The League: Part 1 - Whats Wrong With Semi-ProNone posted by: by Eric Satterwhite on Thu Mar 19 2009
In A 2 Part Series I Take Serious Look At The Pro's And Con's To The Ironman Football League
Call it what you will; AAA, Minor League, Semi-Pro, Old-Man, Bar League, or whatever. This level of football ( semi-pro ), where athletes beyond their high school playing days play with out compensation - in the state of Wisconsin, it has a strange vibe to it. It's a love / hate kind of a vibe. Wisconsinites Love them some football. When the Green Bay Packers, Wisconsin Badgers or [ INSERT FAVORITE HIGH SCHOOL TEAM HERE ] are playing, you will be hard pressed to find people doing something other than watching the game. It's what we do here - watch football! Everyone loves a good game, even if they don't know whats going on. People just love to get involved.
Even when the Muskego Hitmen play...wait...hold on...Who?
I think I've heard of you...Do you guys play the Racine Raiders?
No, no we don't play the Raiders...We play the Venom...The Rush?...Bueller? People just don't seem to pay much attention to the Semi-Pro ranks. And a lot of it has to do with a bad reputation of poorly run teams taking sponsor money only to fold due to many reasons usually stemming from a league run just as bad, if not worse. There is a laundry list of teams and leagues that have come and gone that is too long to list. However, The Ironman Football League is starting to rub a little bit of the tarnish off of the armor. The IFL has made some huge gains in the semi-pro football ranks in a very short time. This League does a lot of things right and just as many things wrong.
As with anything, you tend to hear about the bad before you hear about the good. Yes, the IFL has taken a ton of heat from players and teams past, present and even those who are thinking of joining the league. So I'm going to give you my perspective on the IFL and my take on how things are done on and off the field. Keeping in line with tradition - The Bad before The Good:
Whats Wrong With Semi-Pro
The officials of the IFL have a reputation being overly aggressive when it comes to making decisions that have a significant impact not only the league, but the Teams, owners and coaches. They have a "Ready, FIRE, Aim" mentality in many cases. In most recent history, A prime example would be the situation with the Ironbowl. Before the season actually starts, the date, time, and place of the Ironbowl for that season is determined. In the 2008 season, The "Rights" to the Ironbowl were sold in week 9 of the season effectively moving the location of the Ironbowl to the home field of the Madison Mustangs, who were a shoe in as Ironbowl Contender that year.
The league had proposed the idea of selling game rights in league meetings prior to the season, however no one showed interest. Or I should say, no one showed interest until week 9 of the season. To make matters worse - Good Ole Mad-Town has deeper pockets than everyone else. No one stood a chance to out bid them. The decision was made, the deal was done and THEN the announcement was made. Ready, FIRE, Aim. These kinds of things happen frequently. There is at least one major occurrence every year. Things are on the up and up with the addition of Dan Greene to the front office, But I will save that topic for part II.
It Costs How Much?!
Running a football team is not cheap. I know that - You know that, but in the IFL it's more. No...More than that. A team in IFL will spend more money in 3 months than the average American makes in a year ( Pre-Economic Crisis ). If you are a 1st year start up team - you might as well double that. Well OK, not that much, but it's close - really close. The front office of the team really needs to be on their game when it comes to finding sources of income. I can tell you this much, we don't count $5 tickets and $2 hot dogs income.
To top it off, it is getting more expensive. The IFL is pushing it's new game format of: teams should have a home field; meaning you need to rent a field to play on. Teams also have to pay for their own refs, the league doesn't pay for that. I can only speak for the Hitmen; playing at InPro Stadium, in that when it is all said and done, a home game will cost about $1000 - $1200, all things included. That is a lot of hot dogs my friend. The Hitmen usually have 4 or so home games so you can do that math. And this is just to play the games.
Here is the kicker, With all of the costs more or less passed off on to the teams, there is still a $2000 league fee. It Costs How Much?!
A "Professional" League
There are many ways to define what is professional and what is not. In sports it tends to be defined by if the athletes are paid or not. If you get paid, you're professional, if you don't get paid, you are not. It's pretty cut and dry. I would argue that - there are a lot of "Professional" leagues / teams out there that are far from professional. The 2008 Bonecrushers would be a prime example of that. However, in the IFL's case, they mean professional in the way that the league and it's teams are run. The league does a good job at presenting a pretty good final product ( the games ), mainly do to, again, with the work of the teams & their front offices. However, any league's image is only as professional as the people who make it up. One of the unfortunate things with the IFL happens to be its list of disgruntled team owners and in some cases current owners and players.
What makes it unfortunate is that they will take every chance they get to try to bring the IFL down. Trying to take teams from the league, legal action, and one owner went as far as to create a website to use as a public venue to openly bash the IFL and it's officials. All of these things come off as childish and immature and I think in many cases holds the league back - It certainly doesn't help. In any event, the league still stands. And I think only lends to it's credit. One of the major problems is that the league tends to put itself up on a public forum and even will try to fight fire with fire in some of these cases. I'm not aware of many other leagues where the owner and commissioner have such a hands-on approach with it's teams.
I say, let the kids be kids and just move on.
Fields in general tend to be a problem for Semi-Pro Teams. No one wants to let them use it. They know the league will try to squeeze as many games in as few days as possible and will need to be repaired before anyone else can use it. Its a costs vs benefits thing. The Milwaukee County Sports Complex has been the IFL's "Go To" field for a number of years. There is a lot of history with this stadium. Today, teams are being encouraged to seek out their own playing fields and stadiums. However, despite the effort, The IFL hasn't grown past this eye sore of a football field.
It wasn't originally designed as a football field, it isn't pitched right. I don't think it has a pitch at all. When it rains, the water just sits on the field and takes some serious abuse. Before the league went to the new scheduling format, by the end of a season, that field wasn't even a field anymore, it was just mud. There are spots where the grass doesn't even grow back and there a metal grates scattered around the field. We can do with out this field, and it would cut back on the league budget. If a team wants to claim the complex as their home field, let them do that. In reality, I think providing a stadium on a weekly basis should not be on the shoulders of the league.
This one is pretty cut and dry. There are too many leagues and too many players confined to too much of a small area. Do you know what the hottest trend in Semi-Pro Football in Wisconsin is? Quit your team, and start your own! It's like making a movie based on comic books. EVERYONE is doing it. I can't even begin to tell you how many leagues, or divisions of a league or teams there are in Wisconsin. Take the IFL for instance - Roughly 10 teams in the greater Milwaukee area in any given year. This makes it hard for teams to maintain a quality roster. From year to year, teams don't really get new players they just rotate from team to team. When one team can't get players to rotate over to their side, they just fold and merge into another team that is already struggling. Then one of the players from one of those teams, branches off and starts their own team in just about the same spot.
It is a wonder that teams are able to stay a float, let alone progress in the semi-pro ranks. If there is such a thing. The Racine Raiders stand out because they have been the same team in the same place for decades. Just like the term "Atkins" has become synannomous with eating bacon and cheese, the Raiders always come to mind when people hear minor league / semi-pro football. I think teams like the Muskego Hitmen, Madison Mustangs and Roscoe Rush are making a little hedgeway on the issue.