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Indy realignment in the discussion phase

Northern League

Multiple sources confirm that recent discussions between reps of the independent American Association, Northern League and Frontier League could yield a dramatic realignment of the independent scene for the 2011 or 2012 seasons, as old grudges and bitter rivalries are giving way to a new sense of economic reality.

The discussions directly between American Association/Northern League and Frontier League/Northern League reps on multiple levels (but nothing involving all three sides simultaneously) have touched on a wide range of interactions, beginning with All-Star Games or a post-season playoff to interleague play and full-scale mergers. Part of the problem to any deal is that there are basically two business models here: the Frontier League is structured as a developmental league — no veterans allowed, and there’s a rather paltry salary cap — while American Associations and Northern League teams have a higher salary cap and fewer restrictions on veterans.

The reason for the talks: travel costs. Right now the American Association is strung out from Sioux Falls to Fort Worth and Pensacola, with precious few properties in the middle. The Northern League is in the same boat, with western teams in Manitoba, Kansas and North Dakota traveling too often to teams in the greater Chicago area. Similarly, the Frontier League stretches from Pennsylvania to St. Louis. Overlay a map of all three leagues and you’ve got something that could make a lot of sense from an economic point of view.

However, as far as we can tell, there are no three-way talks and no talk of combining all three leagues into a super-league. We do hear that talks are on the advanced side in terms of an American Association/Northern League combination, with merger being discussed. Whether it can happen in time for the 2011 season remains to be seen — but the fact that talks are this advanced bodes well for some sort of marriage, as old grudges and bitter rivalries may be giving way to a more sensible business model for all. It makes more sense for the Winnipeg Goldeyes to be making multiple trips to St. Paul in a given season than to Gary, Indiana — and it makes more sense for the Saints to heading up the freeway to Fargo-Moorhead rather than hightailing it down regularly to Fort Worth and Pensacola.

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