Alaska Wild to play one final road game

INDOOR FOOTBALL: Team will play against Tri-Cities on June 12; who will take the field is unknown.

May 19, 2010 

The Alaska Wild will survive to play at least one more indoor football game -- but they won't play it in Alaska, and whether they play it with any current Alaska Wild players or coaches is unknown.

The Wild, whose owner defaulted after one game this season and have struggled to pay players, coaches and other bills, won't play again this season at Sullivan Arena, the Indoor Football League announced Wednesday.

But the team will reassemble for a few days to play its final road game, June 12 against the Tri-Cities Fever in Washington state, league commissioner Tommy Benizio said. Who will coach or play on the team will be decided later by the league's board of directors, Benizio said.

Three scheduled home games -- last Sunday's against the Billings Outlaws of Montana, this Sunday's against the Fever and a May 30 game against the LaCrosse Spartans of Wisconsin -- have been called off.

And while the decision to pull the Wild out of Anchorage for the rest of the season doesn't completely slam the door on the chance of a new owner revitalizing the team in the future, Benizio said the league will proceed cautiously before agreeing to keep a team in Anchorage.

"We will be extremely cautious in moving forward," he said. "We would proceed with greater caution if we were to return to Anchorage, but that does not preclude us from returning to Anchorage."

The Wild are 2-7 in their fourth season of play and 10-31 all-time.

The Wild are owned by Alaska Professional Sports, which was owned by David Weatherholt when the team was founded four years ago. Randy Deeter, an Anchorage dentist, took over as owner near the end of the 2008 season and Charles Matthews took over at the end of last season.

A California minister who lived briefly in Fairbanks before coming to Anchorage, Matthews defaulted after one game this season, saying in a radio interview that he didn't get enough support from the community. The IFL, a 25-team league eager to keep its season schedule in tact, stepped in and agreed to fund the Wild until a new owner could be found.

"We could have let the team collapse, which we refused to do," Benizio said from league headquarters in Richmond, Va. "The primary concern of this league is stability. There's no way we'll let a team struggle without doing all we can to help get it back on its feet."

Benizio said it was inappropriate to say how much money the league spent keeping the Wild going, although he mentioned a $10,000 insurance payment.

Asked if the league would pay players who say they haven't been paid everything they're owed -- they get $225 a game -- Benizio said it's unlikely.

"The players signed contracts with the team -- Alaska Professional Sports -- so that's more a question for Alaska Professional Sports," he said. "My job is to keep the team moving forward. It was the Alaska Wild's job to fulfill their commitments."

In the weeks since Matthews defaulted, the IFL has spoke with several potential investors in Anchorage, Benizio said, but there wasn't enough time to reach an agreement with any potential new owner before the end of the season.

"We got a lot of commitments from people there to keep the team going, but it's one thing to like the idea and it's another thing to execute the idea," he said.

Benizio said he expects the Fairbanks Grizzlies will survive even without the Wild around to help share travel expenses for visiting teams. He's more worried about some of the Wild players who are still in Anchorage and who haven't been paid everything they're owed.

"I'm tremendously concerned and have lost sleep for weeks about the players, coaches, vendors, ticket holders and sponsors. I'm particularly concerned with the players. I have been on the phone with some of them, and even with some of their parents. This is one of the most difficult things I've ever dealt with," Benizio said.

The rest of the league is healthy, he said, although one other team is now asking for assistance. The league has never had a game go unplayed, although that streak appears to be ending thanks to the Wild.

Although he called the situation with the Wild "a very isolated and very unfortunate incident," Benizio said the league intends to review and revise policies for admitting new teams to the league.


Find Beth Bragg online at adn.com/contact/bbragg or call 257-4335.

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