Weekly Sports League & Franchise Report

by Dan Krieger
June 19, 2017 - Major League Soccer (MLS)

BASEBALL

Northwest League: The short-season Class-A Northwest League started its 2017 season this weekend with the same eight teams as last season. The North Division includes the Vancouver (British Columbia) Canadians and three Washington State teams called the Tri-City Dust Devils, Spokane Indians and the Everett AquaSox. The South Division includes the Boise (ID) Hawks and three Oregon-based teams called the Hillsboro Hops, Eugene Emeralds and Salem-Keizer Volcanoes.

Texas League: The city of Wichita (KS) plans to hold a public hearing next month on plans to renovate or replace the city\'s baseball stadium that could help attract an affiliated Double-A Texas League team. The stadium is currently used by the Wichita Wingnuts baseball team in the independent American Association.

BASKETBALL

Women\'s Minor League Basketball Association: The new WMLBA, which plans to become a developmental league for the Women\'s National Basketball Association, has started its inaugural 2017 season that will run from mid-June through July. The schedule includes seven teams called the Dallas Lightning, Midwest Reign (Kansas City, KS), San Antonio Troopers, Houston Galaxy, Tennessee Storm (Jackson), Georgia Classic (Evans) and Carolina Stars (Columbia, SC). An eighth team called the Nashville Charge is listed on the league\'s site, but not on the schedule.

American Basketball Association: The ABA announced two more new teams called the St. Louis Spirits and the Jersey Shore Strong (South New Jersey) have been added for the 2017-18 season. A team called the Spirits of St. Louis played two seasons (1974-76) as part of the former full-professional ABA. The current semi-pro ABA had the St. Louis Flight, originally called the Rottweilers, for the 2004-05 season and the St. Louis Stunners team that played off and on over three seasons (2006-09). A north New Jersey team called the Jersey Express (East Orange) has been part of the ABA for the past ten seasons.

FOOTBALL

National Arena League: The NAL\'s Corpus Christi Rage has cancelled its last game of the season and it looks like the team has folded. The Rage joined the first-year NAL as a new team in 2017, but was taken over by the league in early April when the owner could not afford to continue operations. An individual in Tyler (TX) is interested in starting a new indoor football team within the next two years. The NAL or the Champions Indoor Football league have been mentioned as possible homes for the team.

Arena Pro Football: The owner of the APF\'s Richmond Roughriders is not sure whether the team will be part of the new American Arena League (AAL), which will be a merger of the APF and the Can-Am Indoor Football League in 2018. The Roughriders were champions of the first APF season in 2017, but the team might also consider other leagues like the Indoor Football League or the National Arena League.

China Arena Football League: The CAFL, which is considered a professional developmental league for the U.S.-based Arena Football League, announced it will hold a player draft next month for its second season that will run from late September through October 2017. Of the six teams from last season, the Beijing Lions, Shanghai Skywalkers, Guangzhou Power and Qingdao Clipper will return, along with two new teams called the Wuhan Gators and Shenyang Rhinos. The Shenzhen Naja and Dalian Dragon Kings are not returning for 2017.

HOCKEY

American Hockey League: The Loveland-based Colorado Eagles of the ECHL are considering a move up a level to become the AHL affiliate of the National Hockey League\'s Colorado Avalanche, possibly as early as the 2018-19. The Colorado Eagles are the current ECHL affiliate of the Avalanche, while the San Antonio Rampage is the current AHL affiliate of the Avalanche. The AHL plans to expand to 31 teams for the 2018-19 season, since the NHL is adding the Vegas Golden Knights as its 31st team for the 2017-18 season. The NHL\'s St. Louis Blues lost its affiliation with the AHL\'s Chicago Wolves, as the Wolves signed on to be the AHL affiliate of the new Vegas Golden Knights starting with the 2017-18 season. The St. Louis Blues will be the only NHL team without its own AHL affiliate in 2017-18. If the Eagles and Avalanche work out an AHL affiliation for 2018-19, the San Antonio Rampage would be available to become the AHL affiliate of the St. Louis Blues.

ECHL: Comcast Spectacor, the parent company of the National Hockey League\'s Philadelphia Flyers, has purchased the ECHL\'s Alaska Aces (Anchorage) franchise and will move the team to Portland (ME) for the 2018-19 season. A Comcast Spectacor company currently manages Portland\'s Cross Insurance Arena, which had been home to the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League until that team moved to become the Springfield (MA) Thunderbirds for the 2016-17 season. After the 2016-17 ECHL season, the Alaska Aces ownership announced the team was shutting down operations. A nickname will be selected for the new Portland ECHL team.

United States Premier Hockey League: The USPHL has added a new team called the Minnesota Blue Ox (Coon Rapids) that will be part of the Midwest-West in the USPHL Premier Division league for 2017-18. The USPHL operated three Tier-III leagues - Premier Division, Elite Division and USP3 - under USA Hockey last season, but the USPHL will be an independent junior hockey organization for the 2017-18 season with no affiliation to USA Hockey. In December 2016, the USPHL\'s application to operate a Tier-II league next season was denied by USA Hockey. The USPHL decided to create its own new tuition-free Tier-II type league called the National Collegiate Development Conference (NCDC), which will start play with 11 teams in the 2017-18 season. The USPHL Premier Division will remain the USPHL\'s top Tier-III pay-to-play league as a feeder to the NCDC, while the USPHL Elite Division will act as a feeder to the Premier Division. The USPHL has retired its USP3 Division league for 2017-18.

SOCCER

Major League Soccer: The owner of the North Carolina FC (Cary) in the provisional Division-II North American Soccer League is still working on a proposal for an MLS-style stadium that could become home to one of the future MLS expansion teams. The city of Charlotte has yet to make a decision as to whether it will supply some of the funding for a new MLS-style stadium that could become home to one of the future MLS expansion teams.

Major Arena Soccer League: The MASL announced earlier this month that the Monterrey (Mexico) Flash team will return for 2017-18 after two seasons away from the league. The Flash was one of several Professional Arena Soccer League teams that moved to form the new MASL for the 2014-15 season, but the team went dormant for the next two MASL seasons (2015-17). The MASL confirmed the Rio Grande Valley Barracudas (Hidalgo, TX) will also start play in 2017-18. United Soccer League Division-III League: The city of Grand Rapids (MI) is one of the markets being considered for the new USL Division-III league that plans to start play in 2019. The USL also visited other Midwest cities like Fort Wayne, Lansing, Dayton and Toledo. Grand Rapids, which is home to an amateur men\'s team called the Grand Rapids FC in the National Premier Soccer League, has been discussing construction of a new soccer stadium.

United Soccer League: The USL\'s proposed new Fresno expansion team has hired a general manager and the team is expected to launch in 2018. The city has a lower-level team called the Fresno Fuego in the Premier Development League.

OTHER

Major League Rugby: The proposed new professional MLR, which was announced last month with nine potential markets for its inaugural 2018 season, now lists eight founding members with Minneapolis no longer included. The initial eight MLR markets will be Glendale (CO), Dallas, Kansas City (MO), Houston, Austin, New Orleans, Seattle and Salt Lake City.

Dan Krieger is the creator of the Leagues, Teams & Nicknames 2015-16: "The Leagueology Almanac" , which tracks the changes in league alignments, franchise movements and team nicknames in today\'s sports world. The publication is available for sale at www.amazon.com.

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