Apparently it doesn’t take much to own a pro football team as I recently found out. I recently placed a phone call to the headquarters of the National Indoor Football League (NIFL) to inquire.
The phone conversation was kind of weird as no one identified themselves when I called. I got a simple “Hello” when the call was finally picked up after an unanswered e-mail and a one unanswered call. There was no answering machine to pick up or tell me if I had dialed the right number the first time I called.
When someone did answer, I initially did not know if I had dialed the right number. I asked if I could get some information about the NIFL. The person who answered the phone asked what I’d like to know and I told her I was interested in what it took to be an NIFL owner. I was informed I would have to fill out a non-compete clause and a confidentiality agreement. I was asked for my fax number and then my phone number.
The lady on the other end of the phone informed me she would fax them over right away. When I faxed them back I was asked to include my e-mail address. Before hanging up she asked for my name.
Sure enough, less than a minute later I was faxed two contracts, both two pages in length from the National Football League, LLC.
The league’s home office is located in Lafayette, Louisiana. However, if you go through the Lafayette Yellow Pages there is no listing for the league.
Upon doing further research I discovered that seven teams splintered from the NIFL after last season and formed a new league entitled United Indoor Football (UIF) owned by two brothers Dakota and Tom Crow.
The reason for my sudden interest in indoor football you ask? A phone call I received from Chris Carter, that’s why. Carter is the now former head coach of the local NIFL team, the Tennessee River Sharks. He read the article that blistered the team following their last home game where only 111 fans attended and an all-out brawl broke out on the field. Coach Carter wanted to tell his side of the story and air his differences about how the team was being run and why he officially broke ties with the franchise.
Carter has very few kind words for franchise owner Jamie LaMunyon… more like none. The coach is also the head coach of the local semi-professional football team, the Tennessee Pioneers. A team he is quite proud of compared to the River Sharks. Their website is up-to-date he cajoles as the River Sharks’ site has not been updated in over two months except for an announcement that new investors were being courted last week.
According to the coach, once he found out that Camp Jordan Arena was large enough to house an indoor football game LaMunyon stepped in and got a lease on the building. “When she got that lease on the building it kind of blocked anybody else from coming in without going through her,” says Carter.
The coach says he was interested in bringing an indoor team to town when LaMunyon showed up o the scene.
At that time the fiery LaMunyon owned a team in Montgomery called the Maulers and had enjoyed a few successful seasons, winning the championship last year. This year obviously is a different matter if you’ve read the local papers or read Sports Illustrated. The feisty owner had her team walk out on her five weeks into the season due to non payment. She went on to publicly fire the team. Eventually she sold the team to another group and set her eyes on Chattanooga full-time.
LaMunyon’s track record reads like something in a bad sitcom. I decided not to call her about the pressing matters as she has never returned one of my phone calls to date over such matters as advertising on the radio the wrong day for a home game – which explains why only 111 people showed two weeks ago.
I did some research and made many phone calls. I tracked LaMunyon’s roots back to Enid, Oklahoma where the fiery redhead owned a marketing company called JL Marketing. It was there that she got the fever for indoor football as she owned a team there called the Oklahoma Crude. In two seasons LaMunyon overstayed her welcome in Enid and moved the team to Rome where they were called the Renegades.
The team in Enid performed horribly in her two seasons at the reins as they won a grand total of four games over the course of two seasons – only one their final season. The troubles LaMunyon has had in Montgomery and Chattanooga come as no surprise to Matt Palmer of the Enid News. According to Palmer during the Crude’s last season in Enid LaMunyon went through seven coaches, including four head coaches. The team’s only win that season was to a replacement team from Waco, Texas. Apparently she left town amidst financial woes. An unconfirmed report stated that she left town with little more than the shirt on her back. The source stated LaMunyon had put her house up for collateral for the team and ended up losing it.
The Crude left town to relocate in Rome, Georgia and soon folded. Apparently one of her partners bought her out and took over the operations of the Renegade. The Rome Renegades, however play for a different league, the AIFL. When I called for information about this team, someone actually answered the phone. The media relations person that I asked to speak with was not in. I was told she worked from her house and not at the team’s office.
Indoor football outside of the AFL is obviously the DQYDJL (Don’t Quit Your Day Job League). Besides the Renegades, I attempted to call the Maulers. One number I called had been disconnected. A second number with an extension for the Operations Manager rang and rang, no answering machine, no one manning the phones. Nothing. I called the Cincinnati Marshals office also. The Marshals defeated a makeshift team calling themselves the Tennessee River Sharks Saturday 82-0. When I asked Coach Carter about the game, he emphatically said they were none of his players. All I got at the Marshals’ office was an answering machine and no return calls. The same at the UIF office. I didn’t leave a message, but you would think in the middle of the day someone would be at the office to answer the phone. Don’t forget when I started this journey the NIFL doesn’t have an answering machine either. It’s hit or miss on the phone. I think you can buy an answering machine for under $20 at Wal-Mart. And I didn’t bother calling the River Sharks’ office which is based out of a hotel room at a Ramada Inn Select in East Ridge.
“We thought we were dealing with someone who knew what they were doing,” says Carter. It was a different story the further the UTC alum got into it. Players were driving in from all over the state to participate up to four times a week. But the money stopped showing up.
The average pay of a player in the NIFL is around $200. According to Carter the players can sign for less if they want. Each player signs a contract with the team owner in order to play. “We’ve got contracts with the River Sharks,” he says.
But apparently someone is no holding up their part of the contract if you ask the players that have donned the Purple and Orange this season. And things don’t look well. “If you ask me if the Tennessee River Sharks exist, I tell you no,” says Carter. “Do the Tennessee Pioneers exist? Yes.”
Carter, the coach of the Pioneers and former coach of the River Sharks has offered his team’s services to finish out the season for the NIFL franchise. Carter says other markets are counting on the games scheduled against the Chattanooga-based franchise and would like to see the scheduled games honored. “They have a fan base and if you postpone, you’re hurting the other team,” he says. “But we’re not going to go as a team owned by Jamie LaMunyon.”
Coach Carter reiterates that the River Sharks and the Pioneers are two separate teams. “Can we be contracted out where we can practice and you pay us up front before we go play? Yeah, we’ll be happy to do that,” he says.
The NIFL should have taken that into consideration as a rag tag team of players went to Cincinnati Saturday and embarrassed themselves 82-0 I what may be the leagues worst loss in it’s seven-plus years of existence.
Things looked great for the River Sharks after their first home game. Curiosity seekers showed up as Camp Jordan Arena with a capacity of close to 4,000 was over 2/3 full. Things looked well for the franchise. The red flags began to be raised after the second game. “The first game the guys got paid,” says Carter. “Then after the second game there was like maybe you’ll get paid,” he continues.
Then the topic turns to the team’s uniforms. “There are no uniforms,” claims Carter. The coach said the uniforms were repossessed due to non-payment. Apparently someone footed the bill, perhaps the league as the team suited up for Saturday night’s game.
Apparently a different group of players played Saturday as the group that played under Carter remain faithful to their coach. “They’re willing to play, but they’re not willing to play under Jamie LaMunyon,” he says. “Will they play for the NIFL? Yeah, all of them.”
Checking the stats from Saturday’s game apparently a few of Carter’s players did play for the River Sharks. It’s not known yet if the league fielded the team or if LaMunyon.
The coach says he is contacted every day from players that want to play from all over the region, players he calls top-notch. “I can’t bring them in,” he says. “Where are they going to stay?” The coach says the team used to have food vouchers, but once sponsors saw what was developing with the team many backed out.
Another red flag for Carter was calls not being returned by LaMunyon. Apparently that’s a common practice for the owner of the River Sharks. Numerous calls to the “office” during the course of the season by our office were not returned. Palmer said things were the same in Oklahoma. The only time the Enid News writer received a phone call from LaMunyon was when she wanted him to write a nice story about the team to try and deflect criticism from the team’s poor play. Other than that, no returned phone calls.
“The last two games I’m at Camp Jordan at eight o’clock in the morning not getting ready for the game, but trying to figure out how the bills are going to be paid,” says Carter. “How do you get ready for a game on Saturday if you don’t know if you’re going to play until Friday?”
The NIFL did step in and paid back bills, paying the players and catching up the rent for Camp Jordan Arena. “Basically somebody just came into town, started a team hoping somebody would buy it, pick it up and make a few dollars and leave town,” says Carter. “She moved from Oklahoma to Rome to Montgomery, and to here,” he adds. “Every one of her teams got into some kind of financial trouble then was sold,: he continues. “I’m not saying I have a whole personal vendetta , but if I saw another team being started I would be the first to call.”
With the unflattering press the team and league has received because of this debacle the future of a franchise remaining in the Chattanooga are in jeopardy. Carter says he believes the reputation has been damaged in many ways. “I think if you bring somebody from the outside in people are going to be more skeptical of them,” he says. “They’ll be leery to invest more money into them not knowing them.” The coach recommends more of a background check of any future professional team franchise owners. “There’s enough money here in Chattanooga and we don’t need an outsider to come in here,” he adds.
The advantage of local owners according to Carter is you know where the owner lives and where they bank. “We can come get you if you don’t do it right,” he says. “Somebody comes in from out-of-town and puts an LLC on the corporation, you can sue the hell out of the LLC, but what are you going to get? 10-15 dollars? And then they’re out of town and that’s it.”
The future of the River Sharks and Jamie LaMunyon are unclear. One has to wonder how she was able to acquire two franchises with her financial track record. But apparently all you need to do is fill out and fax in a confidentiality and non-complete contract, like the one I received today. Who knows? Maybe I’ll start a team. Surely I couldn’t do much worse than what I’ve witnessed here in Chattanooga.
– Dave Weinthal
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