Ironmen will be independent in 2018, due to ruling that leaves them without a league

By Steve Gunn and Dave Hart
LocalSportsJournal.com

MUSKEGON – Last fall, the West Michigan Ironmen announced plans to switch from the Champions Indoor Football League (CIF), which they competed in last season, to the Indoor Football League (IFL) this season.

Now, following a ruling by a district court judge, the Ironmen will not be in any league this season.

Instead the team will play an independent schedule in 2018, and will plan to join the IFL in 2019, according to Ironmen owner Terrance Williams.

West Michigan Ironmen own Terrance Williams. Photo/Jason Goorman

“We are committed to continuing to provide entertainment to West Michigan,” said Williams, a former Oakridge High School football star who is currently a Los Angeles-based attorney. “We will be playing independently this season. We’re still members of the IFL, but we won’t play in the league until 2019.”

Last July, the Ironmen, a third-year professional indoor football team based at Muskegon’s L.C. Walker Arena, signed an agreement with the CIF to play in the league for a second season in 2018, according to a published report from GoCIF.net.

Two months later, the Ironmen, along with the Bloomington Edge (another CIF team), announced they were jumping leagues and would play in the IFL this season.

The CIF filed a lawsuit to keep the two teams from joining the IFL, and an Iowa-based district court judge has ruled in the CIF’s favor, effectively blocking the Ironmen and Edge from changing leagues this year, the news report said.

The court ruling includes several statements, the most serious being that the Ironmen and Bloomington Edge were offered, and may have accepted, money from an owner of an existing IFL team to break their agreement with the CIF and jump leagues, according to the news report.

“The evidence clearly shows that the owner of the Arizona Rattlers of the IFL has basically offered significant bribes to members of the CIF to switch leagues despite the existence of the non-competition provisions,” the court ruling said, according to the news report.

The court ruling went on to declare that it’s crucial for professional sports leagues to be able to enforce participation agreements with member teams.

“A sports league cannot survive without a commitment from its member teams that they will honor their obligations to the league,” the ruling said, according to the news report.

Williams said the court ruling, and related news story, left out a lot of important details.

After the Ironmen signed the agreement in July to compete in the CIF again in 2018, Williams said he discovered that other CIF teams were allowed to sign different agreements, with special provisions, that were not offered to the Ironmen or Bloomington.

Williams said those special provisions – which he declined to elaborate about – gave other CIF teams “an unfair advantage on the field and off the field, and undue influence in the decision-making process in how the league would operate.”

“We were of the understanding that all teams had to sign a standard agreement – based on our understanding, the same agreement,” Williams said.

When he learned that the league gave other teams special treatment, Williams said he started considering other options, including the possibility of folding the Ironmen franchise, but finally decided to join the IFL.

“We felt like, for our fans in Muskegon who have been supporting us and getting behind us, we didn’t want to leave them high and dry,” Williams said.

Williams denied taking any “bribes” from the owner of the Arizona Rattlers, as the court documents reportedly claimed.

He said the cost of operating in the IFL would have been significantly higher than the CIF, and the Arizona franchise offered to help subsidize some of the extra expenses for one year.

Williams said he accepted $10,000 from the owner of the Arizona team to pay off the “letter of credit” the team had with the CIF, which was essentially a deposit for league membership.

The Ironmen would have received the rest of the subsidy money over the course of the season, if they had been able to join the IFL this season, Williams said.

Williams said the Ironmen and Bloomington franchise attempted to reach an “11th hour” out-of-court settlement with the CIF. He said the league would have received “upwards of $100,000” and the teams would have been free to join the IFL this year.

“We offered cash settlements, but all offers were rebuffed,” Williams said.

With all the legal drama behind them, the Ironmen will now concentrate on putting together a schedule to play other independent indoor football teams in 2018, according to Williams.

The Ironmen will try to have just as many games – 14 – as they would have played in the IFL, and the schedule will be about the same, running from late February through  mid-June, Williams said.

The Ironmen hope to announce the new schedule within the next week, according to Williams.

“We want to make sure we provide the most entertaining product we possibly can for our fans, so we are going to take our time this week and figure it out,” the owner said.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *