NIFL concludes troubling season
by Paul Reeths
August 1, 2006 - National Indoor Football League (NIFL)
With the Billings Outlaws' 59-44 Indoor Bowl win over the Fayetteville Guard Friday night, the National Indoor Football League concluded its sixth campaign in the worst shape of its six-year life.
Of the 22 teams that started the season, seven ceased operations during the campaign, and two more left to join the World Indoor Football League last week. One team source told OurSports Central that up to seven of the remaining 13 franchises are in discussions to form a new league or join another existing league. One other Midwest NIFL team may lose its arena lease to an expansion arenafootball2 franchise.
The NIFL suffered through a rocky off-season, losing four teams to the reincarnated Intense Football League. Though the NIFL originally sued at least two of the franchises for violating a noncompete agreement, the two sides settled out of court, and the IFL will continue to function as its own league. NIFL franchises in Hammond, Louisiana and Charlotte never materialized despite still being listed on the NIFL website along with two IFL franchises.
The league suffered a major blow to its image when the National Football League refused to renew an officiating deal with the indoor league. The NIFL had trumpeted the NFL deal all last year as proof they were the preeminent indoor football league. The NIFL continues to carry the NFL shield logo on its website under the headline "NFL Partnership," though the leagues no longer have a working relationship.
The chaos continued during the regular season. Besides the seven franchises that went out of business, the Montgomery Maulers, Rapid City Flying Aces and Arkansas Stars had to be bailed out by new ownership during the season.
The Rapid City franchise was spearheaded by Howard Neal Weiner, who had owned the NIFL's Cincinnati team under an assumed name before fleeing the city in the face of an arrest warrant for writing bad checks. He had previously been the subject of a federal investigation and 20/20 television news magazine report on an auto import scam. Though listed as the Aces' majority investor and an owner of an NIFL team the year before, league president Carolyn Shiver claimed she did not know who he was, and she stated the league never conducted a background check on him. He disappeared from Rapid City with tens of thousands of dollars missing from the team and its investors.
After failing to pay the Montgomery Maulers players and staff for several weeks, team owner Jamie LaMunyon fired the entire squad when they publicly complained about their missing checks. After fielding a replacement team for a week, new ownership paid the players and brought the players back for the remainder of the regular season.
The Dayton Bulldogs were evicted from their arena, only to declare they would set up shop at an indoor soccer facility. They never played another home game. The Twin City Gators showed up for a road game in the uniforms of a defunct team after their equipment was repossessed. The Lincoln (Neb.) Capitols never actually played in Lincoln this season, instead moving a couple of games to nearby St. Joseph, Missouri before disappearing. When new ownership bailed out the Arkansas Stars at the last minute, a hastily configured arena featured just one goal post for a midseason contest.
At least the game was played. Nearly two dozen NIFL contests were forfeited this year, while others featured replacement teams made up of semi-pro players. The overmatched squads lost by scores such as 108-12, 109-6, 114-6, 117-6 and 132-3, an all-time record blowout.
The problems did not end with the regular season. The Charleston Sandsharks, one of the teams that joined the WIFL, revealed that the league owed it several thousand dollars, and Sandsharks General Manager Al Bannister declared the team would skip the playoffs rather than accumulate additional debt.
The other WIFL defector, Osceola, withdrew from the playoffs after the league reneged on awarding them a forfeit win. A series of emails between club co-owner Dave Doebler and Shiver revealed that the team had refused to sign a noncompete agreement with the NIFL, an action Doebler cited as the real reason his club had been targeted by the NIFL.
Even the championship game came into question when Fayetteville Guard owner Richard King requested the contest be moved to Fayetteville from Billings, which had earned the top seed in the regular season. While Shiver said she would keep an open mind, in a Fayetteville Observer article she cited the Guard's regular-season attendance and larger arena as factors in King's favor. Unfortunately, the Guard drew fewer fans than Billings, and Shiver, who days earlier had lauded the Guard's attendance, admitted that Fayetteville never supplied attendance figures to her. The Guard was forced to charter a plane at the last minute to get to Billings.
The incident resulted in an expensive trip and a very public black eye for King and the Guard, amid allegations that the impetus for changing the venue came not from King, but from Shiver herself. She allegedly wanted to punish Billings for successfully suing the league for interference and restraint of trade earlier in the year. The Outlaws won a six-figure judgment, including substantial punitive damages, and had obtained an injunction to keep the game from being moved.
In the end, the NIFL finds itself smaller, weaker and with growing discontent in its ranks.
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s), and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of OurSports Central or its staff.