The American Indoor Football Association West (AIFA West) is a professional indoor football league that was formed in 2006. The league's creation coincided with the demise of the Atlantic/American Indoor Football League (AIFL), and all AIFL teams subsequently joined the AIFA. The league is owned by Michael Mink, who co-founded the league along with John Morris in 2006.
The AIFL began as a regional league with six franchises on the East Coast of the United States in 2005; after a rapid, and largely failed, expansion effort in 2006, most of the league's remaining teams jumped to the new AIFA (the rest joined the short-lived WIFL). The AIFA expanded throughout existing territory and, in 2008, expanded into the Western United States. The league legally divided into two entities to allow for a partial merger with the Southern Indoor Football League, which resulted in all of its Eastern teams merging into the SIFL and the AIFA only maintaining its western teams. As such, none of the charter teams or markets of the AIFL have teams in the AIFA. Only one market (Erie, Pennsylvania) had continuously held an AIFL/AIFA team from the time of the league's founding until the SIFL merger.
The league has its roots in the Atlantic Indoor Football League, which began play in 2005 under the leadership of Andrew Haines. The league (originally proposed under the name "United States Indoor Football League" in 2004) began with six teams, all of them based in the eastern United States. Two teams played all of their games on the road, and the regular season was cut short two weeks because of teams being unable to secure venues for playoff games. In the 2005-06 offseason, the league changed its name to the American Indoor Football League, while nine expansion teams entered the league and a tenth (the Rome Renegades) joined from the National Indoor Football League.
The 2006 season was marred by the folding of two teams, and the league used semi-pro teams to fill scheduling vacancies. The league was briefly acquired by Greens Worldwide, Inc., the owners of the amateur North American Football League, during the 2006 season, but they terminated the contract soon afterwards. Nine teams left the league after the season, including four who split off to create the short-lived World Indoor Football League. On October 2, 2006, a massive reorganization took place as Morris and Mink set up a new league, which absorbed all of the remaining AIFL franchises, and Haines was ousted. (Haines would go on to create the Mid-Atlantic Hockey League in 2007, before similar stability problems led to the forced divestiture of that league as well. Haines would, in April 2010, announce he was relaunching his league as the Ultimate Indoor Football League beginning in 2011 and revived two defunct former AIFL teams.) The league took on its current name at the same time.
The 2007 season was relatively successful for the league, as all 112 scheduled games were played and no teams folded mid-season, a major improvement over the past two seasons (when the AIFA was known as the AIFL). The AIFA Championship Bowl I was a neutral site game held in Florence, SC. In addition, the league held its 1st All-Star Game the same weekend, also in Florence. League owners stated that the neutral site was chosen so that both games could be televised to obtain nationwide exposure for the league.
The league has since expanded nationwide and individual teams have been able to acquire several players with NFL experience, a sign that the league has achieved a level on par with leagues such as af2. The league had earned a major television contract as well: On September 17, 2007, The American Indoor Football Association owners John Morris and Michael Mink announced that the league signed a three-year national television broadcast, mobile phone broadcast, and webcast licensing agreement with Simply 4Me Incorporated (d.b.a. SimplyMe TV) , who would produce a live broadcast and relay the games on the Internet and through the ION Television network in exchange for US$2,500,000 in rights fees for the AIFA. Without any public explanation, these games never made it to broadcast in any medium. ION subsequently dropped the league from their schedule and replaced it with Western movies. It was not until April 15, 2008 that SimplyMe, after having not produced a single broadcast by the midpoint of the season, reported in a letter to the league that it would no longer produce AIFA games. Later in the season, FSN Pittsburgh agreed to pick up the remaining games; Erie, Pennsylvania-based Image Sports Network also televised local games of the Erie RiverRats.
Eight teams participating in the league in 2007 did not return for the 2008 season, including the 2007 champion Lakeland Thunderbolts. The AIFA is the third league since 2004 (excluding the folded WIFL and NIFL before its folding) to lose its standing champion (the 2004 NIFL champion Lexington Horsemen left to join the newly created UIF and are now in af2, and the 2006 champion Billings Outlaws also left to join two years later.) However, nine teams signed on to begin play in 2008, and the league created a Western Conference. In 2007, the team farthest west was based in Mississippi; in 2008, the team farthest west was based in Arizona. Three of the four teams who have won the league championship are no longer active league members.
The 2009 season culminated in AIFA Championship Bowl III, hosted by the Western Conference champion Wyoming Cavalry on July 25, 2009. The game, played before 6,500 fans at the Casper Event Center, saw the Reading Express defeat the Wyoming Cavalry for their first title, 65-42.
As the 2010 season approached, AIFA continued to expand its nationwide footprint. Expansion franchises have been added in Richmond, Virginia; Yakima, Washington; Wasilla, Alaska (believed to be the smallest city in America to host a national professional football franchise) and Wenatchee, Washington. The moves give the AIFA a much more significant presence on the West Coast of the United States. To accommodate this, and to keep travel expenses down, for the 2010 season the AIFA adopted a scheduling system that effectively treats the Eastern and Western conferences as separate leagues, with no regular-season crossover between the two conferences. The league also secured a television contract with AMGTV, which will syndicate a "Game of the Week" package to regional sports networks and its network of low-powered broadcast stations.
In 2010, the Baltimore Mariners completed the league's first-ever perfect season by winning all fourteen regular season games and winning AIFA Championship Bowl IV.
Split and partial merger with the SIFL
The AIFA arranged a split and partial merger with the Southern Indoor Football League after the 2010 season. As part of the deal, Morris would acquire the rights to the eastern conference teams and merge them into the SIFL, while Mink would retain the western conference teams, rights to the AIFA name, and television contract, the last of which was extended through 2013.
Basic rule differences
- The AIFA does not use the rebound net found in the Arena Football League.
- One linebacker may move flat to flat but must stay in drop zone.
- Platooning and free substitution is allowed, meaning players do not have to play both offense and defense.
- Franchises must have at least 9 players that originate from within a 120-mile radius of the team's home town.
- The AIFA ball pattern is similar to that of the basketball in the American Basketball Association, with red, white, and blue panels as opposed to the brown colored football of most leagues.
Two rule changes appear to be inspired by Canadian football rules:
- Two offensive players may be in motion at one time. The AFL allows only one in motion.
- The AIFA recognizes the single (also known as an uno or rouge). If a kickoff goes through the uprights, or if the receiving team does not advance the ball out of the end zone on a kickoff, the kicking team is awarded one point and the ball is spotted at the opponent's five yard line.
2011 AIFA West Teams
- Eugene, Oregon
- Reno Barons
- Stockton Wolves
- Yakima Valley Warriors
- Arctic Predators (Wasilla, Alaska)
- Ogden Knights
- Tucson Thunder Kats
Potential Expansion Teams
- Central Valley Coyotes
- AIFL Ghostchasers
- Augusta Colts - (originally played as the Augusta Spartans)
- Baltimore Blackbirds
- Baltimore Mariners
- Canton Legends
- Carolina Ghostriders - (also known as the Carolina Sharks, AIFL Ghostriders, and indirectly the Greensboro Ghostriders).
- Chattahoochee Valley Vipers
- Danville Demolition
- Daytona Beach Thunder
- D.C. Armor
- Erie Freeze
- Florence Phantoms
- Florida Stingrays
- Gulf Coast Raiders
- Huntington Heroes
- Johnstown Riverhawks
- Mississippi MudCats
- Montgomery Bears
- New Jersey Revolution
- New Mexico Wildcats
- Raleigh Rebels
- Richmond Bandits
- Rome Renegades
- Springfield Stallions
- Steubenville Stampede
- Syracuse Soldiers - (also known as the Binghamton Brigade)
- Tallahassee Titans
- Utah Saints
Former AIFL/AIFA teams spun off to the SIFL
- Carolina Speed
- Erie RiverRats/Storm
- Fayetteville Guard
- Harrisburg Stampede
- Richmond Raiders
Former AIFL/AIFA teams now playing in another leagues
- Arizona Adrenaline - will be joining the Indoor Football League in 2011.
- Columbus Lions - now playing in Southern Indoor Football League.
- Miami Valley Silverbacks - now playing in Continental Indoor Football League.
- Reading Express - will be joining the Indoor Football League in 2011.
- Rochester Raiders - played two games as a probational franchise, now playing in Indoor Football League.
- South Carolina Force - now playing in Southern Indoor Football League as Greenville Force.
- Utah Valley Thunder - assumed the identity of the Utah Blaze in the Arena Football League in 2010.
- Wenatchee Valley Venom - will be joining the Indoor Football League in 2011.
- Wyoming Cavalry - will be joining the Indoor Football League in 2011.
- Chambersburg Cardinals - outdoor team that played two games as a substitute, from the North American Football League.
- 2005: Richmond Bandits 56-30 Erie Freeze
- 2006: Canton Legends 61-40 Rome Renegades
- 2007: Lakeland Thunderbolts 54-49 Reading Express
- 2008: Florence Phantoms 48-12 Wyoming Cavalry
- 2009: Reading Express 65-42 Wyoming Cavalry
- 2010: Baltimore Mariners 57-42 Wyoming Cavalry
- List of leagues of American football