October 18, 2005 (PRLEAP.COM) Sports News
American Football Association Press Release:
Media - Contact Dave Burch at AFA National Office
(877)624-4485 or (941)388-3510

The American Football Association rules on the side of tradition rather then calling their football level something it's not. For more than 100 years the term "Semi-Pro-Football" has been an acronym for the "adult amateur community football level" with local teams providing venues for predominately homegrown players to continue being active in the sport they played locally as youth, high school and college athletes.

Annually more than 50,000 adult players, coaches and team administrators participate in the semi-pro football levels from coast-to-coast. They play for the love of the game and whatever local recognition they can attain to prove to their families, friends and peers that they are (as the AFA motto implies) …"Semi-Pro and Proud" … to help continue a century old sports tradition.

By Ron Real - AFA President

If you need a dictionary to help you realize what level of the sport your team is playing at these days you probably are someone who surfs between websites of the self-professed experts on the subject and is influenced by confusing message board postings from those who seem to know all the answers regarding the current status of adult amateur football in the United States.

Forget what Mr. Webster has to say about the differences between the 'words' Amateur, Semi-pro, Minor League and Professional when related to the sport of football. He doesn't run a league, own a team or play the game (as far as I know) as a non-paid weekend warrior - so why then would we try to let him settle the minor league vs. semi-pro football dispute by thumbing through the pages of his big book of 'words' and their 'definitions'… . as they have nothing whatsoever to do with the sport of football.

If we were looking for a pecking order that makes sense with the rest of the sports world(s) then I would agree that the term minor league should be held in higher esteem than the term semi-pro, although Mr. Webster doesn't seem to agree. His term for semi-pro is that the participants on that level don't get paid as well as the pros and don't play the game as a full time way of making a living. Add to the confusion the word 'semi' (half) and relate it to a salary for performing ones talents on a football field - post college age - and every adult amateur (semi-pro) player in the country would be glad to try to get by on only half (or any of) the amount of the paychecks their NFL counterparts collect. Contrary to what some people are trying to confuse the issue with these days - players on AFA semi-pro teams are not allowed to be paid for their services and as such retain their 'amateur' status.

Whereas his (Webster and company) definition for minor league sports is 'one that is not a major league but may have an affiliation with one' - is more like it. With that said, I'd be more than happy to recognize any eleven-man football league in the country that can prove they have an official affiliation with a major professional football league - and if that isn't the case - those leagues claiming to be creditable minor leagues are simply trying to establish they are something … they really aren't.

If those leagues (and teams) promoting themselves as minor leagues were actually able to live up to the minor league sports moniker, they would be so busy right now sending 'their' players up to the NFL to replace those players who have gone down with season ending injuries that those leagues wouldn't have time to - forfeit league games or try to romance semi-pro teams away from other leagues. If they were actually 'football development' leagues, as some profess to be to their players - they would now be scurrying to find places on their rosters for those hundreds of players 'cut' by NFL teams after their final roster cuts took place. After all, isn't that what happens in other sports with actual 'minor league' systems.

"The term semi-pro football has a negative connotation to it", say many adult amateur team and league promoters. "We don't want to be saddled with carrying around that black eye created by semi-pro teams in our area in the past who left town owing money for football fields, equipment, printing, newspaper, radio/TV advertising and such. So, they think all they have to do is call themselves 'minor league' and that makes everything better - and more business like.

Wrong! The new wave of minor league promoters can fool the players because they want them to think they are on a par with their counterparts in other minor league sports like baseball, hockey, basketball and now even soccer and the players want to think the same. Many players are quick to swallow the bait because they think they're only inches away from being discovered by an NFL pro scout. While the movers and shakers of those new 'minor league(s)' have been able to use cyberspace technology to impress some post high school and post college players - they still haven't been able to convince the national or even their local medias that "minor league football" is any different than semi-pro football - only spelled differently.

No matter what you call it - semi-pro/minor league/adult amateur - our game doesn't attract many Division I players from college football factories that the pros may have some interest in. With that said, I certainly don't intend to discourage any young athletes who want to pursue their dream of 'turning-pro' with a stint in the lower levels of the game as a stepping stone. While our level does have a few success stories over the years of players making it to the big time (NFL) … those stories are few and far between - and have absolutely nothing to do with whether those players calling themselves minor league or semi-pro or even adult amateur for that matter. Not since the early 50's, 60's and late 70's has a successful minor league pipeline provided venues for undiscovered footballers to make it to the 'big show'. Not that it couldn't happen again - but it will take a lot more money to put together than the average non-professional team has access to - or the average football fan has an interest in.

While we are quick to point out some of our level's success stories like Eric Swann, first round NFL draft choice of the Arizona Cardinals in 1991, those tales are rare also. True, Swann never played a down of college football and was 'discovered' while playing for the Bay State Titans on the east coast. Truth to be known, Eric's agent placed him with the Titans to establish some defensive 'stats' and a game film 'profile' beyond his high school career. Swann would have been discovered by the NFL scouting system just walking out of some Gold's Gym - somewhere. So, in essence, semi-pro football can't really claim Swann as one of our development prodigies - but we certainly can take credit for providing him a place to record on film his post high school football talents - making it possible for his agent to build a case for the NFL to draft him and make him a professional football super star (and instant millionaire) - without first making a name for himself playing college ball.

Why is it over the years those leagues across the country calling themselves 'minor league' seem to have such a high mortality rate while those not afraid to call themselves semi-pro have stood the test of time? The American Football Association has semi-pro teams as members that are more than a hundred years old; complete leagues that have been around for twenty, thirty and forty years. It's called 'tradition'. And what is it those semi-pro teams coast-to-coast have over those pretending to be something they are not (minor league)? It's tradition and they're proud of their semi-pro heritage and what it means to their respective football communities.

A few years back the AFA anticipated the misunderstanding between those promoting their leagues as minor league and those not afraid to continue the semi-pro football tradition. So much so that the AFA adopted our national association slogan as "Semi-Pro and Proud" and encouraged our member teams to use it in promoting their football organizations to their local press.

In my 25 years as president of the American Football Association I have seen more than a handful of 'professional' and 'minor professional' football leagues come and go leaving in their wake millions of dollars in debts to local (and national) sporting goods companies, community businesses and the newspaper industries as well. Not to mention the number of players whose lives were turned upside down by those start-up pro leagues with their promises of big time money contracts … that never materialized, or in some cases took legal action to satisfy. If this is true, and we all know it is, why then isn't professional football saddled with the fear of the carrying around the same black eye syndrome that semi-pro football is made to wear every time something goes a little out of whack on our level?

Why is it that if a fight breaks out on the field during a semi-pro game it's considered "another black-eye" for the lower level of the sport (not that we condone that type of unsportsmanlike behavior)? But, if a fight breaks out during a professional sports event it's considered 'national news' and the incident highlight tapes are run and re-run over and over again on every TV network and front page sports section in the country - until a war or another natural disaster comes along to captures the nation's interest - and knocks the fight footage off the air. Good thing sports 'black-eyes' aren't handed out for substance abuse, steroid consumption, driving under the influence convictions, spousal abuse and/or the variety of other things professional athletes tend to bring attention to themselves with. I could be wrong but I don't think the media hands out 'national black-eye' awards to professional athletes … until after they have 'whiffed' (and appealed) on a pro league’s "3 strikes and you’re out" ruling. Semi-Pro people don't get the opportunity to appeal their problems in the press - they just get a "race track" around their eye and a bad name in the sports industry.

Why is it then everyone is so quick to lay the sports 'black-eye' albatross around the neck of semi-pro teams, players, coaches and administrators when things don't go the way they're planned for the local semi-pro'ers?

It has been brought to my attention that some internet message board postings say that the National Football League does not like the term semi-pro football (although I've never heard that from them) because of the negative vibes it normally carries with it and that the concept of promoting a true development league would be something they could warm up to if it was structured properly. Structured by whom? Believe me, when (and if) the NFL wants a minor league development system for football it will have one. And, you can bet they won't ask the permission of any of our current day 'minor league football promoters' first either. For the time being the NFL will just have to struggle along with beating the bushes of those leagues they already have a financial interest in - like NFL Europe, the Canadian League and of course the Arena Football League (AFL)
and Arenafootball 2 (af2) to find their future hopefuls. Oh, did I forget the college draft? Silly of me not to mention that annual windfall of potential professional gridiron stars that the NFL spends millions of dollars researching each year - called college football. Many insiders consider it a 'free' development league. Nothing free about it - and it's the NFL's prime talent pool.

While it is unlikely that the American Football Association's level of the game (semi-pro) will ever mean anything to the NFL other than a place where football 'history' traces the NFL's early roots back to more than three/quarters of a century ago - it is likely that you will see the AFA working hard in the near future to bring more meaning to the term "Semi-Pro and Proud" … to the teams and leagues in the local football communities it serves.

Whether or not a true minor league football development system will ever become a reality in this country - remains to be seen. The one thing that does remain constant in the wonderful world of American rules football is - there will always be Pro-Football, thanks to the NFL … and there will always be Semi-Pro Football, thanks to the AFA and the thousands of dedicated volunteers across the country that continue to keep the tradition alive.