BLOOMINGTON — A ruling by an Iowa court has forced the Bloomington Edge to alter their upcoming indoor football season just weeks before the scheduled home opener at Grossinger Motors Arena.
Blocked from returning to the Indoor Football League, the Edge announced Tuesday they plan to play an independent schedule without league affiliation.
“We really want to focus on development and advancement for our players,” said Edge General Manager Charles Welde, comparing the plan to Notre Dame’s status as a college football independent.
However, the Champions Indoor Football league intends to proceed with legal action to block the Edge from playing at all in 2018.
“If the Bloomington Edge’s intention is to play an independent schedule, we’ve notified them that we will go back to court and stop them,” said CIF commissioner Ricky Bertz. “Per their signed agreement, they are prevented from playing indoor football, period, anywhere other than the CIF.”
Welde said Bloomington intends to play as many as eight games, ideally six at home, against other indoor clubs from the Midwest, including the West Michigan Ironmen. The Edge expect to start the season Feb. 25, as originally scheduled, and conclude in early June — without postseason play.
“Basically we can pick our own teams,” he said, touting the benefits of eliminating long road trips. “We can find teams that will help develop regional rivalries, which I think is important because now our fans can go to the (road) games. All of our first five (dates) are scheduled to stay the same.”
The Edge also announced Tuesday that John Johnson has agreed to return as head coach after Nick Ruud decided to step away. Ruud had been promoted to replace Ameer Ismail in November.
“I’m very excited to be back with the Edge,” Johnson said in a news release. “We were one of the best indoor football teams in the country my last season as the head coach here, and there is no reason to think we won’t be among the best again this year.”
The Edge, who opened training camp this week, went 7-5 in each of their last two seasons in the CIF. In September, the team announced its intention to return to the IFL, where they spent four seasons as an original member from 2009-12.
“The Edge continue to ignore the instructions on what they are allowed and not allowed to do,” said Bertz, whose 11-team league includes the Sioux City Bandits and the Quad City Steamwheelers, a Moline-based expansion team that anticipated a regional rivalry with Bloomington.
“It’s sad it had to come to this, but it was something we had to do. We had to protect our existing franchises. Unfortunately it’s the fans, sponsors and community that pay the price.”
In his ruling from Sioux City, Woodbury County District Court Judge Patrick Tott granted a temporary injunction Jan. 30 against the Edge and the Ironmen in a breach of contract lawsuit initiated by the CIF in December.
“The CIF waited ... to do it, knowing it would be tough to get an appeal with the season so close,” said Welde. “It hasn’t gone to trial, but with the timing we don’t want to lose games. If we went to trial, we would have to push our start back and we didn’t want to do any of that. We’ve got to move on.”
According to the CIF, Bloomington and West Michigan signed contracts last July to remain in the league for the 2018 season. The clubs informed the league on Sept. 12 that they would not return and were announced as new members in the rival IFL the following day.
“This ruling is a landmark for the sport and industry in that it validates the legality and importance of League Affiliation Agreements to professional sports leagues,” Bertz said in a Monday news release on his league’s website. “This was a milestone for not only the CIF, but all teams and leagues.”
Issuing the injunction, Tott said evidence shows the owners of the IFL’s Arizona Rattlers “basically offered significant bribes” in attempting to lure existing CIF franchises and that the plaintiff league would likely win the suit.
He said in his decision, “A sports league cannot survive without a commitment from its member teams that they will honor their obligations to the league.”
Without Bloomington and West Michigan, the IFL is down to six franchises. Welde said the injunction prohibiting the Edge from joining the IFL is for one season and that the team will be “free and clear” to do so for 2019.
“I don’t think this is the end on the legal side; I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see some counter lawsuits from the IFL,” said Welde. “The bottom line is the two leagues should have merged in July when they had the opportunity. One league would’ve made sense, but egos got in the way and they couldn’t find common ground.”