Despite reports, AFL might not play 2009 season

Updated: December 11, 2008, 8:13 PM ET
Associated Press

The Arena Football League says the 2009 season is on for now, but at least one prominent owner says it's still no sure thing.

A disagreement among owners about whether to bring in a private equity firm to invest in the league appears to be the main sticking point.

The owner, who requested anonymity because of the delicate nature of the negotiations, told The Associated Press in an e-mail that the league's announcement that the AFL would play next year might be premature.

Mark Barnhill, principal at the investment group Platinum Equity, said he had nothing new to add Thursday.

Several weeks ago, he acknowledged Platinum Equity had been contacted by the league soliciting a potential investment and that the firm had agreed to review data to determine whether it wanted to invest.

"We don't comment on market rumors, and don't discuss whether or not we are considering potential acquisitions," Barnhill said Thursday in an e-mail.

On Wednesday night, after a day in which at least three AFL teams said they expected the season to be canceled, the league's board of directors met on a conference call. The league subsequently issued a statement that said the season had not been suspended "despite rumors and reports to the contrary."

The press release did not say the league definitely will play in 2009.

"The Board will continue to meet regularly to examine any and all long-term structural improvement options for the AFL," the two-paragraph statement said.

Asked if he thought the league should look into raising money via a private equity group, Ron Jaworski, president of the Philadelphia Soul, said there are no easy answers.

"The bottom line is, how do we improve the league financially and give it stability for the long haul?" Jaworski said. "It's been around for a long time and we want to be around for a long time. We want to be a big-time sports player and we have to have a long-term plan to do that. We have a lot of smart people who I think will get that done."

League spokesman Chris McCloskey said he had no new information Thursday and that the interim commissioner, Ed Policy, was unavailable.

The AFL has endured a season of uncertainty. On Tuesday, the 16-team league delayed indefinitely the start of free agency, the release of its 2009 schedule and a dispersal draft to award players from the defunct New Orleans Voodoo.

No permanent replacement has been named for longtime commissioner David Baker, who abruptly resigned from the 22-year-old league in July two days before the ArenaBowl championship game.

With the 2009 season still alive, teams were left to focus on their rosters under the belief they'll be headed to training camp in less than three months.

"We're readying contracts right now for when we're ready to move forward with free agency," said Luke Stahmer, vice president of operations for the Colorado Crush after Wednesday's announcement that the season has not been suspended.

The head coach of the defending champion Soul also took an optimistic view of the announcement.

"We all know there are some things that need to be corrected, and that's what they're working on," coach Bret Munsey said Wednesday evening. "They're working on the economic model, and it needs to be corrected. Maybe this makes the league stronger. We're looking to be around for another 20 years."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press