Coach trying to resurrect DareDevils
Friday, December 02, 2005 - 01:00
Local Sports - The faintest heartbeat remains for the Niagara DareDevils of the American Basketball Association.
Head coach Otis Hailey, named interim owner Monday when former owner/president Al Howell was removed by the league, is still trying to resurrect the franchise.
“We’re trying hard to get this thing going. If we get it set up in the proper way, we can make that man (Howell) look bad for what he did. All these kids want to do is play,” he said Thursday.
Hailey has eight players remaining, including all five of his starters. They are staying in a hotel in Niagara Falls.
“I can leave here tomorrow and have a job but I don’t want to leave these kids and this situation. I’m really happy here and I want it to work.”
According to Hailey, he has a potential investor from Toronto coming Monday to discuss taking over the ownership and looking after the pay owed to the players, coaching staff and management team.
The team was hoping to play a makeup home game against Buffalo tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Stamford Collegiate in Niagara Falls and then hit the road Saturday for a game against the Long Island Sound.
“I’m trying to get a hold of the commissioner but we need gas and a per diem for the players,” Hailey said.
According to Hailey, the Long Island Sound has agreed to look after the DareDevils’ hotel accommodations.
With all the bad press floating around about the team’s financial woes, Hailey knows he is fighting tough odds to keep the DareDevils afloat.
“We all know that we are fighting a big, big battle here and we are going to fight it until we can’t fight no longer,” he said.
Contacted by e-mail Wednesday night, ABA chief executive officer Joe Newman refused to say why he granted Howell a franchise knowing Howell was the owner of the Calgary Drillers ABA franchise that folded in February 2005 after 13 games.
“Why do you ask these questions? And why do you think I should answer them? Are you trying to secure a team? If so, please advise and I’ll provide information to you. Have a good day,” Newman replied.
In an earlier story, Newman said the league checks out prospective owners but “it is difficult to overcome total misrepresentations.”
Newman was glowing in his endorsement of Howell when he announced July 21 on the OurSports Central website — a site dedicated to independent and minor league sports news — about the granting of an ABA franchise in St. Catharines.
“We added the team for several reasons. The ownership group will be led by Al Howell, an extremely experienced Canadian sports executive who has served as a Canadian consultant to the league since its inception.
“He knows the ABA, he knows Canada and he knows basketball. He can jumpstart this operation quickly and effectively. We have great confidence in Al and his people,” the website read.
Contacted Thursday, Newman refused to confirm whether Howell had been or still is a consultant for the ABA.
Matt Scobel, the team’s former director of business operations, and two local home-based businesses who did work for the DareDevils said they received payment for work with Calgary Drillers cheques. They said the cheques bounced.
City of St. Catharines parks and recreation director Ron Zizman hasn’t returned calls over three days from The Standard regarding the DareDevils’ lease at Jack Gatecliff Arena and whether the team has paid its bill. It is believed to be $4,500 per game or $9,000 for the two games contested at the arena.
Copps Coliseum, which rented a portable basketball floor to the DareDevils on two occasions, refused to say if it had been paid.
“I wouldn’t confirm it one way or another. It’s a business arrangement with a client,” Copps CEO Duncan Gillespie said.
Gillespie did confirm the facility had discussions with the DareDevils about playing a number of games at the Hamilton complex.
The financial woes of the DareDevils come as no surprise to anyone who follows the league on a close basis.
Douglas Brei of Fairport, N.Y., is just that person. The mortgage broker for Chase Manhattan has an extensive background as a minor sports executive working with teams in the Continental Basketball Association, South Atlantic League (long season A baseball), the East Coast Hockey League, International Hockey League, American Hockey League, Mid-West League (baseball) and the NCAA.
He quit the sports business in 1993 and can readily identify with Scobel, who said he received no pay for his work with the DareDevils.
“You only have to work so many 114-hour weeks for 12 grand a year to know it’s not fun any more,” he said.
And while he ended his career in minor league sports, he never lost his passion for it. For the past 11 years, he has been researching an encyclopedia of professional sports franchises. It was during this research that he came across the ABA.
“I did notice the ABA followed a pattern unlike any other sports league I’ve seen,” he said.
That pattern was anything but trail-blazing.
“The league seems to lack even the most basic foundation or structure that would be required of any league to protect its integrity,” Brei said.
That the league continues to survive dumbfounds him.
“I’m baffled. But the reality is the league keeps going because it is so cheap to get in the league.”
He knows the franchise fee was $10,000 US, last year and this year he has heard it has been upped to $20,000. Newman wouldn’t confirm the franchise fee.
“The ABA has granted franchises in any city that wants one,” Brei said.
Franchises have been granted to teams that had yet to secure a venue and the ABA has also granted new franchises in mid-season,” Brei said.
“Anyone with even the most basic knowledge of how to run professional sports franchises would realize this league is a fiasco.”
What is most appalling for Brei, is the ABA regularly breaks the No. 1 rule of professional sports leagues.
“A league can never allow any team to miss a game. Period. Yet in the ABA, it seems to be standard operating procedure.”
According to research he did, as of Wednesday only 93 of the 148 games (62.8 per cent) on the ABA schedule have been played.
For their part, the DareDevils have played four of their seven scheduled games. Surprisingly, the DareDevils’ division is the best in the league when it comes to playing scheduled games.
“What I don’t understand is how agents let their players sign with these teams,” Brei said.
Brei has watched with amusement the parade of new owners brought into the ABA — including a paralegal with previous convictions for passing bad cheques in three states — but he thought Howell sounded good when he read the posting on the OurSports Central website.
“At the time, I thought the ABA had finally got somebody,” he said.
After a five-minute Google search on the Internet, Brei was back to concluding it was more of the same.
“The big question is what is Joe Newman trying to accomplish and why are guys like Al Howell the rule rather than the exception?”
In nearby Buffalo, the Rapids of the ABA opened Nov. 3 before a sold-out crowd of 3,200 at the Burt Flickinger Center, including two members of the Buffalo Bills, heavyweight boxer Joe Mesi and the mayor.
After the team’s second game, the Rapids left the Flickinger Centre because the team hadn’t made the payments required in its contract with the venue. Buffalo played its third game in the 400-seat Niagara Catholic High School and its fourth at Park School, a private middle school.
After the game, one player told The Buffalo News his last cheque had bounced.
“I don’t know right now,” said owner Gary Nice, when asked if any of his cheques to the players or coaching staff had bounced.
Thursday, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s website reported 78 attended the Pittsburgh Xplosion’s Wednesday home game against the Detroit Wheels in the 17,000-seat Mellon Arena.
“We know this is going to take some time from a business standpoint, and we are a little below expectations right now,” Xplosion CEO Richard Hershperger told the Post Gazette.