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ARENA FOOTBALL LEAGUE REVERSES ITS FIELD, SAVES 2000 SEASON

ARENA FOOTBALL LEAGUE REVERSES ITS FIELD, SAVES 2000 SEASON

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The Buffalo Destroyers are back in business.

The Arena Football League announced Wednesday afternoon it had recognized the Arena Football League Players Organizing Committee (AFLPOC) as the official collective bargaining agent of the indoor league's players. Therefore, the 2000 season -- which had been canceled last Thursday -- will be played as scheduled.

The owners and players could not negotiate a collective bargaining agreement until the players designated a bargaining agent. The two sides plan to begin talks on a CBA perhaps as early as Sunday, discussing such issues as year-round health insurance, disability, pensions, profit sharing, past grievances, safety concerns and salaries.

"The players and owners can sit down as partners now and come to conclusions in a very logical fashion," said Mark Hamister, the Destroyers' owner.

The two sides do not need to have an agreement in place in order for the season to start, according to Hamister. He added the league hopes to have at least an interim deal finished before the start of training camp on March 19. There is said to be no chance at a lockout if a deal is not in place at the start of the season.

Fullback/linebacker Tony Jones of the Destroyers was aware players were voting for the past couple of weeks on whether to approve the AFLPOC as its bargaining agent. He said last week's announcement to cancel the season added a little drama to the proceedings.

"Football is my year-round job," Jones said. "When I'm not playing football, I'm in the office. If there's no season, there's no job. It was really scary.

"I took it upon myself to do something about it. . . . I was in Chicago, helping to organize the union. I was working 14, 15 hours a day for seven or eight days to get the cards in. Last night, I was up to 3:30 (a.m.) trying to get the majority in before they called the deadline."

Wide receiver Chris Perry added, "It (the cancellation announcement) woke a lot of people up. They realized they might not have a job this summer. It did help people make up their mind one way or another, and it helped organize the group."

This is considered to be a big year for Arena Football. The National Football League has invested in the league. The indoor circuit also hopes to capitalize on the publicity generated by St. Louis Rams' quarterback Kurt Warner, who was the most valuable player of the Super Bowl in January after "graduating" from Arena play. Wiping out the 2000 campaign would have had huge long-term effects.

"It (a canceled season) would have been devastating. It would have taken a long, long time to overcome it," said Dave Whinham, coach and general manager of the Destroyers. "Certainly, far more established leagues than our little league have gone through work stoppages, and it's really been a terrific setback for them, so it's not something we wanted to face. We really didn't feel from a business standpoint that it made sense to go forward without collective bargaining. The time has come for that. I'm proud of the players for putting this together."

The Destroyers' regular season will begin on April 15 at Oklahoma, followed by the home opener a week later against Iowa.

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