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  • Brian Baer / Special to The Bee

    The Mountain Lions drew sparse crowds at Raley Field.

  • Brian Baer / Special to The Bee

    Ex- 49er Keith Lewis played for the Las Vegas Locomotives.

Struggling UFL suspends play for 2012

Published: Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 2C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:06 pm

Keith Lewis took the call from The Bee in Las Vegas and offered laughter more than surprise or bewilderment.

He's out of work but not out of spirit. Saturday was his 31st birthday, and it brought mixed emotions.

Lewis, a Valley High School product and a linebacker for the Las Vegas Locomotives, is one of hundreds of United Football League employees suddenly out of a job. The four-team UFL announced Saturday it had suspended the remainder of the 2012 season amid mounting financial woes with four games remaining.

The UFL plans to return in the spring for the final four games of the current schedule and resume a fall schedule in 2013.

With franchises in Sacramento, Las Vegas, Omaha, Neb., and Virginia Beach, Va., the league lacked a revenue-making television contract and was saddled with small crowds, high workers' compensation costs and a sagging reputation as a league in over its head. The UFL has endured financial troubles since it debuted in 2009.

This fall, players across the league were not paid despite repeated promises by team owners that their contracts would be honored. Delayed payments were a common theme last season, though players were eventually compensated.

Lewis can speak of four games of labor and nothing to show for it financially. Las Vegas (4-0) was considered the UFL's best team.

"You're the first knowledge of this, and thank goodness for my resources because now I'm trying to figure out a game plan to get back to Sacramento – and how to get paid," Lewis said. "I haven't heard from anyone from our front office or our league. Players are telling each other about the news now.

"And we haven't been paid at all. We got all these guarantees, and they were all false promises. You could definitely see this in the making, that the league was in trouble, and it's too bad."

Lewis, a former 49ers safety and punt-block specialist, said his football days are likely over. He's not so sure he'd accept an invitation back to a UFL camp should the league resume action.

"We hear that the league will try to start again in the spring, but how's that going to work?" Lewis wondered. "People are leery."

The UFL insists it can work and that it will pay its athletes.

"The players and coaches have established a terrific product on the field," Paul Pelosi, spokesman for the UFL ownership group and owner of the Mountain Lions, said in a statement. "Because of a lack of sufficient funds due to the high cost of workmen's compensation insurance and other elements, we are postponing the second half of the season. We plan to play the balance of the season in the spring, along with the championship game."

He added, "It is our first priority to take care of our players, coaches and staff, and then to raise sufficient funds to take care of our other obligations and to resume fully financed operations in 2013."

Pelosi could not be reached for comment. He has not returned repeated calls from The Bee.

The UFL has experienced stops and starts the last two seasons. The 2011 schedule was pushed back a month, and then the season was truncated a month early. This season's opening night schedule was pushed back a month. Crowds as small as 601 attended games in Las Vegas.

The Mountain Lions' crowds at Raley Field were also sparse. Fans struggled to follow players they had not heard of. Midweek games also discouraged fans used to weekend football.

The league's star power was in the coaches. Former NFL coach Jim Fassel coaches Las Vegas. Last season, two other ex-NFL coaches, Dennis Green (Mountain Lions) and Marty Schottenheimer (Virginia), guided UFL teams. Green and Schottenheimer are suing the UFL for back payments.

The Mountain Lions were 1-3 after beating defending champion Virginia 20-17 on the road Friday. Several Mountain Lions players had left the team earlier this season in protest of their salaries. Some received only $1,000 instead of the contracted $3,500 per game.

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