DALLAS (AP) — William McCarthy, chosen by fans to coach the Salt Lake Screaming Eagles of the Indoor Football League, will soon be calling plays for the expansion franchise by waiting for a majority vote over a matter of seconds from many of those same people.
Fans calling plays in real time, after scouting some of the players and having a say in the final roster and starting lineup? That’s the idea, and McCarthy understands the skepticism, even tried to anticipate it in his own locker room.
“The way I explained it to the players is, it’s not the old guy standing up in the stands drawing on the back of a Papa John’s box,” McCarthy said. “There is some method to the madness.”
The founders of a company called FANchise want to reinvent what they see as a struggling arena game by letting fans make all sorts of decisions, believing the popularity of fantasy football can translate to the real thing and perhaps be the basis for an entire league of at least partially fan-run franchises.
Players wouldn’t be the only skeptics.
“We were unanimously approved as an ownership group for the new franchise,” co-founder Sohrob Farudi said. “But I think all the owners looking around, ‘Hey, this is kind of cool but go do it with your team. There’s no way we’re doing this with our team. We’re not going to let fans run our team.'”
Farudi says that’s changing, with the league recently creating a committee to explore getting enough teams to commit to a fan-centric model and therefore justify a new name: the Interactive Football League.
For now, the IFL keeps its current name, with 10 teams in mostly smaller markets. The league’s viability got a boost with the Arizona Rattlers and Iowa Barnstormers, who produced Super Bowl-winning quarterback Kurt Warner, coming over from the better-known Arena Football League.
Farudi’s group bought a second IFL team in the Colorado Crush, once owned by Denver Broncos general manager John Elway when the franchise was in the AFL. And while the Crush will eventually incorporate some of the ideas being used in Salt Lake City, the focus for now is almost entirely on the Screaming Eagles .
“When I was approached to help out, I thought it was a no-brainer,” said Andy Alberth, a consultant who has worked to create a fantasy football convention headlined by NFL stars. “Bringing fans closer to the game has been a passion of mine.”
The team says about 38,000 people used the voting app when McCarthy was picked over a three-week period in August. Fans can choose from prices ranging from $10 to $40 per month for different levels of engagement.
But a fan’s involvement also depends on a time commitment. Those willing to spend more hours scouting players by watching film and communicating with McCarthy are apt to be more involved in the long term.
“What’s interesting is these fans are paying us to do work for the team,” Farudi said. “If you just give them the opportunity to participate, they’re going to provide you incredible value. I really think there’s something there, especially looking at semi-pro, minor league type of organizations. They never have enough resources.”
After preseason camp starts in February, McCarthy will make the first roster cut to about 32 from the original 40. Fans will help get the final list to 25, and will have a vote to choose the starting quarterback, running back and receivers. Farudi figures those skill positions interest fans the most.
When the Screaming Eagles offense takes the field Feb. 16 at home against the Nebraska Danger, fans will use an app to pick plays. They will see a field marking down and distance, with roughly six choices for plays.
McCarthy is in charge of what plays are in the system, so it’s just like any other game plan in football, with a twist at the end.
The IFL uses a 25-second play clock, so the system will load based on down, distance and field position while the ball is being reset before the clock starts. From there, fans will have about 10 seconds to vote, and the majority rules.
Not every play will be put to a vote. For example, fans won’t have time to assist a hurry-up offense. And while some plays will be open to everybody — non-paying fans included — others will be restricted to smaller groups.
“What we’re doing isn’t for everybody,” said McCarthy, whose coaching background includes mostly indoor football. “It is unique and it is different. And it took me a lot of time to get comfortable with it.”
Farudi, who grew up in South Texas rooting for the Dallas Cowboys, envisioned fans filled with their own ideas of how to run a team before launching the franchise. Now that it’s close to the debut, he says he’s surprised by how many people are getting involved because they want to learn more about a game they enjoy.
And McCarthy can see what the experience does for many of them.
“You show something to a little kid for the first time, it’s kind of like, ‘Aaaaaah,'” the coach said. “Just like a deer in the headlights, ‘There’s more to it than I thought there is.’ Yeah, there’s a lot more to it. It’s fun to explain that process to folks.”
Now Farudi wants to see if those fans can invigorate the indoor game.