Friday, August 20, 2004
By Gary Bond
The Grand Rapids Press
Starting in 2005, the ArenaBowl championship game will be played at a neutral site and, according to sources, the start of the Arena Football League season will be moved up two weeks to the week before the Super Bowl.

The AFL board of directors Wednesday unanimously approved the ArenaBowl championship to be played at a neutral site. Cities under consideration to host the first neutral site ArenaBowl are Las Vegas, New Orleans, Phoenix, Orlando and Las Vegas, the likely front-runner.

Having a neutral site will allow the the selected city an entire year to prepare for the league's biggest spectacle, following the lead of the National Football League. The AFL also hopes to attract bigger major sponsors to the event.

The board of directors also discussed expansion, with four possible new franchise sites making "impressive presentations," but no vote was taken. There was discussion on increasing the number of teams who qualify for the playoffs this season from eight to 12 and moving up the start of the season, but there were no talks about which teams might relocate or fold.

"The meetings were very positive," said David Green, minority owner of the Grand Rapids Rampage, who represented the organization at the meetings. "Given the history of this league, the biggest change was approving the neutral site for the ArenaBowl."

The AFL will be entering its 18th season in 2005.

The AFL is considering an NBC doubleheader the Sunday before the Super Bowl and a televised AFL game on Super Bowl Sunday that would kick off at noon or 1 p.m.

"I heard that was a possibility and as a coach you want as much time as possible to prepare your team, but I'm all for moving up the start of the season if it benefits NBC and the league," said Rampage head coach Sparky McEwen.

"Expansion is always good in my opinion because it's another way to pick up a new fan base and possibly gather more AFL fans."

With the announcement of the Nashville Kats re-joining the AFL for the 2005 season, there are 20 teams in the league, but the Detroit Fury, the Carolina Cobras and the Indiana Firebirds are rumored to be folding.

The Kats franchise folded in 2001 after losing to the Grand Rapids Rampage in the ArenaBowl XV championship, 64-42.

The AFL plans to release its 2005 schedule in September.

2004 Grand Rapids Press. Used with permission