With the recent announcement of the Richmond Roughriders choosing the AAL instead of the NAL and more announcements possibly to follow, there has been a lot of contentious back and forth between NAL & AAL fans. One of the things I’ve noticed is the incorrect assumption’s fans of both leagues are making. The following article will hopefully clarify the issues and explain the conceptual thinking behind the leagues. I think rivalries are a good thing for a sport as intense as 8 on 8 football, but it’s also helpful to take a dispassionate look at the facts.
The NAL envisions itself in direct competition with the AFL to be the premier arena league in the country. As such they have developed an ambitious plan to create a national footprint with standardized operating practices across the board. On a practical level, this means a single uniform provider, equipment provider, and even standardized advertising. This idea isn’t new or radical because it is exactly what every big-league sport does. MLB uses balls made exclusively by Rawlings, and NBA jerseys are all made by Adidas. It does lead to higher operating expenses for teams, which means the way into the league for new teams is more costly. The positive of this practice is it theoretically prevents teams without the proper finances from joining to begin with. However, in real life it isn’t 100% effective. Teams in all leagues fold all too often and each time it occurs it has the potential to set off a domino effect which, in the recent case of the AFL, led directly to teams like Iowa, Arizona, and Jacksonville seeking greener pastures. The NAL’s business plan may mitigate this issue, but it won’t eliminate it.
The AAL is building regional divisions with the hope of creating local rivalries. This business format is similar to the CIF. Like the NAL, the league has set uniformity standards. The field, the equipment, and the business operations have to meet a high standard, but they do not specify manufacturers. This approach allows teams the opportunity to negotiate with many manufacturers to find the best deal, as well as lowering travel expenses. Theoretically, lower expenses on the business side will lead to higher expenditures on the football side. As such the AAL is considering raising their salary cap to a significantly higher number to draw in the best players. The league seems more willing to take a risk on lesser wealth programs, which might create a higher potential for individual teams running into financial difficulties during the season. While this could set off the same kind of domino effect, which threatens all leagues, the lower expenses will make it easier for the league to intervene.
While fans and many league executives of the NAL believe the AAL will be a minor league, there is little evidence this will be true. What is true is the AAL is made up of the remnants of three minor leagues and some expansion teams. The APF, Can-Am, and SIF were, in fact, lower level leagues and all three had issues with teams folding or refusing to travel. On the other hand, nobody has tried to argue the Florida Tarpons, Richmond Roughriders, and Vermont Bucks wouldn’t be competitive in the NAL. The Triangle Torch, the Cape Fear Heroes, and the Rochester Kings all seem to have solid programs and are ambitiously upgrading their product. On the down side, the league roster does include some programs, which were clearly inferior teams last season. Will they be inferior next season? The AAL doesn’t believe so, but only time will tell. On the other hand, the bottom end of the NAL roster didn’t impress anyone last year either. The best of the bunch was the High Country Grizzlies who beat the terrible teams and lost to the good teams. Behind them were the Georgia Firebirds, the Corpus Christi Rage, and the Dayton Wolfpack. The good teams included the Monterrey Steel, the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks, the Columbus Lions, and the Jacksonville Sharks. Corpus Christi is gone, and Dayton was only a road team that will not be back. Georgia is still listed on their roster, and with good management could improve for 2018. Next year, there is scheduled to be seven or eight teams in the league and several of those will be expansion teams. Having made the financial grade it is hoped they will be able to field competitive teams and help further the league’s quest for national dominance. Unless the AFL ceases operations next season, they will still be considered the big league. Frankly, they do not deserve that title. Last season they had one great team, one good team, and three mediocre teams. It appears as if their roster will be expanding by two, which will give them seven members, five of which are not better than the best in either the AAL or the NAL.
So who is better?
That depends upon who you ask. NAL fans are adamant the high-quality teams in their league mean’s it has a higher overall quality. Coupled with the league’s national aspirations, they may eventually become the top league. AAL fans haven’t really made the same kind of passionate argument in favor of league status. They seem to be taking a more wait and see approach. It is worth noting the CIF is clobbering the IFL with the same strategy as the AAL is employing. Being a first-year league it is impossible to predict what the AAL will be in 2018, but if the top teams in that league continue to play the same high-quality play as last year, that league, as well as the NAL, will provide great entertainment for their fans and in the end isn’t that what really counts the most.