Indoor football is a term used to describe several variations of American football which are played indoors. It is important to note that NFL or College games played in locations such as the Astrodome or the Superdome do not qualify as Indoor football as they are using a standard size playing field. The rules of Indoor football are specifically designed to allow for play in a smaller area which would normally be used for a sport such as Basketball or Ice Hockey. An Indoor football playing season is typically scheduled to begin in mid to late Winter and continue to the middle of Summer.


Early historyEdit

The first documented indoor football games were those played at Madison Square Garden in 1902 and 1903 known as the "World Series of Pro Football." They were the first efforts at a national professional football championship. The games were played on a 70-yard by 35-yard dirt field but otherwise adhered to outdoor rules. Poor attendance led to the tournament being discontinued for 1904.

The first major indoor football game was the 1932 NFL Playoff Game, which was played indoors in the Chicago Stadium due to a severe blizzard that prevented playing the game outside. A dirt floor was brought in, and to compensate for the 80-yard length of the field, the teams' positions were reset back twenty yards upon crossing midfield.

In 1930, the Atlantic City Convention Center constructed a full-size indoor football field, and used it for one to three games a year during the 1930s; the stadium stopped hosting games in 1940 and did not resume hosting football games until 1961. In the 1960s the Boardwalk Bowl, a post-season game involving small college teams, was contested at the convention center. The Bowl was an attempt to make Atlantic City more of a year-round resort in the pre-gambling era as opposed to a single-season one (the Miss America Pageant, also held at the center, likewise began as an attempt to extend the season beyond Labor Day). The Philadelphia-based Liberty Bowl game, which had been played at Municipal Stadium from 1959–1963, was moved into the Convention Center in 1964 for the contest between Utah and West Virginia. The game drew just over 6,000 fans, though, and the Liberty Bowl moved to Memphis the next year, where it is still held as of 2010.

This, however, was not technically "indoor football" as discussed here, as the size of the playing surface and hence the rules were essentially the same as in the standard outdoor game, with only the necessity of contingencies for what were to happen should, say, a punt strike the ceiling. (The end zones were slightly shorter—eight yards instead of the standard ten—but this was relatively minor and also occasionally happened in outdoor stadiums as well.) Some would say that the relative success of this game, which was staged for several years, helped lead to the domed stadium era which began with the opening of the Houston Astrodome in 1965. The Astrodome in turn led to the development of the artificial turf playing surface required to make the indoor game truly practicable. (The Houston Oilers did not move their games inside the Astrodome as soon it was completed; they continued to play outdoors until 1968.) Football played in domed stadiums such as the Astrodome, however, is not truly "indoor football", as the game as played in domed stadiums is essentially identical to that played outdoors.

Arena FootballEdit

While several attempts to make up a true indoor football game have been made since shortly after American football was developed, the first version to meet with anything resembling true success and acceptance is Arena football, devised by Jim Foster, a former executive of the United States Football League and the National Football League. He devised his game on the back of a manila envelope while watching indoor soccer, another game derived from a sport traditionally played in a large outdoor venue. He worked on the game in the early 1980s, but put any plans for full development of it on hold while the United States Football League, an attempt to play traditional American football in a non-traditional (spring-summer) season, was in operation in 1983–1985. When the USFL ceased operations following an pyrrhic anti-trust suit against the NFL (the USFL won the case, but was awarded only $3 in damages), Foster saw his opportunity. He staged a "test game" in Rockford, Illinois in 1986 and put together a four-team league for a "demonstration season" in the spring of 1987, with games televised on ESPN. The relative success of this league, which operated for 22 years, led to the inevitable attempts at imitation.

To adapt to the smaller indoor playing surface, which was half the length of the traditional 100 yard field and about half the width as well, with eight yard rather than ten yard end zones, conveniently making the dimensions exactly the same size as a professional ice hockey rink. Foster, instead of trying to cram a full team of eleven players onto this reduced-size field, instead adopted a modified version of eight-man football. He also mandated a one-platoon system that required at least six players "go both ways", playing on both offensive and defensive downs. This additionally had the desirable effect of limiting roster sizes and team payrolls.

There were numerous other rules designed to help the offense and ensure high-scoring games. Two are most noteworthy: the banning of punting, meaning that if a team felt it was not likely to get a first down after three plays its only kicking option was to attempt a field goal, even if it were of the very unlikely distance of 60 yards or more (Foster had also instituted rules that had favored the drop kick as a substitute for the punt, but such rules were rarely used); and the placing of rebound nets around the ends of the playing surface. Kicked and passed balls bouncing off of these nets are still in play. In the case of a pass, the ball is live only until it touches the ground, but in the case of an unsuccessful field goal or a kickoff, the ball remains in play unless it goes out of bounds or until the player recovering it is downed by contact or scores. This means that on every kicking play except an extra point attempt, either team may have a shot to regain the ball and advance it, much as a blocked kick could be in the traditional outdoor game. Only kicked or passed balls touching the slack nets behind the goalposts (which were only about half of the traditional width) are ruled dead at that point. The AFL also adopted the USFL's concept of playing in the spring, which has since been imitated by virtually all other professional indoor leagues as of 2010.

Within a year of the AFL kicking off, its first challenger, the World Indoor Football League formed. The WIFL planned to play a schedule with six teams beginning in summer of 1988 with its own set of indoor-inspired rules, including an unusual system that would have eight men on offense and seven men on defense. Despite having backing from former NFL players, veteran coaches, and singer John Mellencamp, the league canceled its 1988 season, folded half of its franchises (including Mellencamp's), and made an unsuccessful bid for the remaining three teams to join the AFL.

In 1990, Foster patented the rules of Arena football, meaning that only persons authorized by him could use his rules and his name for the sport. The patent specifically covered the rebound net feature, meaning that competitors and imitators who attempted to copy the game couldn't use this aspect of the rules.[1] However, under provisions of U.S. patent law, Foster's patent expired on March 27, 2007, enabling imitators to use his rebound nets (at least as originally envisioned, without other innovations that he may have patented).

The most remarkable development in Arena football, other than the AFL signing a major network television broadcasting contract with NBC, was the development of the official Arena minor league, af2, beginning in 2000. This effort basically served two purposes: one as a developmental league for Arena and as a place where former collegiate players could develop while at the same time learning and becoming accustomed to the unique Arena rules, and secondly as a pre-emptive way of shutting out potential new indoor football competitors (this was especially important as the 2007 expiration of Foster's patent on the rebound nets approached). At times over forty teams participated in this league, almost uniformly in cities which also had minor league ice hockey teams and hence suitable arenas.

Shortly before the end of 2008, the Arena Football League announced that it would not be playing a 2009 Spring season but that the play of its developmental league (AF2) would continue as scheduled. During the previous few years, the league administrators and team owners had allowed player salaries and other costs to rise to the point where the league and many of the teams were losing a substantial amount of money. Late in the summer of 2009, with the team owners unable to agree on a plan for making the league viable again the AFL announced that it was folding.

The Arena Football 2 League played a successful 2009 season. Most of the teams made a sustainable profit and the team owners were eager to see the AF2 continue for another year. However, as it became apparent that the AFL owners would not be able to adopt a workable business model, the AF2 team owners found themselves facing a problem. With the AFL owning 50.1% of the AF2, it would fold if the AFL folded. At the end of the 2009 season, a gathering of AF2 and AFL team owners set out to form their own organization, originally known as Arena Football 1. AF1 went on to purchase all assets of the original AFL and AF2, except for a few team names and logos owned by outside parties, in a December 2009 bankruptcy auction. Shortly after the purchase, AF1 adopted the Arena Football League name, and the reborn AFL began operations in 2010 with 15 teams. The league will expand to 19 teams for 2011 with the addition of one completely new franchise and the return of three former AFL teams; additionally, two existing teams will move into former AFL markets and take up the names of their markets' former teams.

Other national Indoor Football leaguesEdit

As the AFL and AF2 were having to deal with the fact that the AFL had overextended itself, two newer leagues were solidifying their positions in the world of Indoor football. It should be noted that the brand of Indoor football they are playing does not use the rebound nets and is more of a defense based game than Arena football. On 19 October 1998 Richard F. Suess filed for and was subsequently awarded U.S. patent number 6045466 for his version of Indoor Football.

The Indoor Football League will enter 2010 as the largest (in number of teams) of the currently existing indoor leagues. It began in the Autumn of 2008 when two already established leagues (Intense Football League and United Indoor Football) chose to merge into a single organization. The IFL's expansion model is based less on establishing brand-new teams and more on acquiring existing teams from other leagues. Since the initial announcement of the IFL's formation, the league has experienced a solid pattern of growth and profit. Teams have left the Continental Indoor Football League and the Southern Indoor Football League to join the IFL. At least four franchises of the now defunct AF2 have chosen to join the IFL instead of aligning with the revived AFL.

The current incarnation of the Southern Indoor Football League is the result of a merger of a smaller league of the same name, which was founded in 2009, and a portion of the American Indoor Football Association. The league is the second reorganization of what originally began as the Atlantic Indoor Football League in 2005. The AIFL was dissolved after the AIFA absorbed the remaining teams after a tumultuous 2006 season; the AIFA merged with the original SIFL in fall 2010 after the league's western teams split off to form their own league (which ceased operations before beginning play). The SIFL, including its predecessors, will enter its seventh season in 2011.

Other pro leaguesEdit

Several other indoor leagues have been announced without ever actually commencing play, or operating only briefly with a handful of teams. (At least most of these leagues are compiled in the list below, including all which attempted to operate on anything resembling a nationwide level.) Like the original Arena Football League, all of these operations contemplated their playing season as being entirely or primarily outside the traditional fall/early winter season of the older sport so as not to be competing with it directly for fan support. Some were apparently attempts to form a second "major" league of indoor football while others were strictly efforts to form a new "minor" league. The common factor all seemed to share was serious undercapitalization.

Since the first non arena league (Professional Indoor Football League) began in the late 1980s, there has often been a pattern of instability. Each off-season has seen teams jumping from league to league. In addition, leagues have annually merged, changed names, and separated. The organization that is now the AIFA went through three names in its first three seasons.

A few leagues have achieved a certain level of stability, though still many teams go from one league to another annually, both between each other and between regional and national leagues. Currently, three regional professional leagues exist: the Continental Indoor Football League is concentrated in the Great Lakes region, the American Professional Football League plays in the eastern Great Plains region, and the Independent Indoor Football Alliance plays on a lower, near-amateur level in Texas. The Ultimate Indoor Football League, backed by former AIFL founder Andrew Haines, is set to begin play in Appalachia in 2011.

Many leagues have also been plagued with internal dissension. For example, the NIFL was characterized by annual issues between teams and league owner Carolyn Shiver before it folded after its 2007 season, while the APFL ended its 2006 season with a forfeit of the championship game when the league offices refused to allow the championship game to be hosted at the home of the team who had won the right to host and refused to play the game, and the CIFL had its defending champion Rochester Raiders quit the league in the middle of the playoffs in 2008. At the end of the 2009 season, the league champion Chicago Slaughter left the CIFL to join the IFL. They were joined in this move by the Austin TurfCats who had left the SIFL.

Only one indoor women's league has ever taken the field: the Lingerie Football League, known for its scantily-clad players and its signature event, the Lingerie Bowl, plays by a variant of indoor rules, and eight of its ten franchises play in indoor arenas (the other two, the Dallas Desire and Denver Dream, play outdoors, but use the same indoor football rules; they are the only two teams known to have ever played the indoor game outdoors). Otherwise, all other women's leagues play on outdoor fields.

Style of playEdit

Play in all forms of indoor football has tended to emphasize the forward passing game at the expense of rushing the football. Whereas in a typical National Football League game perhaps half of the total offensive plays are rushing plays and 35 or 40 per cent of all of the yardage gained comes from rushing plays, in Arena and other indoor football it is far more common for rushing plays to constitute only 10 per cent of the offense, or even less in some instances.

All indoor football teams play at a minor league or even semi-pro level. The average player's salary in the Arena Football League was US$1,800 per game in 2008; this is about a third of the per-game salary of players in outdoor leagues such as United Football League, Canadian Football League and the XFL (adjusted for inflation). Lower leagues such as af2 and the AIFA had per-game salaries of about $200 per game; AF1 plans on paying approximately $400 per game.

Connection to NFLEdit

Running Back Fred Jackson rushed for over 1,000 yds. as the starting Running Back for the 2009 Buffalo Bills, and his high quality play earned him a spot on USA Today's All Joe Team. Jackson played the early part of his professional football career for the Sioux City Bandits of the Indoor Football League. Probably the most notable player to come out of Arena Football into the National Football League is Kurt Warner, former MVP quarterback of the Super Bowl XXXIV champion (2000 game, 1999 season) St. Louis Rams, who had previously quarterbacked the former Iowa Barnstormers of the AFL. The National Football League has removed a ban that had been in place on any of its owners owning teams in any other sort of football operation with respect to Arena football only, and several of them have bought or started Arena teams. However, the NFL allowed to lapse an option it had negotiated allowing it to purchase up to 49% of Arena football, and as of early 2007 seemed to have backed away from any plan it may have had to use Arena football as a developmental league in any sort of "official" sense, perhaps in the interest of not undermining its then-existing "official" developmental league, NFL Europa.

Several NFL owners own or have owned Arena Football League teams in their own cities. At the end of the 2008 season, Jerry Jones and the Dallas Desperados (who have similar colors and logos to the Dallas Cowboys), Arthur Blank's Georgia Force, and the Colorado Crush (whose shareholders included Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and Rams then-minority owner Stan Kroenke) were still in the league. San Francisco 49ers owner Denise DeBartolo York and Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder had future expansion rights to their respective cities. Tom Benson's New Orleans VooDoo and Bud Adams's Nashville Kats had folded. None of the NFL owners with AFL franchises returned to the league after its reformation in 2010, and most favored abolishing the league entirely.[2]

Indoor football leaguesEdit

Following is a list of indoor football leagues, including arena football leagues.

Current leaguesEdit

Defunct leaguesEdit


  1. U.S. Patent 4,911,443 (filed September 30, 1987; parent application filed December 4, 1985; issued March 27, 1990)
  2. Hahn, John (2009-08-11). Who Really Killed the AFL?. OurSportsCentral.
3. U.S. patent number 6045466 INDOOR FOOTBALL Dick Suess filed 10/19/98 awarded 4 April 2000

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