Sure, There's The NFL. But Here's A Primer On Worcester's Arena Football

May 2, 2019

While the only recent NFL action was the draft last weekend, arena football players are now well into their regular season.

The season for the National Arena League kicked off April 13 — including at the DCU Center in Worcester, which is home to the Massachusetts Pirates. Their next game is Saturday night against the Jacksonville Sharks.

Sports reporter Rich Garvan of the Telegram and Gazette joins us to talk about arena football and the Pirates, and some of the major differences between the NFL and the NAL.

Rich Garvan, Telegram and Gazette: The biggest thing is the field is half the distance. It's only 50 yards long. It's kind of hockey-like in that it's surrounded by boards. So, you know, you see players flipping over them reaching for catches.

If you land out of bounds with the ball through the end zone, it's a touchdown, still, so it's quite dramatic to see a player go over the boards. Depending on where you're sitting, you don't know if he caught the ball or not 'til you see him pop up with it.

Also, it's an eight-man game. There's only four offensive linemen. Teams don't use a running back in a traditional role. It's a very pass-oriented game.

Carrie Healy, NEPR: It sounds like a much higher-scoring game than NFL games.

I guess the best way to say it is: every defensive player I've ever talked to says, "If we can hold the other team under 40 points, we have a good chance of winning." You typically see 80 to 90 to 100 points scored in a game.

What is the pay? It must be very different between NFL and NAL, too.

I'm going to punt on that one. Salaries generally aren't published. But yeah, the pay is much different. It's a 14-week season. So probably, for a high-end player, you're looking at maybe in the $20,000 range.

I think a rookie salary is probably around something along the lines of $10,000.

Worcester provides housing, and there's food available on game days, etc. There's some amenities to go with the salary.

A lot of these players got NFL looks, or Canadian Football League looks — tryouts. These players are extremely talented. They were all scholarship athletes in college. You know, they played at schools like UCLA, Tennessee, Miami, Georgia Tech, Texas, Georgia.

Quayvon Hicks is a fullback for the team. He played with David Andrews, Sony Michel, Malcolm Mitchell, Isaiah Wynn — those are all current or former players for the New England Patriots. He was a regular player there, so this just gives you an idea of what you're looking at.

The season is underway. How are the Massachusetts Pirates doing this year?

In a kind of weird scheduling quirk, they opened this season with back-to-back games against the defending league champions out of Greensboro, North Carolina. And it didn't go so well for the Pirates.

They have a lot of rookies this year, and it really takes some adjustment to get used to the indoor game. It's very fast. The speed isn't different than the NFL per se, because they're all fast players, but what happens is that the ball generally is thrown by the quarterback in less than two seconds — where in the NFL it's probably about two-and-a-half to three seconds.

That doesn't seem like a big difference, but it's huge when you take into account the field is 50 percent shorter.

So they rebounded last week with a win, and they're home this week for a game on Saturday night at the DCU Center. That's going to be a competitive game, and I think they're going to be favored in that. 

I'd say most of the games going forward, they're going to be in them. They went 11-5 last year in their first year in advance of the playoffs. I know from talking to the players and the coaching staff that one of their goals is to be one of the teams that makes it to the playoffs in August.

Is there any fan confusion for allegiance as the city adds a professional team in minor league baseball — the PawSox or whatever they're going to be called? Is that going to dilute any of the fan base for the summer-playing National Arena League?

Interesting question. You know, Worcester has a summer collegiate team. In other words, it's made up of players in college, and they're trying to showcase their skills and improve them. Many of them are players that are going to get drafted by the pros.

The Worcester Bravehearts, I would say, are definitely in danger of moving when the Worcester Red Sox — or their yet-to-be-named team is called — in 2021.

So I think for the indoor team for football, you know, it's obviously two different sports. They're competing for discretionary spending with families. I think maybe they can both survive because of the fact that they're different sports.

Maybe you go to see a football game on a Saturday night, and it's only once a week, where a baseball team could be home for six or seven nights at a time during the home stand.