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Wild's football game canceled; team's future in doubt

Beth Bragg
Alaska Wild arena football cheerleaders visit bars to promote the team and sign autographs and visit with fans after the game at the Sullivan Arena.
Alaska Wild arena football cheerleaders visit bars to promote the team and sign autographs and visit with fans after the game at the Sullivan Arena.
Alaska Wild arena football cheerleaders visit bars to promote the team and sign autographs and visit with fans after the game at the Sullivan Arena.
Alaska Wild arena football cheerleaders visit bars to promote the team and sign autographs and visit with fans after the game at the Sullivan Arena.
Alaska Wild arena football cheerleaders visit bars to promote the team and sign autographs and visit with fans after the game at the Sullivan Arena.
Alaska Wild arena football cheerleaders visit bars to promote the team and sign autographs and visit with fans after the game at the Sullivan Arena.
Alaska Wild arena football cheerleaders visit bars to promote the team and sign autographs and visit with fans after the game at the Sullivan Arena.
Alaska Wild arena football cheerleaders visit bars to promote the team and sign autographs and visit with fans after the game at the Sullivan Arena.
Alaska Wild arena football cheerleaders visit bars to promote the team and sign autographs and visit with fans after the game at the Sullivan Arena.
Alaska Wild arena football cheerleaders head into Boston's Restaurant and sports bar before the first game of the franchise to help drum fans for the fledgling football team. The cheerleaders visited several Anchorage and Fairbanks bars to help promote the team.

With no owner and a coach who has left the state, the Alaska Wild's season was in jeopardy Thursday. The Indoor Football League called off Sunday's scheduled home game and said it will announce the fate of the semipro team next week.

No one knows what the league will decide next week, but there are several options, including the decision to pull the plug on a beleaguered franchise that has gone through three owners, numerous coaches and has lost 31 of its 41 games since its 2007 inception. Other possibilities include:

• Suspension of operations for this season with the hope of finding a new owner during the offseason;

• Announcement of a new owner;

• Announcement the team will remain a team controlled by the league, as has been the case since the second game of the season when the IFL took control from first-year owner Charles Matthews. Efforts could follow in the off-season to find new owners or move the franchise somewhere else.

"We are currently working on an amicable solution for everyone's best interest," league commissioner Tommy Benizio said Thursday in a prepared statement.

Any effort to continue operations for the remainder of the season, which ends June 19, would require rebuilding a roster that has been nearly depleted. Half of the team's 21 players have left town, former coach Darnell Lee said Thursday in a phone interview from Louisiana, where he has already landed a job as the offensive coordinator for the Swashbucklers of the IFL.

But wide receiver Maurice Rumley and a couple of others who remain in Anchorage spent much of Thursday pondering their future, holding out hope that the season and the team can be salvaged, despite considerable odds against this.

The players learned the coach was gone via text message, Rumley said.

Their bank accounts are dwindling because they've been paid only about one-third of what they're owed, he said.

Their teammates have scattered, some following the coach to the Swashbucklers, some gone to other IFL teams and some merely back home to the Lower 48, where unpaid bills await them, Lee said.

"They couldn't take it anymore," Lee said. "They weren't getting paid, and it was just a rough situation."

Rumley said the 4-year-old team is in dire need of an owner with both resources and vision -- something that has so far been missing, he noted.

"It was a great opportunity that was poorly run, poorly managed, poorly advertised and poorly sold," Rumley said. "They had the owner walk away after week one. And then the general manager -- I don't know if he got moved out or pushed out, but there was no head to the dragon.

"... The owner made it easy for everyone else to walk away when he walked away. He talked a great game, but I noticed when I first got here, I never saw any billboards, any posters, I never saw anything on TV, in the newspaper. I thought, either I'm dumb and I don't know what's going on, or this man isn't spending any money."

The Wild owe money to both of the arenas they use -- $6,000 to the Sullivan Arena, where they play games, and an undisclosed amount to the Subway Sports Centre, where they practice.

To say nothing of what they owe players and coaches.

"I got about a fourth of what I was supposed to have by now," Lee said. With family and a mortgage in Louisiana, and with reports that at least 10 players planned to stay in the Lower 48 after the team's last road game in Washington, Lee said he decided to return to his Louisiana home. He'll be on the sidelines with the Swashbucklers for this weekend's road game in Albany, N.Y., and about four Wild players will be on the roster.

Rumley said he and other players have been paid "sporadically." IFL players are paid $225 per game, with a $25 bonus if their team wins.

"When you're playing at the minor-league level you're not playing for money, you're playing for love of the game, but you're still not playing for free," Rumley said. "When you've played five or six games but have only been paid for two, when you play seven or eight games but have only been paid for three, it's hard to go out there and muster up a one-point victory instead of a one-point loss."

The Wild were scheduled to make their first home appearance since April 1 on Sunday against the Billings Outlaws. Billings will still come to Alaska for a May 22 game against the Fairbanks Grizzlies of the IFL.

Thursday's statement from the IFL did not indicate whether refunds will be available to those who have bought tickets to Sunday's game. Hans Deemer, a former Wild coach who now runs the Arctic Predators of Wasilla and the American Indoor Football Association, said people can use their Wild tickets at the Predators' game Saturday in Wasilla against the Vikings.

The game against Billings was supposed to kick off a three-game homestand for the Wild, who are 2-7 in a season that saw them break an 18-game losing streak and post their first road victory in franchise history.

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


By BETH BRAGG
bbragg@adn.com