"There's always grumbling about potential teams folding or something not going as planned," said D'Orazio, the league's reigning MVP for the champion Philadelphia Soul. "But it always seems to start up and always do better than the year before."
Not this time. The 22-year-old AFL announced Monday it's canceling the 2009 season as it seeks to mold a better business model in tough economic times. The decision was pending an agreement with the players union. League officials hope to return in 2010.
"That is the plan," said Jim Renacci, the Columbus Destroyers' co-owner and vice chairman of the AFL executive committee, who will lead the restructuring process. "Every owner is committed to coming back in 2010."
Renacci left open the possibility the 16-team league including the Arizona Rattlers could play in 2009 with an abbreviated schedule.
The more than two-thirds of AFL owners needed to approve the measure voted to cancel the season during a conference call Sunday night. The league had issued a statement Wednesday night that said the 2009 season had not been suspended.
"That was probably the longest part of the discussion the owners had: Can we still come back in 2009?" Renacci said. "And I think the answer to that is it's always possible, but most likely we need to retool to be fair to fans."
Since November 2007, the AFL's board of directors has been looking into various ways to bolster the league's finances. The league's attendance, TV ratings and merchandise sales increased last year. Now league officials must hope they can recapture that momentum after a year out of the public consciousness.
"We're hopeful that when we come back stronger than before they're going to come back and give us a shot," Chicago Rush president and general manager Mike Polisky said.
The AFL's woes come at a time when the world of sports, once thought to be largely recession-proof, has felt the economic chill. Here's what is happening in other professional leagues:
NFL: Will eliminate 150 jobs
NBA: Laid off 80 employees
NASCAR: Could have as many as 1,000 layoffs
NHL: Hiring freeze
MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL: Web site reducing staff by four percent