JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Sharks announced today that they will join the National Arena League (NAL) for the upcoming 2017 season.
The NAL will begin its inaugural season in mid-March 2017 and will complete its regular season in June. The season will last 14 weeks, with two bye weeks. Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veteran’s Memorial Arena will continue to be the home for the Sharks in 2017. During the 2017 season the Sharks will play eight games at home and four on the road.
In September the Sharks decided not to continue in the Arena Football League and their search for new league began.
“Geographically speaking we’re in the south and there weren’t a lot of options with the other leagues,” said Sharks Operating Manager Jeff Bouchy. “It became apparent to us that we needed to start our own league. We needed to join a newly formed league that we could help mold and participate in and have a say in the direction of the league.”
Prior to the decision to switch leagues, the Sharks spent seven seasons in the AFL, becoming the first team in league history to win division championships in each of its first four years. The Sharks’ success continued as they won ArenaBowl XXIV in 2011 against the Arizona Rattlers, a franchise that also made the decision to leave the AFL this year for another league.
“We are extremely excited to be joining the NAL and continuing to build on the foundation of Sharks football. Nothing will change about the Sharks’ game day experience," Bouchy continued. "It will continue to be the most fan-friendly, entertaining and affordable night out you can experience. As with every year, the team roster changes, but we expect to have many of our core players returning this season, including QB Tommy Grady and FB Derrick Ross, to help lead us to win the inaugural NAL Championship game."
The NAL will have at least 8 teams in its inaugural year, including one team in Mexico, scheduled to announce by the end of the month. The inaugural season will conclude during the weekend of June 17. The 4-team playoff will begin the weekend of June 24. The winners of the first-round playoff games will then have a bye week and will play in the first NAL Championship Game the weekend of July 8. The game will be hosted by the highest seeded team. The Sharks’ new opponents include: Columbus Lions (Columbus, GA),Dayton Wolfpack (Dayton, OH), Lehigh Valley Steelhawks (Allentown, PA), Corpus Christi Rage (Corpus Christi, TX), Georgia Firebirds (Albany, GA), and the High Country Grizzlies (Boone, NC).
In addition to joining the NAL, the Sharks also announced Mark Stoute as their new head coach. During his time with the Sharks, Stoute assisted former interim head coach Bob Landsee to an overall record of 3-1. The Sharks finished the regular season with two consecutive wins at home, holding opponents to a 33.5 point average.
“I came in at the end of last season and was immediately struck by the passion and energy of the fans," said Stoute. "The atmosphere from the fans here in Jacksonville is one of the best that I have ever experienced in my over 20 years of coaching indoor football.”