Muskego Hitmen Player Weblogs
Semi-pro football in Wisconsin. It's a love / hate kind of thing. People in Wisconsin love football - they hate semi-pro. I pointed out a number of the reasons in part one of this series. But lets refresh your memory - There are more semi-pro teams and leagues in Wisconsin than just about every other state in the country. However, very few people in the state know about them let alone care about them enough to come see a game. There a few reasons that contribute to the bulk of the problem, and they are:
- Over Aggressiveness - Too many people making too many hasty decisions too fast.
- Price - It really shouldn't cost that much. Buy quick books or something!
- Lack of professionalism - It's a level of football for post - High School athletes, but sometimes it is hard to tell
- Poor Fields - Football is played on grass under lights, not in a mud puddle
- The competition - does Milwaukee really need 17 teams?
With all of these things so wrong with semi-pro ball, how does the sport survive? What keeps it going? I'm glad you asked! There are a lot of positive things going for semi-pro and the IFL in particular. It may just be a pipe dream, but it is one that is almost a reality. It would seem that every year we get a little bit closer to making it happen but there is always a hiccup in the system that holds everything down. But with out further ado, whats right with semi-pro:
The Front Office
The Front office seems to take a lot of heat for a variety of reasons. Most of them were listed in part one of this series. The League has this reputation of "The Broken Promise". As stated in Part 1, The front office has a ready, FIRE, aim mentality with a lot of things. People get excited when something big is going to happen and just want to tell people. We do it all the time.
The league is always trying to move forward and do something to better promote the league and bring more money to the teams. Sometimes the ideas are pretty big, a lot of work is involved, and there are many possible outcomes. When one of the possible outcomes never happens, and no one gets an explanation as to why, It's a "broken promise".
Forget This! You're on your own!
Now I've had the opportunity of doing some work with the front office. If you didn't know, I did the league magazine - Smashmouth...Yep, I did that. It is a lot of work and I could have very easily just backed out and said - Forget This! You're on your own. And that would have been another broken promise on the head of the league. Even though it would have not been the fault of the league. However, the finger would have been pointed.This is usually what happens. The league is raring to go, throws the work at someone, makes an announcement, and then whoever had the project, backs out at the last minute.
There are two sides to every story. It is unfortunate that the league get criticized for trying to progress the league. The front office wants to succeed and they do what they can to do so. Many times when you rely on other people to help you do some of these things, they let you down. However, as the old adage goes - If you want something done right - do it yourself.
This is a good move, And I like it - I like it a lot
Wait, it gets better. At the end of the 2008 season, the IFL appointed Dan Greene to the list officials as the Director of Operations. Dan is the former own of the Spring city Cyclones - one of the worst team in 2008 IFL season. However, the teams performance is in no shape or form a reflection on Mr. Greene. He's a smart guy with a lot of common sense who loves to play devil's advocate. And in classic rough and tumble football guy fashion, never pulls punches. Dan's job is mainly to make sure all of the things pointed out in Part One of this series don't happen. He brings an interesting perspective to the front office in that he has been both a player and an owner under the current Front Office management of the the league and really understands what needs to be fixed from a IFL franchise stand point.
This is a good move, and I like it. I like it a lot.
Yes, the field itself is junk, but lets face it. The league went out and struck a deal with this place in an effort, again, to progress the league. This place has it all - Multiple fields for teams to practice / warm up on, locker rooms so we aren't walking around in our skivvies in the parking lot, a PA system complete with announcer, the concessions people even grill up burgers and stuff! Whats not to love about this place?
If you have never been inside, they have much the same inside. The Hitmen even had a couple of our combines there on their indoor courts. From a spectator stand point, the MCSC, is awesome. As a player...the field is less than ideal and as the season wears on it can be increase the risk of serious injury. Aside from the lack of up-keep on the field, the "Complex" as a whole is pretty cool.
Before the sports complex, the league played all of it's games behind Rucker's Sports bar. We played in the outfield of a baseball diamond. On one side of the field, you would get road rash from the dirt of the infield and run into spectators who didn't realize they were too close. And on the other side it was like playing arena ball against the wall - But this wall was a chain link fence. The sports complex was a big improvement
One of the problems with Semi-Pro football is that players treat it like bar league softball. They just want to show up for games and play. I'm sorry but football is not a sport you can just show up for and play. Especially when other teams do practice and want to win. You will be embarrassed. And no one likes to be embarrassed. So the simple solution - Don't show up for the game.The IFL has made significant improvements on this black eye to the sport. Teams are evaluated and scrutinized before they are allowed to compete in the IFL. Teams are stable, established and competitive. Despite the over abundance of players and teams in the area, the IFL doesn't have a lot of low level teams anymore. The level of talent in the league is pretty level. In 2009 there were only 2 teams that were at the bottom of the barrel and one of those was a first year start up team. Everyone else was busy duking it out for playoff spots! Teams / leagues looking in at the IFL from the outside like to throw stones, but thus far every team that moves in to the IFL from a different league took some hard bumps before they started to clean up their act and learn to actually play football. Competition in the IFL is tough - And that's the way we like it.
The Professional League
On the flip side of part 1, the "professional" aspect of the IFL is one of it's shining points. The front office is trying to smooth things over from years past of poorly formed leagues and teams who have left a bad taste in the proverbial mouth of football fans. For what it is, The IFL is a small league. 10-15 teams on a given year that is central to the Wisconsin / Illinois area. For such a small league, being around for less than 20 years, the IFL has made huge strides in the minor league ranks. 2 out of the 3 head officials of the IFL have already been inducted in to Halls of fame. The owner into the American Football Association and the commish to the Minor Football League News Hall of Fame. Agree with the vote or not - that is impressive.
And it is a snowball effect. When things like this happen, people take notice. It attracts better football teams, players and talent to the league. This means a better end product will end up on the field and it , god willing, just keeps on building. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Just because there is money involved doesn't make a player or a team or a league professional. Take a look at some of the things the IFL has done over the years:
- League merchandise, complete with sales van
- Televised games
- An official League Magazine ( compliments of moi )
- League highlight films
- Awards Banquette - complete with trophies, medals and plaques
- Annual Hall of fame compete with inductee Rings
- An annual All-Star Game
- And many other things in the works
I always get the feeling as if the IFL is trying to 1-up all the other leagues. They should, it's a competitive market.
The Ban List
It's true. There is a list of people and teams that the league will not do any kind of business and encourages other teams/players to do the same. However, as I pointed out before, there are two sides to every story. The IFL doesn't just Kick a team out because they can. Lets take a look at the recent list
- Milwaukee Bulldogs
- Franklin Outlaws
- Madison Seminoles
- Oak Creek Renegades
- Lake Country Cyclones
- McHenry County Pirates
With the exception of the Renegades, who never actually played a game in the IFL, the teams listed were good teams. 3 on the list were Ironbowl Contenders and 2 on the list actually hold league titles. Let's Kick them out of the league! That makes sense, right? No...No it doesn't. Again, there are two sides to every story. Something was done, something was said that the league saw as grounds for expulsion.
In many of the cases, it came down to money. The league has a deadline for certain fees. A lot of times, teams like to wait until the day of the deadline to inquire about the fee in question. Too busy with the questions and not paying is grounds for expulsion. People don't like being called on doing something they know they shouldn't be doing, take stuff like that personally and react. It's like getting caught speeding. You know you shouldn't do it, but your first reaction is to deny it or come up with a reason why you were doing it in hopes the cop will let you of. If you didn't want the ticket, you shouldn't have been speeding. In 2009 The McHenry County Pirates were kicked out for that very reason.
We're Not paying until we get more answers.
As a result, the league responded by saying - You don't have to pay, We'll just find a team to fill your spot. Obviously not the answer the Pirates were looking for. So they reacted. A series of emails transpired and the pirates more or less, tried to steal any team they could from the IFL to start their own league. No one actually left and I haven't heard of a new league - So I'm going to guess that didn't go so well.
IFL - 1 | Pirates - 0
In the case of the Oak Creek Renegades...They didn't have a team! I don't remember the exact number, but they had less than 13-15 players at their debut scrimmage game. Sure it was a scrimmage, but if I'm the owner of a new team, and it were my first display to the league, the league owner is going to be there and I know I'm still being evaluated - I'm going to try to make a statement. Or a positive first impression at the very least. So they got kicked out.
The owner of the Renegades was upset mainly because they had paid the non-refundable league fees and never got the chance to give it a go in the regular season. Based on the poor showing, and terrible performance by the players who did show and the coaches feedback on the team, this was the right move. If it didn't happen in the pre-season, it would have happened in the regular season and it would have had far worse repercussions than what it did in the pre-season
The down side to this was that the schedule had already been done, fields had been secured and teams were basically out of luck if they had the Renegades on their schedule. The owner of the renegades was obviously not happy and shot around some emails and did some posts on a message board in an effort to rally people behind him. He's still out of the league and plays in an 8-man football league, which is perfect since he only had 13 players!
IFL - 2 | Renegads - 0
The ban list may have a bad reputation as the league's personal vendetta list, but it's not. I think its a good thing for the league. Keep the riff-raff out and let the rest of us have some fun with out the drama and play some good football. That's why we are here.
Strange how the good reasons are the bad reasons. Isn't that how most things are? Good + Bad, The Ying + The Yang. You can't have dark with out light. Can the league be on the right path and the wrong path at the same time?
Call it what you will; AAA, Minor League, Semi-Pro, Old-Man, Bar League, or whatever. This level of football ( semi-pro ), where athletes beyond their high school playing days play with out compensation - in the state of Wisconsin, it has a strange vibe to it. It's a love / hate kind of a vibe. Wisconsinites Love them some football. When the Green Bay Packers, Wisconsin Badgers or [ INSERT FAVORITE HIGH SCHOOL TEAM HERE ] are playing, you will be hard pressed to find people doing something other than watching the game. It's what we do here - watch football! Everyone loves a good game, even if they don't know whats going on. People just love to get involved.
Even when the Muskego Hitmen play...wait...hold on...Who?
I think I've heard of you...Do you guys play the Racine Raiders?
No, no we don't play the Raiders...We play the Venom...The Rush?...Bueller? People just don't seem to pay much attention to the Semi-Pro ranks. And a lot of it has to do with a bad reputation of poorly run teams taking sponsor money only to fold due to many reasons usually stemming from a league run just as bad, if not worse. There is a laundry list of teams and leagues that have come and gone that is too long to list. However, The Ironman Football League is starting to rub a little bit of the tarnish off of the armor. The IFL has made some huge gains in the semi-pro football ranks in a very short time. This League does a lot of things right and just as many things wrong.
As with anything, you tend to hear about the bad before you hear about the good. Yes, the IFL has taken a ton of heat from players and teams past, present and even those who are thinking of joining the league. So I'm going to give you my perspective on the IFL and my take on how things are done on and off the field. Keeping in line with tradition - The Bad before The Good:
Whats Wrong With Semi-Pro
The officials of the IFL have a reputation being overly aggressive when it comes to making decisions that have a significant impact not only the league, but the Teams, owners and coaches. They have a "Ready, FIRE, Aim" mentality in many cases. In most recent history, A prime example would be the situation with the Ironbowl. Before the season actually starts, the date, time, and place of the Ironbowl for that season is determined. In the 2008 season, The "Rights" to the Ironbowl were sold in week 9 of the season effectively moving the location of the Ironbowl to the home field of the Madison Mustangs, who were a shoe in as Ironbowl Contender that year.
The league had proposed the idea of selling game rights in league meetings prior to the season, however no one showed interest. Or I should say, no one showed interest until week 9 of the season. To make matters worse - Good Ole Mad-Town has deeper pockets than everyone else. No one stood a chance to out bid them. The decision was made, the deal was done and THEN the announcement was made. Ready, FIRE, Aim. These kinds of things happen frequently. There is at least one major occurrence every year. Things are on the up and up with the addition of Dan Greene to the front office, But I will save that topic for part II.
It Costs How Much?!
Running a football team is not cheap. I know that - You know that, but in the IFL it's more. No...More than that. A team in IFL will spend more money in 3 months than the average American makes in a year ( Pre-Economic Crisis ). If you are a 1st year start up team - you might as well double that. Well OK, not that much, but it's close - really close. The front office of the team really needs to be on their game when it comes to finding sources of income. I can tell you this much, we don't count $5 tickets and $2 hot dogs income.
To top it off, it is getting more expensive. The IFL is pushing it's new game format of: teams should have a home field; meaning you need to rent a field to play on. Teams also have to pay for their own refs, the league doesn't pay for that. I can only speak for the Hitmen; playing at InPro Stadium, in that when it is all said and done, a home game will cost about $1000 - $1200, all things included. That is a lot of hot dogs my friend. The Hitmen usually have 4 or so home games so you can do that math. And this is just to play the games.
Here is the kicker, With all of the costs more or less passed off on to the teams, there is still a $2000 league fee. It Costs How Much?!
A "Professional" League
There are many ways to define what is professional and what is not. In sports it tends to be defined by if the athletes are paid or not. If you get paid, you're professional, if you don't get paid, you are not. It's pretty cut and dry. I would argue that - there are a lot of "Professional" leagues / teams out there that are far from professional. The 2008 Bonecrushers would be a prime example of that. However, in the IFL's case, they mean professional in the way that the league and it's teams are run. The league does a good job at presenting a pretty good final product ( the games ), mainly do to, again, with the work of the teams & their front offices. However, any league's image is only as professional as the people who make it up. One of the unfortunate things with the IFL happens to be its list of disgruntled team owners and in some cases current owners and players.
What makes it unfortunate is that they will take every chance they get to try to bring the IFL down. Trying to take teams from the league, legal action, and one owner went as far as to create a website to use as a public venue to openly bash the IFL and it's officials. All of these things come off as childish and immature and I think in many cases holds the league back - It certainly doesn't help. In any event, the league still stands. And I think only lends to it's credit. One of the major problems is that the league tends to put itself up on a public forum and even will try to fight fire with fire in some of these cases. I'm not aware of many other leagues where the owner and commissioner have such a hands-on approach with it's teams.
I say, let the kids be kids and just move on.
Fields in general tend to be a problem for Semi-Pro Teams. No one wants to let them use it. They know the league will try to squeeze as many games in as few days as possible and will need to be repaired before anyone else can use it. Its a costs vs benefits thing. The Milwaukee County Sports Complex has been the IFL's "Go To" field for a number of years. There is a lot of history with this stadium. Today, teams are being encouraged to seek out their own playing fields and stadiums. However, despite the effort, The IFL hasn't grown past this eye sore of a football field.
It wasn't originally designed as a football field, it isn't pitched right. I don't think it has a pitch at all. When it rains, the water just sits on the field and takes some serious abuse. Before the league went to the new scheduling format, by the end of a season, that field wasn't even a field anymore, it was just mud. There are spots where the grass doesn't even grow back and there a metal grates scattered around the field. We can do with out this field, and it would cut back on the league budget. If a team wants to claim the complex as their home field, let them do that. In reality, I think providing a stadium on a weekly basis should not be on the shoulders of the league.
This one is pretty cut and dry. There are too many leagues and too many players confined to too much of a small area. Do you know what the hottest trend in Semi-Pro Football in Wisconsin is? Quit your team, and start your own! It's like making a movie based on comic books. EVERYONE is doing it. I can't even begin to tell you how many leagues, or divisions of a league or teams there are in Wisconsin. Take the IFL for instance - Roughly 10 teams in the greater Milwaukee area in any given year. This makes it hard for teams to maintain a quality roster. From year to year, teams don't really get new players they just rotate from team to team. When one team can't get players to rotate over to their side, they just fold and merge into another team that is already struggling. Then one of the players from one of those teams, branches off and starts their own team in just about the same spot.
It is a wonder that teams are able to stay a float, let alone progress in the semi-pro ranks. If there is such a thing. The Racine Raiders stand out because they have been the same team in the same place for decades. Just like the term "Atkins" has become synannomous with eating bacon and cheese, the Raiders always come to mind when people hear minor league / semi-pro football. I think teams like the Muskego Hitmen, Madison Mustangs and Roscoe Rush are making a little hedgeway on the issue.