The Omaha Nighthawks got down to the business of preparing for a football season Wednesday after the UFL declared itself alive and well.
Perhaps well is too strong a word to describe the condition of the 3-year-old league, but at least the UFL came off life support with the announcement that it was forging ahead with plans to field four teams and play a six-game season in 2011.
“It’s a bittersweet day,” UFL Commissioner Michael Huyghue said on an afternoon conference call.
Earlier, Huyghue had announced that the league was suspending operation of its Hartford, Conn., franchise for at least the 2011 season. The UFL also pulled the plug on its franchise in Orlando earlier this year, moving it to Virginia, which had been expected to join the UFL as an expansion franchise.
The contraction was necessary, Huyghue said, to come up with a business model that assured the UFL, which had lost $100 million in its first two seasons, would be able to play in 2011.
“In our analysis of what was in the best interest of the league, we evaluated each of our markets,” Huyghue said. “It became clear that we could afford four teams but not five, and Hartford just came out on the short end of the stick.
“In making the decision to move forward, we had to get our finances in order. We feel this is a necessary step that will give us some long-term viability.”
Jerry Glanville, the former NFL coach hired during the offseason to direct the Hartford franchise, will join the UFL as a consultant .
“I don’t know what that entails,” Glanville told the Hartford Courant.
If the UFL expands in the future or decides to return to Hartford, Glanville would be given an opportunity to take over as coach. Hartford’s players will enter Monday’s allocation draft.
Huyghue said the team’s assistant coaches also will be absorbed by the UFL’s four remaining teams — Omaha, Las Vegas, Sacramento and Virginia.
“You have to look at the big picture,” Glanville said. “This is not about one team, it’s not about one guy, it’s not about one coach. It’s about what’s best for 450 people that love this game of football.”
“Unfortunately, to keep 400 people in existence and let them continue to do what they love to do, some people have to suffer. If you only look at yourself, then you’ve lost what you preach and what you preach is being a team member.”
The UFL began play as a four-team league in 2009, then expanded to Omaha in 2010. It had planned to add Virginia as its sixth team in 2011 and play a 10-game schedule, but ongoing financial problems forced the league to first transfer its Orlando franchise to Virginia and then suspend operations in Hartford.
Wednesday’s announcement did end speculation about the UFL folding after Huyghue, on July 19, announced a 30-day delay to the start of training camps. Originally, camps were to open in mid-July with games beginning in mid-August.
The league had hoped to take advantage of a work stoppage in the NFL to acquire a television contract that would provide some much-needed revenue. When it became apparent that the NFL lockout would be settled, Huyghue announced that the UFL was pushing back its calendar 30 days.
Training camps can now open Aug. 22 with games to begin in mid-September. Omaha coach Joe Moglia said the Nighthawks probably will hold their first practice Aug. 25.
Moglia said Wednesday’s announcement will allow the Nighthawks to move forward on and off the field.
“We’re delighted that we’re going to be able to play,” Moglia said. “While it’s painful to have to cut one of the teams, the owners and the commissioner felt that it was a necessary move to allow us to move forward.”
Omaha’s players originally had reported for training camp July 13. Many of them returned home after the July 19 announcement but a group of about 25 remained in the city to continue working out.
Moglia and his coaches were in contact with the players Wednesday to inform them of the developments.
“The feedback we got is that the guys wanted to play, they’re excited to play and now they’re going to get the opportunity to play,” Moglia said.
Moglia also serves as the Nighthawks’ president. He said Wednesday’s announcement will allow Omaha’s front office to ratchet up preparations for the three home games the team will play at TD Ameritrade Park.
“We got a lot of questions from our sponsors and our fans this month about whether we were going to play or not,” Moglia said. “We’ve tried to do our best in communicating with them, but it’s been difficult because no one knew for sure what was going to happen.
“Now, we can start finalizing some things and we plan to move ahead aggressively from a business standpoint.”
Huyghue announced that Virginia will visit Omaha for the first game of the season Sept. 15. Las Vegas and Sacramento will play Sept. 17. The remainder of the schedule will be finalized and released within a week, he said.
The fact that there will be a 2011 season left Moglia optimistic that the UFL has a chance to play beyond this season.
“Without a season this year, I wouldn’t feel very comfortable,” Moglia said. “But I think the league will make significant improvements in its financial standings from 2010 to 2011. And it’s clear that we’re making a real effort to enter into a strategic relationship with the NFL.”
Huyghue said the UFL will continue to pursue avenues that could eventually lead to a partnership with the NFL. More than 100 UFL players have signed contracts with NFL teams after the first two seasons.
“There is reason for the NFL to benefit from the UFL,” Huyghue said, “and it will help us with our long-term viability.”
That viability is dependent on developing new revenues, whether they would come for the NFL, a television contract or new investors. He said the owners remain committed to try to keep the league operational.
“We’re shrinking down a bit, getting our house in order,” Huyghue said, “and making sure we have enough ammunition to get us through the marathon.”
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