Firecats top Horsemen in finale, but still left out of playoffs
The offseason – perhaps a permanent one – has arrived a little sooner than expected for members of the Florida Firecats arenafootball2 team.
The team received word Monday that it wouldn’t be allowed to participate in the af2 playoffs, despite qualifying as one of the top eight teams in the American Conference.
The af2 released its playoff brackets early Monday afternoon and made no mention of the Firecats’ exclusion. Florida was the only team in either conference to finish in the top eight in the standings to be excluded from the playoffs.
Multiple calls to league director of media services Marc Lestinsky and league commissioner Jerry Kurz were not returned on Monday.
The Firecats issued a release following last Saturday’s victory over Kentucky at Germain Arena calling into question the tactics of other owners in the league.
On Monday, the team referred to that release in its reaction to its exclusion from the playoffs.
“The Florida Firecats stand by their previous issued statement,” Monday’s statement read. “Today’s denial by the af2 validates that statement. It is disappointing that in the af2’s 10th anniversary season no true ArenaCup champion will be crowned because not all of the best teams were included in the playoffs. By tampering with the competition on the field credibility has been lost.”
It’s believed by many, including Firecats players and coaches, that the reason the team isn’t eligible for postseason play is for failing to pay as much as $200,000 in league dues. Furthermore, there has been speculation that the team’s future may be in doubt.
Firecats team president and general manager Chris Vallozzi denied that the team was behind on payments in an interview with the Naples Daily News in June, but has not responded to multiple interview requests over the past week, nor has his father Andy, principal owner of the franchise.
With no official explanation from the league or the franchise, players, coaches and fans are left scratching their heads.
Firecats coach Kevin Bouis said he found out the news the same way most fans did, via the team’s Web site.
“It just flashed on the Web site and that’s when I knew,” a dejected Bouis said Monday. “It’s just so disappointing.”
Bouis added that as of Monday afternoon, he had yet to speak with the Vallozzis.
Justin Midgett, who started the last three games of the season at quarterback for Florida, said many of the team’s players blame team management.
“Management didn’t take care of their end – bottom line,” Midgett said. “You work all year toward one goal, to win a championship. No one really plays this for the money. Everyone comes here to try and win. And to have that chance taken from you is frustrating.”
Midgett also said the team’s financial troubles have been evident all season, and that players were often forced to buy their own football-related supplies.
“We would have to go out and buy our own medical tape if we wanted to get our ankles taped,” Midgett added. “When things like that start happening, we kind of knew that the Vallozzis had given up.”
He noted that the lack of respect ownership showed for the team spilled over into the team’s on-field efforts.
“Most people don’t know and don’t see what we’re dealing with,” Midgett said. “We’re 7-9, but we’re not getting the basic essentials we need. It’s not how you should run a team; it’s not how you should run a business. I really don’t understand as a businessman how you can conduct business that way.”
Fans also noticed a lack of effort from the team.
“I think they fired everybody and said, OK, let’s make it to the end of the season,” said Teresa Hiatt, who has had season tickets for the last six years. “You couldn’t even get someone to answer the phone in the marketing office if you wanted to buy group tickets. They didn’t do a good job of generating attendance and it’s not hard to believe they owe money.”
The Firecats’ three-year lease of Germain Arena expires this year and arena officials said there have been no discussions about a possible renewal.
Hiatt said she usually is approached about season-ticket renewals with three or four weeks left in the regular season. She has yet to be contacted this year.
Coaches and players operate on one-year renewable contracts, and Bouis said he hasn’t been approached about returning next season – if there is one.
The team was scheduled to hold its season-ending meeting at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Germain Arena. Bouis was expected to conduct exit interviews with players, who also will collect their final paychecks and return equipment.
(Woody Wommack writes for the Naples Daily News)