By Bill Vilona – Contributing Writer for the Pensacola Ice Flyers
Nearly five months ago, Ice Flyers owner Greg Harris agonized with other league executives when deciding to abruptly end the season, due to coronavirus concerns.
Those same emotions returned amid a decision announced Tuesday by the Southern Professional Hockey League to delay the start of this upcoming season until at least mid-December.
“We’re looking here at being three months out from our regular start date and we’re going in the wrong direction with the virus,” Harris said. “That’s where we had to make the responsible decision.
“It definitely was not an easy decision. We just tried to make the best decision we can as team owners.”
Harris said SPHL owners weighed a variety of options for weeks before deciding a two-month delay was the most viable option for now.
The 56-game SPHL schedule relies mostly on weekend dates for each team to play 28 home games and create sufficient revenue.
The hope is by December, Harris said, there will be less impact from the virus along with possibility of a vaccine or medical treatment to help combat the disease.
“We are still looking to get a season in and play a complete season,” Harris said. “The situation is so fluid and changing so constantly, that there’s even a possibility that right before the season, something great comes out.
“Or a vaccine gets approved into the market and things open up and ‘Boom!’ we are full bore. It can go either way. That is the tough thing right now. There are just so many unknowns and there is no way to answer them at this time.”
The SPHL season was first suspended March 12, then cancelled three days later as the virus concerns worsened. Teams had a couple weeks left in their schedule before the SPHL playoffs were to begin.
Now, teams were trying to finalize their schedule, sponsorships and arrange player invites in preparation for a brief training camp in early October.
“The decisions were actually similar,” Harris said. “These are very heavy decisions that we hope to never have to make again.”
It brings clarity, however, to a situation where SPHL teams were getting inquiries from fans and prospective players on how the season would proceed.
“There’s a lot of people wondering what we were going to do,” Harris said. “A lot of players, fans, sponsors. Definitely the last two or three weeks did not help the situation.
“It somewhat forced our hand when see how serious this was getting. Especially in a lot of states we have in our footprint. I think if a lot of spikes didn’t happen, there could have been a better chance of starting on time.”
Harris said the other challenge has been from simple economics.
“A lot in my mind comes down to consumer confidence,” he said. “Right now, it’s pretty shattered. I think the further we can get out from this, the more confidence will happen the more sports that start up and get played, the more sports has fans.”