AFL delays '09 schedule again, this time indefinitely

PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Soul are scouting players and working toward defending their Arena League Football title, even as the league has delayed for the third time the release of the 2009 schedule and the start of free agency.

The league, which has been seeking ways to improve its financial footing, said Tuesday it still is not ready to announce its longterm plan. Unlike the previous two delays, the league said this one is indefinite.

"The AFL is working on long-term structural improvements which have unfortunately delayed some important events," acting commissioner Ed Policy said in a statement. "We thank our fans for their enthusiasm for these events and ask them to be patient a little longer while we finalize our long-term improvements. All AFL teams are working towards winning ArenaBowl XXIII."

AFL spokesman Chris McCloskey said the league had no additional comment.

There are no clear answers when the indoor league's 16 teams might be able to start signing free agents. The dispersal draft for the players of the New Orleans VooDoo, also delayed again, was originally scheduled for October.

New Orleans dropped out of the league despite being near the top of the league in attendance the past two seasons. Saints owner Tom Benson, who also owned the VooDoo, said the decision was based on "circumstances currently affecting the league and the team."

For teams still wondering who they're playing less than three months before training camp opens, the only thing left for now is to focus on their rosters.

"We're business as usual," said coach Bret Munsey said of the Jon Bon Jovi-owned Soul. "I am continuing to try and find players to make our 2009 roster. That's what we're doing until I'm told to do otherwise. I think they're working on some things at the ownership level and we're just being told to concentrate on keeping this football team competitive and continue to look for players."

The league has endured an offseason of uncertainty. No replacement has been named for longtime commissioner David Baker, who abruptly resigned in July two days before the ArenaBowl championship game.

Since November 2007, the AFL's board of directors has been looking into various ways to bolster the league's finances. One proposal involved individual franchise owners ceding control of the league to new investors.

Sports Business Journal reported in October that AFL owners had approved a tentative deal with Platinum Equity in which the company would invest up to $100 million and assume management control of the league. That deal, however, has yet to be completed and there are no guarantees of an AFL bailout. A message seeking comment was not immediately returned by Platinum Equity.

The AFL's minor-league operation, AF2, is still in operation.

ESPN acquired national TV rights to the AFL in 2006 and has a minority stake in the indoor league. ESPN signed a five-year deal to have multimedia rights that included everything from Internet to radio to publishing to international distribution.

"We've always admired the AFL fan-first philosophy, but we have no comment on their business activity," said ESPN spokesman Bill Hofheimer.

Arena League Football players are still working out and preparing for 2009. The Soul won their first nine games and the Eastern Division title as part of the most successful season in their five-year history. Wide receiver Chris Jackson is eager for news about the upcoming season.

"We hope there's enough teams willing to fight together and stick through this," Jackson said. "I know there are owners out there that bought into Arena with the right state of mind. But I think there are people in the last five years that have bought in for the wrong reasons. If they don't embrace what Arena stands for, maybe we need to get rid of them and start building it back up for what it's supposed to be."

Munsey said all he can do is keep working.

"Until they say we're not playing, I've got to continue to do my job," Munsey said. "They have yet to say otherwise."