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Cleveland Gary updates status of NIFL

by Paul Reeths
May 11, 2007 - National Indoor Football League (NIFL)

With the National Indoor Football League struggling for survival midway through the 2007 schedule, embattled NIFL director of operations Cleveland Gary confirmed that several teams would not make it through the season.

Teams that will immediately cease operations include the Fort Myers Tarpons, Sarasota Knights, Green Cove Lions, Port St. Lucie Mustangs, Colorado Wild Riders, Denver Aviators, Pueblo Pistols, the unnamed Dallas team and the Fort Worth Sixers.

All told, Gary said 13 of the league's 25 listed franchises would not play any more home games. The Colorado Castle Rocks and San Antonio Steers may play one or two road games each, while Gary held out hope that the Pomona Cool Riders and Los Angeles Lynx, both of which recently lost their venue, may play in doubleheaders elsewhere in California.

"We need to cut back and punt the ball," said Gary "We need to stop the bleeding. We're busting our rear ends to turn this thing around."

The changes leave the Palm Beach Waves as the lone remaining team in the Atlantic Florida division. Gary said he plans to revive the other four Florida franchises next season. In a published report in the Fort Pierce Tribune, he also promised all players and coaches would be paid for games played.

Gary's company owned 16 of the expansion teams this season, including all that will end their seasons today.

"I knew this year would be a very tough year," added Gary. "With any business plan, you know you're going to have some tough times, but I didn't know they would be this tough.

"I have a sizable investment in the NIFL, but it is obvious this league is under-funded. I'm overextended. I had to jump off the merry-go-round and do a reality check."

The cutback comes on the heels of a NIFL owner revolt in which 10 teams have reportedly banded together to set their own schedules in order to ensure they finish the season. According to articles by Brett Friedlander of the Fayetteville Observer, those teams include the Fayetteville Guard, Atlanta Thoroughbreds, Dayton Marshals, Columbia Stingers, Greensboro Revolution, Beaumont Drillers, San Bernardino Bucking Bulls, San Diego Shockwave, Tri-Valley Ranchers and Wyoming Cavalry.

When asked if the existing teams would be willing to play Palm Beach, Gary replied, "They have to be. They can't just go off and play their own deal by themselves. I spoke with (Greensboro and Columbia owner) Tony Pewonski about it, and he's fine, and I assume (Fayetteville owner) Richard King will be, too."

With over 30 games already cancelled this season, the elimination of the teams ensures that number will grow quickly in the coming weeks.

The league has been beset by other substantial problems this season including questions about insurance coverage for its players, nonpayment of players and coaches and substandard playing conditions. Some venues are using worn out, patchwork turf surrounded by inflatable air mattresses instead of dasher pads. Other turf has been shipped around to multiple locations. One facility recently hosted a game without any goal posts.

The NIFL returned just five of 22 franchises from last year. Gary insists that he wanted a smaller NIFL this season and many of the problems are the result of expanding by too many teams.

"I've been misconstrued as the bad guy," said Gary, a former NFL running back. "I'm the scapegoat. Thank goodness for my background in sports that has taught me how to deal with adversity."

Yet to be heard from is NIFL president Carolyn Shiver who brought Gary into the league last year and has been in charge for each of the league's seven seasons. Shiver has assumed a lower profile this year, having Gary step forward as the face of the league.

For his part, Gary holds out hope the league can be salvaged.

"This league has to step up to the plate and embrace the fans," said Gary. "I believe it has the potential to bounce back, but we will need to deal with the media and fix the problems. In ticket revenue and sponsorships, the league is struggling immensely. This is a big mountain to climb.

"I believe there's hope for the NIFL. This year's going to be tough. There are some strategic changes that need to be made. A couple of people need to come to grips with changes that we need to make."

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National Indoor Football League Stories from May 11, 2007

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