An interview with the owner of the Wichita Falls Nighthawks
by Jay Luster
On July 25, 2017, I spoke with the owner of the Wichita Falls Nighthawks, Drew Carnes. I asked him, specifically at that time if the team was leaving the IFL for the CIF? Rumors had been swirling around the team, and the Sioux Falls Storm, for weeks, and he said the decision had not yet been made. About a month later, Sioux Falls announced their departure from the IFL and a couple of weeks after that the Nighthawks joined them in the CIF. For the Nighthawks, it was a matter of lowering their expenses. Carnes had said, “With my closest playing partner more than 580 miles away, My travel expenses were probably $50k more than anyone else in the IFL.” This isn’t an unfamiliar issue to arenafootballinsider.com readers because we’ve reported teams having difficulties with travel times, and expenses, many times in the past. What made this different was the contentiousness that immediately arose between the leagues and the teams. The same day the Nighthawks announced they had followed the Sioux Falls Storm from the IFL into the CIF, two teams defected from the CIF for the IFL, and lawsuits soon followed.
When I spoke with Mr. Carnes again on October 23rd, he had already announced the team would not be playing anywhere in 2018. The IFL claimed the Wichita Falls team did not provide correct legal notice of their intention to leave the league. Carnes said, “The bylaws they quoted on the IFL league affiliation contract I signed are not the bylaws they claim we’re playing under. One of the key areas says we had 15 days after the United Bowl to announce (our intentions of playing in the IFL or leaving for the 2018 season). They stopped including me in league meetings and proceedings within that 15-day period so to me that said they knew we were leaving. We knew we had until around Sept. 30th to have all the paperwork done, and we’d still be within their time frame.”
When the CIF affiliation announcement was made, things quickly went awry. Carnes continued, “We announced at the press conference, we were going to the CIF and later that same day two teams (The Bloomington Edge and the West Michigan Ironmen) we thought we’re solidified in the CIF for 2018, left and went to the IFL. That was the first time I thought there’s something strange going on here. A few days later, I got notice from the IFL saying they considered my departure involuntary according to the bylaws. I started thinking okay; they were holding us hostage, and they’re making some sort of trade, and things are going to work out.” The IFL, before the return of Bloomington and West Michigan, were down to only five teams, and they had no intention of letting two of their winningest franchises bolt for a rival league. The CIF was upset because both the Edge, and the Ironmen had committed to them and after just one season in the league, chose to return to the IFL. Both leagues wanted the Sioux Falls Storm and the Nighthawks, and it was at this point things really began to fall apart. Continue reading