by Mike Vergane
May 14, 2000 - Arena Football League (1987-2008) (AFL I)
The Jim Foster Interview
by Mike Vergane
In part two of The Jim Foster Interview, the founder of the Arena Football League talks about the officiating problems in the league as well as the national media's refusal to take Arena football seriously.
MIKE VERGANE - Are there any plans in the future about having a true farm league setup where an af2 team is affilated with an AFL team?
JIM FOSTER - " I don't think that's going to happen and I'll tell you why. A traditional farm league concept does not lend itself well to professional football. The NFL had farm team arrangements many years ago. I played on the last Minnesota Viking farm team in Des Moines. In the early 70's, the NFL banned farm team arrangements. The reason they did it was that teams were stashing players. What we are doing with the af2 is using it as a developmental league. The players in this league sign a one year contract. At the end of the year they will be released as free agents to move up to the AF1, the CFL, wherever. They cannot have any movement to the AFL during the season.
"If you think about it, if you were to take QB Billy Dicken and OS Shon King from the Steamwheelers, and send them up to the AFL, you would decimate the Steamwheelers and hurt the Quad Cities fans as well. That's the difference between football and minor league baseball, basketball or hockey. Those sports are used to moving players in and out. The nature of the games are different. Football is a game filled with timing and a lot of complicated plays. Our playbook in Des Moines has over 100 plays in it. As an architect of this league, I knew that we could not allow that kind of "cherry picking" by the AFL to happen. There was some discussions about the ability to draft players out of the af2 by the AF1 at the end of the year, but because of the financial and legal reasons we made a decision not to do that."
MIKE VERGANE - There has been some grumblings around the league about the officiating, especially the length of the games and the amount of penalties. What changes do you see being made?
JIM FOSTER - "Officiating is a big can of worms. Officials are human beings and are going to make mistakes. It's a thankless job, and I am grateful that there are guys that want to do it. But some officials are going to work at it harder than others. Some are going to make better judgment calls than others.
"I think that there is going to be some evolution. You mentioned the fact that we do not rotate officials around. That was originally brought up by the hockey owners (the af2 owners who also own ECHL teams) that wanted to save money. I think some of the things that they suggested are not working out in football. Next year you will probably see some regional rotation of officials. At this point of the year the schedules are set. You can't go back to the officials and say, "Hey, can you move your life around so you can travel this weekend.
"I think that most of the officials are doing a fairly good job. You have cases where the teams are not being schooled up and they are making mistakes which is causing a lot of penalties. And in some cases the officials are either mis-interprating or over-interprating the rules, and they have to work through that. I was impressed with the crew at our first home game. I thought that they let them play football."
MIKE VERGANE - Are you impressed with the coverage by TNN?
JIM FOSTER - "It's been outstanding! The commitment that TNN and their parent corporation CBS has made to us is fantastic. It's one of the most exciting things that has happened to this league since I founded it. I am thankful to ESPN for putting our games on. They gave us a break in the beginning, but in more recent years they have not been real agressive in either the marketing or televising of our games. TNN has taken an entirely different approach than ESPN. TNN came to us and said, "we believe this can be a great product and it is a great opportunity to us." And they really jumped into it. The 30 minute drill pre-game show is of 'NFL quality.' And it really allows the average fan to learn a lot about this league.
"What TNN's coverage is doing for us nationally is amazing! You can't put a price on that."
MIKE VERGANE - As long as we are talking about the media, I feel there is still a huge bias that the national media has when it comes to Arena Football.
JIM FOSTER - "That has always been my major challenge as the inventor of this game - getting the traditional and more established sports media to accept the fact that we are playing legitimate football. We block, we tackle, and just because the field happens to be 50 yards long, that doesn't mean this isn't football. Yeah, there are nuances there. But that has been a convenient excuse for some to write us off and say, 'that's not the real thing.'
"It's still a challenge for us leaguewide. I do think that the Kurt Warner situation has helped. It was a stamp of legitimacy for us."
Mike Vergane writes his af2 column on a weekly basis for OurSports. He has covered college football for local and national radio since 1995.