Indoor Football League, the Lone Star Football League and the World Indoor Football League. Some are still playing today while others either ran their course and folded or merged with other Indoor leagues.

When the Great Lakes Indoor Football League debuted in 2006, it was the only indoor league to feature seven-on-seven play rather than the standard eight players used by every other league. However, they too have now switched to the eight man format.

The main difference in Indoor Football is that they do not use the rebound nets, just goalposts, and they have a more balanced offense which features a more predominant running game. Since indoor teams don't use the rebound nets, they are able to play in facilities that have a much lower ceiling than AFL teams require.

Both Arena Football and Indoor Football teams share the same goal. To give players a chance to play and to be seen so that they might get a chance to move up to the next level, i.e. the Canadian Football League, the United Football League or the NFL. And many players have done just that. The most famous and successful has to be Kurt Warner, who played for the Iowa Barnstormer of the AFL in 1996 and 1997 and won a Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams in 2000. But there are many, many more who also owe their pro careers to a game played on a 50-yard field.

There is only one Arena Football League and about seven Indoor leagues playing round the country. While the play on the field might be similar, only the Arena Football League can boast of a patent on its style of play and weekly, national exposure of its games on TV.

So the next time you see an article about arena football, ask yourself, "Is it really arena football they are talking about, or is it indoor football?"

Now you know the difference.


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