NIFL fight for home-field edge in playoffs goes to court
07/03/02 Lake Charles American Press
The fight for home-field advantage in the National Indoor Football League playoffs will be finished in a courtroom.
The Ohio Valley Greyhounds have filed a lawsuit against the league seeking to overturn a forfeit that resulted in the team losing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs to the Lake Charles LandSharks.
The lawsuit will be heard in a federal court, possibly on July 15, said NIFL president and Lake Charles LandSharks owner Carolyn Shiver.
The suit was originally filed in a West Virginia state court but was moved to federal court, said Jim Law, an attorney in Wheeling, W.Va., who is representing the NIFL.
"We should find out as soon as (today), but it looks like it will be the 15th," Law said. "It's very early in the suit to say much about it. We'll find out in the next few weeks (how strong a case they have.)"
The NIFL ruled that Ohio Valley forfeit a March 16 game against Winston-Salem. The Greyhounds' team bus was involved in an accident en route to the game and called the day of the game to cancel. Attempts to reschedule the game failed.
The forfeit ruling was made by NIFL Director of Officials George Nash and Director of Operations Tina Johnson. Ohio Valley appealed, and the NIFL executive committee of Shiver, Billings (Mont.) owner Dwayne Anderson and Lincoln (Neb.) owner Bryce Bailey upheld the original ruling.
Ohio Valley is 12-1 with one regular-season game left. Lake Charles is 13-1 and is idle this week.
The first-round of the playoffs begins next weekend, July 12-14. If both Lake Charles and Ohio Valley win home first-round games, by virtue of the NIFL's ruling, Lake Charles would host Ohio Valley in the conference championship game.
Shiver said the league rules are specific and leave no gray areas.
"You never know who's going to win or lose when you go to court, but our rules are explicit," Shiver said. "(Wheeling) didn't show up for their game. They called Winston-Salem hours before the game and told them they weren't coming, that they had been in a bus accident. Then we find out that it was one guy that had 14 stitches. The rule book says barring an act of God, the visiting team is responsible to show up to the game.
"I feel bad for Winston-Salem," Shiver said. "They make all the arrangements to have a game, sell tickets, and then at the last minute they can't play the game for their fans."
Shiver said the NIFL wanted the two teams to work it out between themselves, but they were unable to reach an agreement.
Winston-Salem issued a news release stating its side of the case. The release states that Winston-Salem tried to reschedule the game, but that Ohio Valley should reimburse them for financial losses from not arriving at the first game, including arena rent, officials and staff pay. The release read that Ohio Valley told Winston-Salem that it should be responsible for all new costs for a makeup game.
When negotiations failed, Winston-Salem filed a complaint with the NIFL, asking for and being rewarded the following concessions: Wheeling to forfeit for failure to arrive at the game; Wheeling fined $10,000 as stated in the league's regulations manual; and Wheeling to refund advertising, building, staff and miscellaneous expenses, including refunds for fans who had purchased tickets.
Repeated attempts to contact Greyhounds general manager George Kellas and coach Mark Bonar were unsuccessful.
Winston-Salem (5-8) has lost two games to Ohio Valley this season: a 43-40 home loss, and an 86-42 loss in Wheeling.
LandSharks coach Kip Texada said the team will just go about its business as normal until a final ruling is rendered.
"The last I was told was that we had home-field advantage throughout the playoffs," Texada said. "We keep getting mixed information on it. It's out of our hands. Miss Shiver and the league are handling all of that, so we'll just have to wait for the court date and see what happens."