ABA suffers a big blow

by Chris Munson
May 9, 2008 - American Basketball Association (ABA)

The Premier Basketball League announced today that the Vermont Frost Heaves and Manchester Millrats have left the American Basketball Association and will join the PBL for the 2008-2009 season. Reliable sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity have said Quebec City and Montreal may also leave the ABA with that announcement to be made on Monday. Other sources are hinting the mass exodus will continue as the Texas Tycoons are set to leave the ABA with Tycoons owner Charles Key taking over operations of the Dallas Defenders.

Some are moves that have been anticipated for many weeks as the solid ABA teams have grown weary of the league's instability. Last year, less than 39 percent of the league's games were played with 17 teams folding or leaving the league over the course of the season, including the Halifax Rainmen who left despite the fact it had qualified for the playoffs.

PBL President and CEO Thomas E. Doyle said in a news release, "We receive a tremendous number of inquiries and applications and are excited to welcome these solid organizations which will be great compliments to our current ownership groups..."

Vermont was the ABA's marquee franchise, headed by Sports Illustrated writer Alex Wolff. The Heaves won the ABA's last two titles. Manchester's well-heeled ownership was also highly sought after.

Several team sources cited the instability of the ABA and concerns for its future as a chief reason for leaving.

Frost Heaves owner Alex Wolff said about his decision, "When the season ended, we started to look at other opportunities, those being the CBA and the PBL. We needed to be with a league we could count on, and our loyal fans deserve better."

Wolff also cited a game against the Boston Blizzard and said he expects the level of competition to be much stronger in the PBL, along with the revival of some old rivalries. Wolff said, "We had a great run in the ABA with two titles, and we loved the tradition of the ABA, but we will also be able to continue some great rivalries with Rochester, Maryland and Wilmington."

Manchester Millrats GM Ian McCarthy said of the Millrats' move to the PBL, "We know what the ABA has not been able to deliver and we see this as a great opportunity for the franchise and our fans." McCarthy also responded to anticipated charges that the PBL actively recruited the Millrats by saying, "The PBL did not recruit us. At the end of the season we went to them (PBL) and the CBA because we needed to find a place that was more stable and has a better business model. The PBL has quite a few financial incentives as well where they pay for travel and officials."

In response to the departure of Vermont and Manchester, ABA CEO Joe Newman said, "We respect their decision and wish them well. Today, the ABA is bigger, stronger and more focused on the tremendous opportunity ahead. The 2008-2009 season will be a remarkable sign of growth for the ABA."

When asked how the defections of Vermont and Manchester will affect the ABA, league President and Chief Operating Officer Quentin Townsend said in an email, "The ABA is now entering its seventh year since its return. The ABA is bigger, stronger, and more focused on the tremendous opportunity ahead. The 2008-2009 season will be a remarkable sign of growth for the ABA as key adjustments are being made to solidify and secure a proper foundation that is both marketable and profitable. There will be several announcements over the next few weeks regarding new expansion teams, ABA regulations, and league scheduling."

The big question is not whether the ABA can survive. The ABA has seen approximately 185 announced teams (including Manchester, Vermont, Montreal and Quebec) depart the league since its rebirth in 2000-2001. There have been scandals where coaches have been fired during a timeout; the mysterious case of the Hawaii owner who sold season tickets and took off with the deposits, and who can forget the eight teams that left the league during the playoffs?

The ABA needs to become more stable and they need to do it quickly. CEO Newman has previously stated new teams will be required to post a $30,000 entrance fee and prove a line of credit. On paper this is a good step, but according to sources, Newman is not collecting any of those fees and is allowing teams into the league at little to no cost or providing financing option with little money down. These are some of the same policies that have led to numerous team failures in the past.

This is a coup for the PBL and a blow to the ABA. The PBL has been able to secure at least two and as many as five solid franchises with reputable ownership and management. The PBL is making a strong case for being one of, if not the top league in minor league basketball. The ABA, on the other hand, appears to be going downhill fast.

Chris Munson is a freelance writer and broadcaster based in Burlington, Vermont. (Soon to be Jacksonville, Florida) Chris is the former Sports Director for ESPN Radio Vermont and has written for Our Sports Central, US Basket, Varsity Magazine, the Vermont Guardian and the Vermont Times.

Note: OurSports Central no longer actively covers the American Basketball Association (ABA) as a professional league due in part to its inability to publish and play a schedule and the transitory nature of many of its teams. For information on professional minor leagues, please see OSC's basketball section.

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