Last rites were put on hold Sunday for the Omaha Nighthawks.
In a topsy-turvy day of developments, the Nighthawks went from thinking that their United Football League season had come to a premature end to having one last chance to play.
That will come Friday night at TD Ameritrade Park when Omaha faces Sacramento, the team it was supposed to close the season against. That Oct. 28 game, as well as the three others in the league's final two regularly scheduled weeks, apparently has been canceled in a move to save money for the financially strapped UFL.
The league is expected to announce the schedule revision today. Las Vegas and Virginia, the league's two teams with 3-1 records, will play for the UFL championship in Friday's other game.
“I had anticipated a (press) release today, but things have changed even more than expected,'' said Michael Preston, the UFL's vice president for communications, in an email Sunday to The World-Herald. “Never a dull day!''
Sunday started with a person associated with the Nighthawks confirming a report that first appeared on the Virginia Destroyers' fan page that the league was canceling the final two weeks of the regular season and would have Las Vegas play at Virginia on Friday to decide the league title.
By midafternoon, Omaha Coach Joe Moglia was meeting with his team at the Kroc Center in South Omaha. At the meeting, Moglia asked his players if they could fully commit to a game against Sacramento if one could be arranged.
Moglia told the players that such a game was a long shot but that he would pursue it if the players wanted to play. After a players-only meeting, defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek told Moglia that the players “were in” as long as there were assurances that they would be paid.
By 6 p.m., a Nighthawks spokesperson contacted The World-Herald and said the game was on for 7 p.m. Friday.
Obviously, the developments do little to answer questions about the long-term viability of the three-year-old UFL. Already this season, the league has had to delay the season by a month and contract the league from five teams to four teams.
Sunday's news that it was eliminating the final two weeks of the regular season was seen by some national observers as the beginning of the end.
“The third — and likely final — UFL season arrived late,'' wrote NBC Sports' Mike Florio on Pro Football Talk, a website that covers professional football. “And it's leaving early. For this year and, possibly, for good.''
The UFL lost more than $100 million in its first two seasons of operation, Commissioner Michael Huyghue said in August. The league's owners had agreed to invest another $50 million after the league appeared in jeopardy of not opening for a third season.
In a move to shore up its financial situation, the UFL delayed the start of training camp from mid-July to late August, pushing the start of the season back until mid-September. The league had originally planned to start play in mid-August.
In the interim, the UFL suspended operation of its franchise in Hartford, Conn., leaving it with teams in Omaha, Las Vegas, Virginia and Sacramento. The contraction to four teams reduced the 2011 schedule from eight games to six.
Omaha had played two games at home, drawing 17,697 fans for Saturday's 13-6 loss to Las Vegas after attracting 15,836 for its Sept. 15 opening game. While the two crowds were the fourth- and fifth-largest of the UFL season, they were down from what the Nighthawks drew to Rosenblatt Stadium in their inaugural season in 2010.
Omaha joined the UFL as an expansion franchise last season and soon became the talk of the league. It sold out each of its four games last season and led the league in actual attendance at more than 22,700 per contest.
The Nighthawks were supposed to play Friday at Virginia, but several Omaha players said they started hearing rumors late last week that the game, and the rest of the season, was in jeopardy.
“That was like a punch in the gut, the reality of it setting in,'' Omaha defensive end Jay Moore said. “It's a bad deal, especially when you're expecting money coming to you and they say you're not going to play any more games.''
The players are paid $5,000 per game. By canceling the final two weeks of the regular season, the UFL would save more than $2 million in players' salaries alone. The players already have been paid for four games.
Moore has played the past two seasons for the Nighthawks. He isn't optimistic about the UFL's future.
“The only way I can see it staying around is if the NFL comes in,” he said.
The UFL has discussed the possibility of partnering with the NFL, possibly as a developmental league.
“The long-term viability of this league depends on that,'' Moglia said. “If there is a way a strategic relationship can be established with the NFL, then I think there is a real chance for this league.
“But it would be a gargantuan challenge to try going on without such a deal.''
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