The Arena Football League (AFL) is a professional indoor football league in the United States. The league is very young, having been founded in 1987 with the first game (“playtest game”) taking place between the Rockford Metros and the Chicago Politicians. The AFL also governs a minor/developmental league called the af2 (arenafootball2) which was established in 2000. Fan attendance has seen highs and lows throughout the league’s history but recently it has hit an upward surge; average attendance in 2007 was over 12,000.
While the style of the game may closely resemble traditional American football, the style of football played in the AFL drastically separates itself in certain aspects of game play and in certain rules. Play commences between two teams of eight players each on a field that is 50 yards long, 85 feet wide, with two 8-yard end zones. Goal posts are significantly smaller than traditional football posts at only nine-feet wide (NFL posts are 18 ½ feet). The goal posts are flanked at both end zones by goalside rebound nets that measure 30 feet wide and 37 feet high. The field is also surrounded on all sides by four-foot high barrier of high density foam padding. The football that is used has the same dimensions as the balls used in the NFL.
Any pass, kickoff, or field goal that rebounds off the goalside nets are allowed to be fielded; that is, if a ball hits the nets it is not considered out of bounds. If a pass rebounds off one of the nets it is considered live only if it does not touch the ground. Also, punting is not allowed; any team faced with a fourth down must attempt to gain a first down, touchdown, or field goal.
Scoring is very similar to the NFL but varies in a few ways. Points for touchdowns, field goals, point-after conversions, and safeties are identical to the NFL; however, a team in the AFL can score two points by successfully drop-kicking a point after attempt and four points by successfully drop-kicking a field goal.
An AFL season consists of 16 regular season games which is followed by a postseason/playoffs. The playoffs culminate with the top two teams playing in the ArenaBowl with the winner becoming league champion. As of 2007, the 17 teams of the AFL are split into two conferences (National and American) and four divisions (Central, Southern, Eastern, and Western) with both conferences containing two divisions apiece.