Despite the Arena Football League sending out a one-paragraph press release Tuesday afternoon stating it has "suspended operations indefinitely," John Garff, owner of the Utah Blaze franchise, fully expects his team will be back on the indoor gridiron at some point in the future.
It's simply going to take longer than previously anticipated.
"The most likely scenario is that we will see arena football in 2011," said Garff. "That's what we'd like to see and that's what we are pushing for."
Garff's optimism is in contrast to reports coast to coast about the league folding — and the league's own pessimistic-sounding release.
"Effective immediately, the Arena Football League has suspended operations indefinitely," the release reads. "The AFL Board of Directors took this action after they were unable to reach any consensus on restructuring the league over the past eight months. Regrettably, the AFL's Board of Directors believes there are no other viable options available to the league right now."
Garff said the league suspending operations isn't the league's death knell, instead calling it "a requisite step to reorganize and play football in 2011."
The AFL, after 21 years of existence, officially suspended play for the 2009 season last December with the goal of returning for the 2010 campaign. That won't happen now, but it doesn't mean the league is necessarily finished.
"There are a lot of rumors out there, many of which are not substantiated," said Garff. "The biggest problem we have is that we've run out of time to get things done in order to play in 2010. We were dealing with time and money. We can solve the money issues, but we need more time to do it."
The biggest time-consuming aspect the league has been dealing with is the transition from individual team operations to a centralized business model — which is how Major League Soccer and the WNBA currently do business.
The AFL last played in 2008 with 17 teams. Since that time, league commissioner David Baker resigned and two teams — the New Orleans VooDoo and the Los Angeles Avengers — have folded.
But that left 15 teams that have been working to get back on the field. Reports are that there has been a divide between owners who were insistent on returning in 2010 and others who were willing to take more time to restructure the league — even if it means no AFL until 2011 or beyond.
The Blaze owner, clearly, was in the latter camp.
"When the time comes to relaunch the league, we just want to make sure we do it right," said Garff.
Even if, or when, the AFL declares bankruptcy, it won't necessarily mean the AFL is gone for good.
"There are a lot of things that need to happen in order for this league to come back," said Garff. "Whether bankruptcy is the chosen path or not remains to be seen. Bankruptcy is a path that the league could take, but it's just as likely that a non-bankruptcy path could occur."
While the Blaze no longer have any full-time employees devoted to the team, three team officials — including head coach Ron James — are working in other areas for the Ken Garff Automotive Group.
"We believe we can rebuild our team in a short period of time if we need to with those three people," said Garff.
The Blaze joined the AFL as an expansion franchise in 2006, playing three seasons at EnergySolutions Arena to near capacity crowds before the 2009 season was suspended.
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