Weekly Sports League and Franchise Report

by Dan Krieger
March 28, 2016 - United Soccer League (USL)

BASEBALL

Southwest League of Professional Baseball: The proposed new independent SWL, which plans to start play in 2018 with up to six Texas-based teams, has entered into an agreement with the city of Bellmead in the Waco area to build a ballpark for a SWL team. The SWL plans to build new stadiums with a seating capacity of 2,000 to 4,000 in each of its markets. The league plans to announce the other participating cities in the near future.

International League: The Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Allentown, PA) of the Triple-A International League will be renamed the Lehigh Valley Cheesesteaks for one game during the 2016 season as part of a "Salute to Philadelphia Night".

Texas League: Voters in Amarillo gave initial approval last fall to move forward on a new $32 million downtown ballpark for its independent team (Amarillo ThunderHeads) in the American Association, but some city officials now want to increase the construction budget to over $48 million with the prospect of attracting an affiliated team in the Double-A Texas League. There has been discussion recently about the San Antonio Missions, a current Texas League member, obtaining a Triple-A team while its Double-A team would relocate to Amarillo and displace the independent team. For the upcoming 2016 season, the Amarillo ThunderHeads have been combined with the Grand Prairie AirHogs as the Texas AirHogs team that will play half of its home games in Amarillo and the other half in Grand Prairie.

American Association: The Milwaukee suburb of Franklin gave initial approval on a mixed-use development that will include a new baseball stadium for a proposed team in the independent American Association. Pending potential city financing and other approvals, the stadium construction could start later this year.

South Florida Winter League: The pay-to-play SFWL has been hosting its 2016 March season in Lantana near West Palm Beach with three full-schedule teams and a SFWL showcase team that is playing some games against affiliated minor league teams. The SFWL held a 28-game 2015 October-November season with four teams based out of a complex in Cocoa (FL).

BASKETBALL

Central Basketball Association: The men\'s CBA started its fourth springtime season this weekend with nine teams. The league had eight teams last season, but the Memphis Soul Kings dropped out while new teams called the Columbus (OH) Condors and Indianapolis Blaze were added. The Columbus and Indianapolis teams are part of a new five-team North Division with the returning Fort Wayne Flite, Peoria Panthers and Springfield Sentinels. The Chattanooga Rail Runners relocated to become the Memphis Rail Runners and join three other returning teams called the Bowling Green (KY) Hornets, Middle Tennessee Storm (Nashville) and Mississippi Eagles (Southhaven) in a South Division.

Central Basketball League: The owner of the Topeka (KS) Aviators team, which played as part of an "At Large" division in the 2015-16 American Basketball Association (ABA), is trying to organize the new CBL with six to eight teams including the Aviators. Other possible teams include the Kansas City Knights, Junction City (KS) Soldiers, Missouri Quake (Essex) and Salina (KS) Thunder. The Aviators\' owner was involved with the Salina Thunder, which was originally announced as an ABA expansion team for the 2016-17 season. The Aviators\' owner recently scrapped plans for another proposed CBL team called the Dodge City (KS) Mavericks. The CBL plans to start play in the fall of 2016.

Midwest Professional Basketball Association: The men\'s MPBA announced the rest of the season for the St. Louis RiverSharks has been terminated and the team will be replaced by the Lima Express in the upcoming playoffs. The league was having cash flow issues near the end of its 2016 season and developed an arrangement to catch up on player payments. Three other affected teams accepted the deal, but the RiverSharks decided to walk out because the league was one week late on payments.

FOOTBALL

American Indoor Football: The Birmingham-based Alabama Outlawz, a team that competed in the 2014 and 2015 seasons of the now-defunct X-League Indoor Football, has been sold and the new owner will try to join the AIF for the 2017 season. The team has been renamed the Birmingham Outlawz. The Abilene (TX) Warriors, a team that was supposed to be part of the 2016 AIF until being dropped by the league, cancelled a proposed outdoor game this weekend and apparently will not continue operating this season.

National Football League: A group in Las Vegas recently announced a proposal to build a new 65,000-seat football stadium that could attract an NFL team. If the project is approved, construction could start in late 2017 with the stadium opening in 2020. Although there has been discussion about the NFL starting another developmental league similar to NFL Europe, which was shut down back in 2007, the NFL is not currently studying such a league and it is not considered a priority.

Major League Football: The proposed springtime professional MLF, which planned to start play this year with eight teams, has postponed its training camp that was scheduled to start next week. The league said it had operational issues to address before moving forward.

HOCKEY

Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League: The New Brantford 99ers and the Niagara Falls Canucks of Canada\'s Junior-B GOJHL have applied to join the Junior-A Ontario Junior Hockey League for the 2016-17 season. The GOJHL was recently denied a request to upgrade the league\'s status to the Junior-A level.

SOCCER

United Soccer League: The Division-III USL started its 2016 season this week and increased from 24 to 29 teams now aligned in a 15-team Western Conference and a 14-team Eastern Conference. The Austin Aztex decided to sit out the 2016 season, but the league added six new teams called the Bethlehem (PA) Steel FC, FC Cincinnati, Orlando City Lions B, San Antonio FC, Swope Park Rangers (Kansas City, MO) and Rio Grande Valley FC (Edinburg, TX). Twenty of the 29 USL teams have one-to-one developmental affiliations with the 20 current Major League Soccer teams.

American Soccer League: The professional men\'s ASL started the spring portion of its 2016 season this weekend with ten teams. The ASL operated its first full season with a split 2014 fall season and a 2015 spring season. The league decided to switch to a split spring-to-fall season for 2016 and some teams played exhibition games in the fall of 2015. Of the seven teams that competed in the 2015 spring season, the AC Crusaders (Atlantic City, NJ), Evergreen Diplomats (Hyattsville, MD) and Western Mass Pros (Springfield) did not return, but the league added six new teams called the Connecticut FC (Camden), Delaware Copperheads (Wilmington), IFK Maryland (Baltimore), Lancaster (PA) Lions, Long Island Express and the New Hampshire Bobcats. The league recently announced the Rhode Island Oceaneers (Cranston) team has left the league and the owner formed a new team called the New England FC, which will share a home with the league\'s Mass United FC (Revere, MA) for the 2016 spring season. The owner of New England FC owns both the Mass United FC and the expansion New Hampshire Bobcats.

Major League Soccer: The Miami-based MLS expansion effort run by former player David Beckham has been purchasing parcels of land for a new 25,000-seat soccer stadium in the Overtown area. The group needs to finalize the purchase of some county-owned parcels and then obtain approval of the stadium plans.

OTHER

National Lacrosse League: The nine-team indoor NLL is looking to expand by at least one team and possibly add as many as four teams by the 2018 season. The owner of the National Hockey League\'s Edmonton Oilers has expressed interest in owning an NLL franchise that would return the league to Edmonton, which lost the Rush to Saskatoon after last season. The NLL has NHL ownership groups involved with current teams in Buffalo, Calgary and Denver and it would like to get additional NHL and National Basketball Association owners interested in NLL expansion teams.

Dan Krieger is the creator of the Leagues, Teams & Nicknames 2014-15: "The Leagueology Almanac" , which tracks the changes in league alignments, franchise movements and team nicknames in today\'s sports world. The publication is currently available at www.amazon.com.

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