The Heat is off in Southern Oregon

    The Southern Oregon Heat and its owner Kevin Wells confirm the team will not have a franchise in the NIFL in 2002

    After months of anticipation, the other shoe has finally fallen on the Southern Oregon Heat's franchise in the National Indoor Football League.

    Heat owner Kevin Wells confirmed Wednesday what many had been expecting ever since the NIFL team's overwhelming debt was made public last June.

    "I tried to do everything I could to keep a team in Southern Oregon but I guess that's not going to happen now," Wells said.

    Still about $130,000 in debt from last year's debacle, Wells said he was unable to sell the Heat during the offseason.

    His main leverage to recoup those losses now rests in leasing the Heat's equipment to a startup franchise in Eugene and the rental of the field surface he purchased prior to the 2001 NIFL season.

    "At this point in time, I'm trying to support my family and do what I can to pay off my debts," said Wells, who splits his week running nightclubs in Eugene and Medford for former business partner Brian Edwards. "The last thing I wanted to do was go bankrupt. That's not who I am and what I'm about. I want to be able to make good on it all."

    Wells believed he was in good position to sell the Heat to the aforementioned group in Eugene, but that prospect fell apart for reasons that still confound him.

    "Probably what I asked for nobody wanted to buy the team for," said Wells. "All I was really asking for was enough to pay off all my debts. I don't really understand what went wrong but it's all pretty frustrating."

    Wells said the entrance fee for a first-year franchise in the NIFL for the 2002 season is $200,000 - making his team an apparent bargain for prospective owners. Still, the only interest shown by the Eugene group has been in leasing Wells' equipment and purchasing the Heat's logo rights.

    Similar interest has been paid to Heat quarterback and head coach Eric VanderWegen.

    A bright spot during the Heat's dark days last season, VanderWegen did what he could to help the team maintain some sort of dignity while the walls closed in on a 1-13 campaign that left him and many Heat players unpaid for their services.

    Despite those efforts, VanderWegen's status with the NIFL ranks right along that of the Southern Oregon Heat.

    "I haven't gotten a single phone call from anybody," said VanderWegen. "Apparently my (win-loss) record overshadowed my good deeds."

    Even if his phone had been ringing off the hook, VanderWegen said he wasn't willing to step back into the fire of what he considers a very suspect football league.

    "I'd like to coach again but at this point in time I'm not willing to take another chance in this league," he said. "From a financial standpoint, I can't afford to have another year like I had last year."

    VanderWegen is one of a handful of locals affiliated with the Heat who are considering taking legal action against the league and Wells. He said a lawsuit was originally filed several months ago with the Oregon Labor Bureau.

    "I've been as patient as I can but we're talking about going on seven months without seeing any money," said VanderWegen.

    VanderWegen said much of the Heat's financial woes could have been taken care of had the team been sold outright, as was allegedly the goal of Wells and NIFL President Carolyn Shiver.

    "If Carolyn was really working for us, this team would have been sold to somebody," said VanderWegen. "This franchise should have been sold, bottom-line. From Day — of expansion, Kevin was looking to get out and there were investors there who could have bought the team at a fraction of what it would have cost (for an expansion team) and moved the team anywhere they wanted."

    Shiver was unavailable for comment on Wednesday.

    Even if the league had found a solution to keep an NIFL franchise in Southern Oregon, it might not have had a home to call its own. The Heat played its home games at the Jackson County Expo Park last season, but wasn't guaranteed that same arrangement for the 2002 campaign.

    "We all frankly busted our butts to make it work last year and it didn't happen," said Chris Borovansky, manager of the Expo. "We did not have a great taste in our mouths after conversations with the league at the end of the year."

    The Expo is one of several vendors still seeking payment for services rendered in the Heat's debut season.

    "It's all been kind of smoke and mirrors from the league," said Borovansky. "Kevin's been trying to make it right for us but the league has not been responsive at all."

    For that matter, the league hasn't been responsive to Wells either.

    "The frustrating part for me is the benefits I was supposed to get I never got," said Wells. "Nobody really got the revenue sharing they were supposed to get."

    Beyond the debt and alleged deceptions, Wells said the worst factor in the Heat debacle is the fact that his promise of having a professional sports team in the Rogue Valley will go unfulfilled.

    "It's frustrating especially because I know what we did wrong, the mistakes we made and the avenues we should have gone down," said Wells. "I wish I had a chance to do it all over again and do it right.

    "But then again if I knew last year that I'd be in the situation where I'm at right now, I never would have started this process to begin with."

    Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail

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