Iowa Alumni Magazine | February 2007 | People

Sport Starter: Jim Foster

By Shelbi Thomas
Jim Foster, the inventor of arena football and the Arena Football League's founding commissioner, now works to market his sport's developmental league.

Jim Foster

Jim Foster may never have started for his beloved Hawkeyes—but he did start a new sport.

In February 1981, Foster, 72BGS, invented arena football, sketching the basic idea on an envelope while watching an indoor soccer game. Twenty-six years and one patent later, arena football boasts 19 professional teams and 30 developmental teams nationwide (including the Quad City Steamwheelers). Played indoors with padded walls on a field one-fourth the size of Kinnick Stadium's, the game offers a faster pace, higher scores, and more flash than regular football.

The son of Iowa football letterman Pat Foster, 49BSPE, Jim Foster says his Iowa City upbringing inspired key elements of the game. He watched Forest Evashevski's UI teams practice using a skinny goalpost with a high crossbar, which became the prototype for arena football's goalposts. Iowa's 1939 Ironmen, who played both offense and defense with fewer players, led to arena football's teams of eight versatile players. The rebound nets that bring a missed field goal ball back into play originated in Foster's childhood, too, when he used to throw his football at a baseball pitch back net.

A UI track letterman who wasn't heavy enough to play college football, Foster originally made a career in marketing for the NFL and managing several non-NFL football teams. His squads held concerts during games, used spotlights and fog to introduce players, and blasted rock music between plays—all of which later became part of the Arena Football League's "total entertainment experience."

ESPN's decision in 1987 to air arena football games was crucial to the sport's success, attracting NFL fans hungry for off-season play. The new sport also drew NFL players, including past Superbowl MVP Kurt Warner, and former Hawkeyes such as Jon Roehlk and Eddie Phillips, 88BGS.

Foster, an Arena Football League executive board member and Steamwheelers founder, says, "All you have to do is watch the game and you fall in love with it."