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The Best Sport You're Not Watching

by Craig Edwards

Posted on July 26, 2007 at 3:31 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:41 PM

By Craig Edwards

Of course... As a loyal KGW employee, I can not, in good conscience, actively encourage you to watch another channel. However, this Sunday at noon pacific time, if you say... "accidentally" drop your TV remote and it pushes you to another channel (its network's letters match the first three of the alphabet), then you might just see a pretty good football game.

Yes, I said football. In July.

Just as NFL training camps open up, the Arena Football League wraps up its season with the 21st Arenabowl, as the Columbus Destroyers take on the San Jose Sabercats.

If you've never seen an Arena Football League game, this is a good one to try out.

For those unfamiliar, Arena-ball is played on a 50-yard field, that's also about half as wide as its outdoor cousin. It's 8 players a side, with many guys on a team playing both offense and defense. Scoring comes fast and often. Think of it as football game played at the pace of basketball.

The AFL has seen attendance and reputation steadily grow over two decades. More than 2 million folks filled the 19 team arenas in 2007, including a sellout in New Orleans for the championship game. But that growth has not translated into TV ratings. Many fans and detractors will point to different reasons as to why, but I think there are two major factors.

First, the AFL suffers from the perception that it is a minor league. In its early days, that was definitely the case. But no more. For most players, the goal is to make it to the NFL. But nearly to a man, you also hear them say that if it doesn't happen, that's okay too. They like playing indoors. I seriously doubt you would ever get that response from a guy playing Triple-A baseball or in the CBA or NBDL. Those are definitely minor leagues (as is AF2, the AFL's own minor league). Instead, I would call the AFL a mid-major league, stealing a term from college sports.

Second, I've heard some detractors say "It's not football." I couldn't disagree with this more. Despite the smaller field and much greater emphasis on passing, it's still a smash mouth, often 1 on 1 game at each position. In fact, the sideboards surrounding the field add to the physicality of the game (there are no real out-of-bounds). Plus, everything football coaches worry about outdoors is amplified on the smaller field. In the NFL, turnovers are dangerous. But in the AFL they can destroy you, because you don't score and you're opponent's already in a good position to do so themselves. The same principal applies to special teams, penalties, and clock management.

As for the Arenabowl game itself, Columbus looks to cap off a Cinderella playoff run. After finishing the regular season 7-9, they went on the road to beat Tampa Bay, then both 15-1 Dallas and 14-2 Georgia to make it to the title game. San Jose went the more traditional route, finishing 13-3 and getting home field advantage through the American Conference side. It should be a good one, but you'll have to decide for yourself.

But since it's on a different channel, just don't tell anybody you heard it from me.