A press release today from the SteelHawks reveals their plans to leave the AIF and join a new league for the 2017 season. That season likely won’t begin until next March or April, so there will be plenty of time to get things in order. By giving notice to the AIF, the SteelHawks have given the league time to adjust their schedules and organize their own league for the next season–in contrast to what we saw the Harrisburg franchise do to the PIFL a couple years ago.
The initial email had the words “will not be returning” in the header, which almost made it seem like the team might be folding. GM Mike Clark assures us, though, that they WILL play indoor football on Emabssy Bank Field inside the PPL Center in Allentown in 2017. (They likely have a lease which says they “must.”)
So where might the team play? It’s only speculation at this point, but let’s take a look at the possibilities:
- The AIF: I seriously doubt it. They wouldn’t announce a departure this quickly if they thought there was any way they’d return. Let’s face it, despite once again falling short of a home playoff game, the team performed more than adequately for much of the season. The quality of play in the AIF was very uneven, with some really good teams, and some others who were not good at all.
- The PIFL: The PIFL went on “hiatus” this past season, with the stronger, more established teams shifting to other leagues (ie AIF) for the season–such as our SteelHawks as well as the likes of Columbus. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the PIFL re-form with the SteelHawks as a leader.
- IFL: The IFL (Indoor Football League) has been playing since 2009, but with most teams in the Midwest or Southwest, travel would be a serious problem unless they were to add another division in the East.
- CIF: The Champions Indoor Football League is another arena league based in Texas and the Southwest. Again, travel would be a problem.
- AFL: Could the SteelHawks joint the top-tier AFL? I doubt it. While they have been very competitive in the lower leagues, the AFL talent is noticeably better–bigger, stronger, faster as we saw at the Soul game this past weekend. In addition, I noticed the QB play was a level or two above in the AFL. Plus, the Soul would have to allow it, that league has had its own contraction recently, and there’s likely a large buy-in for a new franchise. I don’t see it, but it’s hard not to at least consider the possibility.
- ADL: The brand-new “Arena Development League” seems like the best fit right now. Columbus Lions ownership has started the new league, and it’s where they’ll play in 2017. No other new teams have been announced, but the focus of the league will be to develop talent not only for the AFL, but also for the CFL (Canadian Football League) and the NFL. Teams will be announced in September 2016 and games will begin in March 2017. I think this is the most likely fit for the SteelHawks.
Remember, this is only my own conjecture. Anything could still happen, and while the team ownership and management has clarified that games will definitely be played, as of now they’re still a team without a league. However, I do feel confident in the organization, and with the recent cooperative with the Philly Soul in hosting a couple of their games, I get the sense that the connection between the Soul and the SteelHawks could get even closer by joining the ADL and focusing as much on player development as on the games themselves.
Do you see the red flags?
With that, certainly, we’ve seen a certain un-evenness in the quality of play with “development” in the other local minor league teams–the IronPigs, Phantoms, and Steel FC–which have struggled at times with competitiveness. However, I think in this case, it might be a way to attract a higher level of talent and keep those players throughout the season for the SteelHawks. It will be up to the organization, then, and the Soul as well, to stock the team with talent. Their success then will depend on their ability to attract and coach that talent relative to the other teams in the league.
See you at the arena,