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Spokane Empire

Shock stay in West Division

As expected, the Spokane Shock will stay in the West Division and National Conference for the 2011 season, the Arena Football League announced Thursday.

The only change in the West will be the addition of San Jose, which returns to the AFL after a two-year hiatus, joining Spokane, Arizona and Utah in what figures to be one of the league’s strongest divisions. San Jose won the AFL title in 2002, 2004 and 2007 and lost to Philadelphia in the 2008 championship.

“It’s going to be a tough division,” Spokane general manager Adam Nebeker said. “All indications point to San Jose having a great team, Arizona was great last year and Utah has made huge strides from last year in coaching and recruiting.”

The National Conference’s Central Division includes Chicago, Dallas, Iowa, Tulsa and Kansas City. The AFL will consist of 18 franchises, three more than last season. The newcomers are San Jose, Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Oklahoma City has ceased operations. Two franchises relocated – Alabama to Georgia and Bossier/Shreveport to New Orleans.

Eight teams will qualify for the playoffs, four from each conference. Division winners are guaranteed a playoff spot, but not necessarily a home game. That’s a change from last season when division winner Tulsa (10-6) entertained Tampa Bay (11-5) in a first-round game.

It hasn’t been decided if ArenaBowl XXIV will be played at the home of the team with the best record or at a neutral site. Spokane compiled the best regular-season record (13-3) en route to defeating Tampa Bay in ArenaBowl XXIII at the Spokane Arena last August.

The 2011 schedule is expected to be released soon. Spokane will probably open on the road on the March 11-12 weekend. NFL Network will again televise a Friday game of the week. The television schedule will be announced at a later date.

• Defensive lineman Nekos Brown, who played at Virginia Tech, has been added to the Shock roster.