The Mid-Missouri Outlaws are forging a new path.
After multiple issues plagued the American Professional Football League during the Outlaws’ two-year run there, the team left to become a charter member of the Champions Professional Indoor Football League.
As one of the six teams on board when the new league was announced last fall, Outlaws owner Ethan Henson was tabbed to help get the new league off the ground as president of the executive board.
“Step No. 1 was making sure all six were financially sound, that they met our footprint; then we wanted to expand to no more than 10 teams,” Henson said. “We started taking applications for the other four spots. It was a bit overwhelming.”
Overwhelming to the tune of 64 teams interested in joining. The league quickly declined some of the more far-flung cities in favor of a more compact geographic footprint and soon had 24 possible teams. The league visited arenas, met with ownership groups and double-checked the financial numbers.
“It was tough to narrow it down to those final four spots,” Henson said. “Once we had it down we were pretty relieved to have 10 solid teams.”
Henson hopes the league will be able to avoid many of the pitfalls that plagued the APFL. With teams in places like Denver and Cheyenne, Wyo., travel became expensive. Henson estimates a trip to face the Colorado Lightening last year cost the Outlaws $10,000.
In the CPIFL, the team can avoid many of those costs. Henson believes the new league will cut as much as two-thirds of the travel costs with teams closer together and hotels and buses booked well in advance.
The APFL also saw several teams drop out of the league mid-season in 2012, something the CPIFL is working to prevent this season.
“We took measures to make sure teams financially make it through the season and if they couldn’t, we had a backup source of funds to make sure we could keep that team operational at least through the end of the season,” Henson said.
The longest drives from Sedalia to a league game this season are Bloomington, Ill., and Sioux City, Iowa, both about five-and-a half hours away, which allows fans the chance to travel to road games.
Closer to Sedalia will be the Kansas City Renegades, playing at Kemper Arena.
“Kansas City was obviously kind of a no-brainer for us; 89 miles away, a good intrastate rivalry, the only two teams in Missouri. It made sense to put one there,” Henson said.
Once the 10 teams were in place, the league worked to make sure everyone was on the same page. League bylaws were written. Owners sat down and went over the rule book that was sent to officials who offered their input.
Henson said the league is bringing in officials who have worked Big 12 and SEC games. He also wanted to make sure officiating was consistent.
“A personal foul in Sedalia has got to be the same as a personal foul in Bloomington,” Henson said.
Henson said response from players has been impressive, with more than 70 tapes, letters and emails coming into team offices per week during the offseason.
“The talent level is going to be through the roof,” he said. “You’re going to see kids you’ve seen in college. Some guys that you’ve seen on TV on Sunday that are in this league now, and that talent has just become huge. (Players) really came out and said they want to play in this league.”
While Henson worked to get the league up and running, for the guys on the field, the focus was always on playing the game.
“I try to do my job here and what I can control,” said Outlaws quarterback Kyle Middleton. “Of course I look at other scores and see what other teams do, but I’ve got to take it game-by-game and play-by-play.”
With the new season under way, Henson is seeing plenty of local support. He said the Outlaws have gotten a boost from the chambers of commerce in Sedalia and Warrensburg, as well as 87 corporate sponsors.
“You’re seeing our logo and schedule in places we could not have gotten them before,” he said.