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Weekly Sports League and Franchise Report

by Dan Krieger
October 12, 2020 - Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL)

BASEBALL

Atlantic League: The independent Atlantic League's new Gastonia (NC) baseball team, which is expected to start play in the 2021 season, announced five potential nicknames in a name-the team contest. The choices for fan voting are the Gastonia Honey Hunters, Gastonia Hogzillas, Gastonia Uppercuts, Gastonia Hotshots and Gastonia Fire Ants.

Expedition League: The summer-collegiate Expedition League announced it will add a team in Butte (MT) for the 2021 season. Butte will be the league's first Montana-based team, as other teams are located in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Manitoba (Canada). Only six of the league's ten teams played in the 2020 season due to restrictions from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The city had an affiliated advanced Rookie-level team called the Butte Copper Kings that last played in the 2000 season of the Pioneer League.

BASKETBALL

The Basketball League: The minor professional TBL announced new teams called the Midtown Prestige (Wichita, KS) and the Charleston (SC) Coyotes have been added as the league's 13th and 14th expansion teams for the 2021 season. With all 12 of the TBL teams returning from a shortened 2020 season, the league is now up to 26 teams for the 2021 season. The TBL states it has a goal of 32 total teams.

Maximum Basketball League: The semi-pro MBL started its 2020-21 season last week with 34 teams aligned in 5 regional divisions (North, Northeast, South, Central and MidSouth). The league also lists nine potential future full-schedule teams as "branding" teams. The MBL played an April-through-June schedule for four seasons (2016-19) as the Midwest Basketball League and changed its name after the 2019 season. The 2020 springtime season was cancelled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, so the league switched to a fall-winter season this year.

FOOTBALL

America Arena League: A new team called the Topeka (KC) Thundercats announced it will be part of the AAL in the 2021 season. Topeka's most recent indoor football team was the Kansas Koyotes that disbanded after playing its final 2014 season in the Champions Indoor Professional Football League.

Championship Indoor Football: The CIF announced the addition of the Wyoming Mustangs (Gillette) as an expansion team and the eighth league member for the 2021 season. The team was organizing in Rapid City (SD) over the past year or so with the Rapid City Outlaws as its first name choice. In early 2020 the team briefly took the Rapid City War Eagles name before settling on the Rapid City Mayhem. The Mayhem decided to move to Gillette (WY) as the Thunder Basin Pitbulls due to potential coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions at its home arena in South Dakota. The team name was changed to the Wyoming Mustangs after joining the CIF.

Indoor Football League: The IFL's expansion team in Prescott Valley (AZ) announced it will be called the Northern Arizona Wranglers when it starts play in the 2021 season. The IFL had a former team called the Allen (TX) Wranglers for the 2011 and 2012 seasons. The original Arena Football League (AFL) had the Oklahoma Wranglers for two seasons (2000-01) and the Austin Wranglers for five seasons (2004-07). The Austin Wranglers played one more season (2008) in the AFL's minor league Arenafootball2.

National Arena League: The new Albany (NY) expansion team for the 2021 NAL season has selected the Albany Empire as its name. This was the name of the city's most recent indoor football team that played two seasons (2018-19) in the former Arena Football League, which folded after the 2019 season.

HOCKEY

ECHL: The 26-team ECHL announced it will operate a split-season for the 2020-21 season with 13 teams starting a 72-game schedule in December 2020 and 12 teams starting a 62-game schedule in January 2021. The Atlanta Gladiators decided to sit out the 2020-21 season under the ECHL's COVID-19 Voluntary Suspension policy and the team plans to return for the 2021-22 season. The regular season will end June 6, 2021 and the standings will be based on winning percentages instead of total points.

Southern Professional Hockey League: The SPHL announced that only five of the league's ten teams will participate in a shortened 2020-21 season that will start on December 26, 2020. The Birmingham Bulls, Huntsville Havoc, Knoxville Ice Bears, Macon Mayhem and Pensacola Ice Flyers will each play a schedule of less than the normal 56-game schedule with the season schedule still to be announced. Due to state and local restrictions caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Evansville Thunderbolts, Fayetteville Marksmen, Peoria Rivermen, Quad City Storm and Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs will sit out the 2020-21 season.

National Hockey League: The NHL announced it has pushed back the start of the 2020-21 season due to coronavirus (COVID-19) concerns and is now working toward a season opener on January 1, 2021.

Ontario Hockey League: As the 20-team OHL tries to start its 2020-21 season in December, Ontario provincial restrictions might force the league to play games without physical contact due to the coronavirus (COVID-19). Another issue is dealing with cross-border travel restrictions for games against the league's three teams based in the United States - the Flint (MI) Firebirds, Saginaw (MI) Spirit and Erie (PA) Otters.

SOCCER

United Women's Soccer: The pro-am UWS announced the four founding teams of a new Central Conference that will start play in the 2021 season with additional conference teams still to be announced. The four new Central Conference teams include the Gretna Elite Academy (Omaha, NE), Kansas City Courage (Overland Park, KS), St. Louis Scott Gallagher and the Springfield (MO) Demize. The UWS did not play a 2020 regular season due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but the 2019 season featured 23 teams aligned in four conferences (East, West, Midwest and Southwest).

Premier Arena Soccer League: The amateur PASL held a ten-team National Championship tournament this weekend at The Field Sports Arena in the Cincinnati area to close out its 2019-20 season that was interrupted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The men's tournament featured five PASL teams called the Detroit Waza Flo, Queen City Sonics (Cincinnati), Indiana Lions, Springfield (MO) Demize and Cincinnati Swerve, along with the Bellingham United of the Western Indoor Soccer League. The women's tournament featured the 2019-20 PASL teams called the Grand Rapids Wanderers and Cincinnati Sirens, a 2020-21 women's expansion team called the New Mexico Lightning, and The Field Stars, which replaced the previously announced Midwest Panthers (Chicago area). The PASL also recently announced some new teams for the upcoming 2020-21 season: the men's Metro Louisville FC, which also operates an outdoor team in the National Premier Soccer League; the women's Columbus (OH) Eagles FC, which also operates an outdoor team in the Women's Premier Soccer League; and the women's Austin-based Fierce United.

National Independent Soccer Association: The Tier-III professional NISA completed its 2020 Fall Season tournament on October 2. The Fall Season had a five-team Eastern Conference and a three-team Western Conference. All eight teams participated in the tournament, aligned into two four-team groups.

OTHER

Athletes Unlimited - Softball: The organization known as Athletes Unlimited announced it will return in 2021 with a second season of women's softball. The Athletes Unlimited started a new four-team women's professional softball league that ran five weekends from August 29 through September 28, 2020 with all games played at the Parkway Bank Sports Complex in Rosemont (IL). The four teams did not have individual team owners and were not tied to any one city. Teams played three games each weekend, one game against each of the other three teams. Players were not under contract with any one team and they were ranked by points earned each week by the team and individually. The top four players each week became captains, who then drafted new teams that would take the captain's name for the next weekend. Athletes Unlimited will try a similar concept with a women's volleyball league in 2021.

Dan Krieger is the creator of the Weekly Sports League & Franchise Report, which has been tracking changes in the sports world's leagues, teams and nicknames since April 2007.


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