Blaze: AFL says season's not dead yet

League disputes one owner's report that a bad economy will scrub the 2009 schedule
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Despite a claim by one of its most influential owners that the Arena Football League was on the verge of calling off the 2009 season, the league said late Wednesday night after a nearly three-hour teleconference involving its board of directors that it is still exploring its options.

Casey Wasserman, owner of the Los Angeles Avengers, said in a story posted on The Los Angeles Times' Web site that the AFL is in dire financial straits due to the poor economy and needs time to work on efficiency and ownership issues.

Locally, the Utah Blaze have been members of the AFL for three seasons and are owned by John Garff and Robert Garff, who operate Ken Garff Sports and Entertainment but built their empire through automobile dealerships. John Garff was traveling back from Washington, D.C., on Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.

Blaze president Jason Jones said Wednesday afternoon that the owners are still trying to figure out how to stay afloat financially.

"We are in the process of working on those decisions long-term," Jones said. "None of those options have been presented to the decision makers. We hope to have additional information shortly.

"If you take a step back, there isn't a company in America today that is not taking a look at their economic model. We are no different than any other company in America."

Jones did say, however, that suspending play for 2009 could be an option.

"We certainly understand that we have to make structural changes," Jones said. "We have some very bright minds working on it."

Wasserman, a former league chairman and considered one of the AFL's premier power brokers, said that by suspending play for the year, "it allows us to get the perspective to try and make the decisions that are in the best interest of the long-term viability of the league," according to the Times.

However, in a statement issued after the teleconference, which went from 4 p.m. MST to approximately 7 p.m., the AFL said: "Despite rumors and reports to the contrary, the Arena Football League Board of Directors has not suspended the 2009 season at this time. The Board met via conference call this evening. The Board will continue to meet regularly to examine any and all long-term structural improvement options for the AFL."

That's roughly the same statement the league made Wednesday morning as rumors swirled - due to the Times' story and other Internet reports - about the financial stability of the AFL.

The Kansas City Star reported that Pete Likens, communications director for the Kansas City Brigade, said the AFL players' union agreed late Tuesday to the decision.

"It's pretty much a done deal to suspend the 2009 season and work toward a single entity-league," Likens reportedly told The Star. "We plan to start up again in 2010."

The Blaze's player representative, Steve Videtich, said The Star's report was not accurate.

"All I know is right now, we're working on a new model for the league," he said. "We're proceeding forward to playing the 2009 season."

There have been rumblings of financial difficulties since the end of the 2008 season. A $100 million ownership deal with Platinum Equity, a merger and acquisition group, to buy a piece of the league has apparently fallen through.

The league's commissioner, David Baker, has not been replaced since his resignation following the 2008 season. And the league has other problems.

Despite being near the top of the league in attendance, New Orleans folded due to "circumstances currently affecting the league and the team," said Tom Benson, who also owns the NFL Saints.

Since the Voodoo folded, the dispersal draft has been pushed back three times. The mid-October start of free agency has also been postponed.

The AFL, founded in 1987, wouldn't be the first professional sports league to suspend play. Most recently, the NHL lost the 2004-2005 season after locking out players during contract negotiations.