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Southern Indoor Football League looking to expand

The Columbus Lions can expect some more competition in defending their Southern Indoor Football League championship if season-ending league meetings were any indication of the organization’s direction.

SIFL executives, team owners and coaches and prospective members met Monday at the Columbus Civic Center, discussing ways to improve the league, positive directions worth keeping around and expansion.

League executives hope to have several new teams in place by the start of the 2011 season and have set their sights on attracting up to seven more teams for next season, bringing the league total to 12.

“That would be ideal,” SIFL president Thom Hager said. “My ultimate goal would be to get 14 teams in place, so that way we can have separate divisions.”

Hager said the league’s owners are being cautious not to grow too quickly or sacrifice the quality of the ownership groups, even saying he expected the league to create more stringent guidelines team owners must meet.

“We have no desire to become the biggest league or the fastest growing league,” Hager said. “We want to make sure we have solid ownership groups in our market. When we launch a team, it’s here to stay and not here one day and gone the next. We want stability.”

Potential SIFL team owners were in attendance from several locations, and Hager said there was discussion about teams joining from the Chattanooga-Rome area; Macon, Ga.; Augusta, Ga.; Mobile, Ala.; Jackson, Miss.; Biloxi, La.; and several areas in Southeast Texas.

The primary focus of the expansion efforts from the SIFL’s end is in the Georgia and Alabama markets. Hager said the league also had no inclination to spread beyond its footprint in the Southeast with his vision for the league including teams throughout Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, East Texas and possibly Oklahoma.

Lions managing partner John Hargrove said he believes the SIFL will have at least three new teams next season, but was unsure of where they would be located. One of the locations with owners exhibiting the most interest, however, was in the northwest corner of Georgia. After an SIFL team form Texas dropped out just before the start of the season, the Lions brought in a semi-pro outdoor team from the area, the North Georgia Bulldogs, to fill the void in the schedule. That game sparked an interest in fielding an SIFL team, Hargrove said.

“We have got quite a few places interested, and I think the main reason everyone wants to be part of this league is the footprint we have established,” Hargrove said. “Without having to go to places like Baltimore or Pennsylvania and places like that, it cuts down on travel and makes running a team in this league affordable. That is attracting a lot of teams in the region.”

Other topics discussed:

— The SIFL rule book: Owners, coaches and players liked the SIFL rule book, which Hager described as leaving little to interpretation. Among the things fans can expect to see again next year are the uno and what is known in the SIFL as the Ray Rule. That rule states that a team whose kicker sends a kickoff out of bounds before it crosses the opposite goal line will be penalized by allowing the receiving team’s returner to have a free return. The players must all return to kickoff formation and the returner is handed the ball at his own goal line. Upon the official’s whistle, the teams may play as though the ball was caught fairly. This keeps up the pace of the game and saves the team the cost of those footballs.

— Officiating: While league owners and coaches generally had few complaints about the quality of officiating, the SIFL likely will put in place new measures to ensure consistency from crew to crew. This will include weekly conference calls between officials, coaches and owners.

— Finances: The league is looking into league-wide sponsorship and promotional opportunities that Hager said would benefit each team’s bottom line.

— Commissioner: SIFL commissioner Dan Blum is also the league’s supervisor of officials. With the league growing — and with Blum having expressed interest in focusing solely on officiating — Hager said the league would have to appoint a new commissioner.

— League meetings: Lake Charles, La., home of the Louisiana Swashbucklers, was named the host of the next league meetings, which will be held Dec. 6-7.

Chris White, 706-571-8571

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