Published: Oct 06, 2009 07:39 AM
Modified: Oct 06, 2009 07:40 AM
The Carolina RailHawks, Cary's only professional sports team, is mired in a dispute with the United Soccer League that clouds the team's future with its parent league.
The league said Friday that the RailHawks no longer have a franchise in the league. But the RailHawks say it's still a possibility.
The rift stems from Carolina's reluctance to renew its membership with the USL, and a plan to possibly defect from the league.
Since the league was sold last month, the RailHawks' owners have been concerned with the direction of the USL and began talks with several other squads about forming a new league.
And on Friday, the league sent e-mail messages to RailHawks players saying their contracts had been terminated as the RailHawks were no longer a part of the league. The league also began taking down links to these teams on its Web site this weekend.
"It was harsh," Carolina RailHawks owner Brian Wellman said in an interview Monday. "It only hurts the players, confuses the fans, alerts the media and worries the sponsors."
Wellman said that membership negotiations with the United Soccer League are ongoing. Other teams are in similar situations.
Players on USL-1 squads Minnesota Thunder and Miami FC also received the e-mail, said USL president Tim Holt.
Yet Wellman isn't ruling out a return to the USL, even as he was perturbed by Holt's actions.
Wellman and the other team owners met Saturday with about 10 players still in town, in which they took some time to explain the situation and the circumstances with the league, he said.
"We just told them everything that's going on and what's happened to this point, basically," Wellman said. "Honestly, this is really no more than a minor distraction for us now in a lot of other things we're doing during the offseason."
Wellman added that the team will play next season. But in what league remains unknown.
The United States Soccer Federation called a mandatory meeting in New York City for league owners and USL personnel after the news broke of Holt's e-mails made to players. They were to meet Tuesday.
Wellman said the RailHawks, along with Minnesota and Miami could form another league that would break off from the USL. That league, Wellman said, has a "slight chance" of forming some sort of partnership with the USL or the MLS.
Wellman says the players are still under contract with Carolina. "The RailHawks currently -- as well as several other franchises -- are not renewed as USL franchise at this time," he said. "At the same time, the players remain under contract with the Carolina RailHawks."
While Wellman said the door to remain in the USL remains open, Holt insisted that the RailHawks have closed it. "The RailHawks notified us several times of their decision to remove themselves from the USL," Holt said Saturday. "... And this all stems from the team terminating their franchise relationship with the USL, not the other way around."
Correspondent Rachel Ullrich contributed to this report.