CIFL Looking Good in its Second Season, says Co-Founder Jeff Spitaleri
by Randy Snow
Originally posted on OurSportsCentral.com, Friday, April 27, 2007
Jeff Spitaleri founded the Continental Indoor Football League last year along with his brother, Eric, and his sister's fiancÚ, Cory Trapp. Spitaleri is also the League's Director of Team Operations and works closely with the franchise owners.
He was in attendance at the recent Kalamazoo Xplosion home opener and I had a chance to talk to him about the league and where it is going. The first question I had for him was why they chose a seven-on-seven format for the League, when every other indoor and Arena League is playing eight-on-eight football?
"We wanted to do something different," said Spitaleri. "At that time, there were a lot of lawsuit threats going on and we didn't want to be a part of that. We were trying to do our own thing, to differentiate ourselves from what the other leagues were doing. The game is all about scoring. We thought, 'Let's open the field up a little bit more, take away a guy on each side of the ball.' But at the same time, we also put in rules to help the defense, to allow for some defensive stops during the game."
The lawsuit that Spitaleri mentioned was filed last year by the National Indoor Football League against four other Indoor football leagues. It accuses them of copyright and patent infringement on the indoor football concept. The NIFL is the oldest of the current Indoor football leagues and has been around since 2001.
Last season, the CIFL was known as the Great Lakes Indoor Football League and had just six teams and a 10-game schedule. One team, the New York/New Jersey Revolution, was a traveling team and played all 10 of its games on the road.
For 2007, the CIFL has expanded to 14 teams and is playing a 12-game schedule. The Revolution has also found a home venue this season at the Mennen Arena in Morristown, New Jersey.
After a successful first year, which saw the league draw over 70,000 fans to its games, many were surprised when the CIFL more than doubled in size during the off-season. "Based on everybody that wanted to get into the league, we could have expanded to 20 or 24 teams, but that was way too much. The initial plan was to stop at 12 teams, but then we had Chicago and Springfield get in touch we us. Since they're both in Illinois, we thought it would make for a good rivalry with the two teams in southwest Michigan (Kalamazoo and Muskegon) and that's how we ended up with 14 teams this year."
When asked about future expansion of the league, Spitaleri said that they want to take things slowly. "We don't have anything set in stone, but I'm only anticipating adding maybe two teams next year. That's it. We're happy with where we're at. We have to take care of what we have now."
Spitaleri likes the progress that the League has made compared to where it was at this time last year and is constantly looking to improve things on and off the field.
"Obviously, with more teams, there's a lot more work. We're impressed with the talent level, but there are still too many blowouts. We'd like to see some closer games. At the same time, some of the newer teams that are just coming in are doing a good job on the field. We're happy about that." Spitaleri also feels that the league is gaining acceptance in the indoor football community as well as in the cities where their teams are located. "We don't fight so much about being the 'new' league anymore. A lot of people are beginning to take what we're doing seriously. We like that."
Spitaleri is also satisfied with the attendance figures from all of the teams so far this season. "We have different percentage limits that we expect our teams to draw. Existing teams are expected to draw a certain percentage of their (arena) capacity and expansion teams have a different percentage. As of now, the teams are pretty much on par. Steubenville (who came over to the CIFL from the American Indoor Football Association this season) is drawing a little less than we had hoped, but we know they'll come around."
The one thing that Spitaleri wants people to do is come out to a game and experience the CIFL first hand. He feels that once they see a game live, they'll have a good time and come back again. "We hear a lot of negativity because we play seven-on-seven. They think that our game system is the cause of all the blowouts, but it's not our system. Come see our games. Look at our product. I think people will be impressed with the show our teams put on."