OMAHA, Neb. – The struggling United Football League announced Wednesday that it will play a shorter season with four teams instead of five, with the Hartford Colonials suspending operations.
UFL commissioner Michael Huyghue said the league, which owns all or part of each franchise, couldn't afford five teams after losing more than $100 million in its first two years.
"We're shrinking down a little bit, getting our house in order and making sure we have enough ammunition to get through the marathon," Huyghue said.
Without Hartford, the second-tier pro league is left with teams in Omaha; Norfolk, Va.; Las Vegas; and Sacramento, Calif.
Each team will play six regular-season games instead of eight, with three at home and three on the road. Training camps open Aug. 22 and season openers are Sept. 15-17. The top two teams will play in a championship game.
Hartford players will join surviving UFL teams through a dispersal draft Monday. Hartford coach Jerry Glanville will become a league consultant, and Colonials assistants will take jobs with the other teams.
Hartford was chosen for contraction because of the high cost of doing business at 40,000-seat Rentschler Field, Huyghue said. He said the stadium is too cavernous for the UFL and that it costs more than $150,000 to stage a game there compared with $50,000-$75,000 in other cities.
Huyghue said the UFL wouldn't rule out a return to Hartford, but that would depend on whether the league survives.
Huyghue said the league desperately needs an injection of new cash. He called the $100 million in losses "staggering" but not out of line with other start-up leagues.
The UFL's majority owners are Bill Hambrecht, Paul Pelosi and Bill Mayer. Huyghue said the league projected that it would lose money the first three years but now needs help from new investors, a revenue-producing television contract, a partnership with the NFL or a combination of all three.
The league is made up of players who were cut in NFL training camps, veterans who want to get back to the NFL and free agents. Players earn about $40,000 a season.
More than 100 UFL players have signed contracts with NFL teams after the UFL season has ended the past two years.
"There is a natural synergy between our leagues," Huyghue said. "With no expansion or developmental league of its own, there is reason for the NFL to benefit from the UFL, and it will help us with long-term viability."
The UFL had pinned its turnaround hopes in 2011 on a long NFL lockout — "a calculated risk," Huyghue said.
The UFL originally planned to start its season in August, with the idea of landing a TV contract that would put UFL games in time slots normally reserved for NFL preseason games.
Huyghue said he tried unsuccessfully to negotiate deals with CBS and TNT. When it became apparent last month that the lockout was ending, Huyghue announced that the UFL would scrap its plan to start in August and revert to its normal September kickoff.
Games will be carried on HDNet and regional sports networks. Versus had televised games last season, but the league had to pay production costs. Huyghue said no agreement with Versus had been reached for this year.
The season will open Sept. 15 with the Virginia Destroyers visiting the Omaha Nighthawks. The two-time defending champion Las Vegas Locomotives visit the Sacramento Mountain Lions on Sept. 17.