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Arena Football League close to folding, saddening former Tampa Bay Storm coach Tim Marcum

TAMPA — To Tim Marcum, the Arena Football League was like a child.

He was with it from the start.

He nurtured it, became arguably its biggest promoter and was its most successful coach, winning seven ArenaBowl titles, including three with the Storm.

"It was my baby," Marcum said.

On Tuesday, several news outlets — from ESPN.com to the Associated Press — reported the AFL is on the verge of folding and declaring bankruptcy.

Though no official announcement has been made regarding the league's future, James Guidry, regional director of the AFL players association, told AP on Tuesday that it "seems to be inevitable at this point" that the AFL will soon announce it has ceased operations. Guidry said the players association will accept the owners' decision.

Founded in 1987, the AFL last year canceled the 2009 season.

Despite that move, Marcum and others hoped that with some reorganization, the league could return in 2010. On its official Web site, a headline still reads "AFL working to resume play in 2010."

The question is, what went wrong?

From humble beginnings, the sport seemed to have carved a successful niche. ESPN aired many of its games, it had celebrity owners in John Elway and Jon Bon Jovi, and the league was an option for fans who might not have been able to afford taking the family to an NFL game.

"It was a success story," said Marcum, who was let go by the Storm on June 30.

Initially, players weren't paid much. But as the league grew, so did salaries. Several players earned more than $100,000 a year in recent seasons, Marcum said. The league minimum, he said, was $2,000 a week.

By contrast, according to Marcum, players make $250 a week in the AFL's offshoot, af2. That league, of which the AFL owns 50.1 percent and which has teams mostly in medium-sized markets such as Boise, Idaho, and Spokane, Wash., "is solvent, self-funded and pays its bills," ESPN.com reported.

"It's really a sad thing," Marcum said of the AFL's demise. "We only have ourselves to blame. It's our leadership's fault. We owed $14 million, and when you owe that much something's wrong. You did it the wrong way. I really feel like we'd be playing football right now if it hadn't been for all that debt."

Arena Football League close to folding, saddening former Tampa Bay Storm coach Tim Marcum 08/04/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 4, 2009 10:19pm]
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