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UFL season will be delayed to finalize 'business affairs'

OMAHA, Neb. -- The United Football League will move the start of its season from mid-August to mid-September because of ongoing financial problems, commissioner Michael Huyghue said Tuesday.

Huyghue said in a statement that the delay will give the league time to finalize television agreements and "other critical business affairs." Players who reported to training camps this week are returning home at league expense, with the plan being to reopen them in about a month.

UFL owner and founder Bill Hambrecht said he and other investors, who have lost millions of dollars, are committed to funding the 2011 season.

Huyghue, who had scheduled an afternoon teleconference with reporters, said previously that each team had about $1 million in unpaid bills at the end of the 2010 season.

The second-tier UFL has franchises in Omaha, Hartford, Conn., Norfolk, Va., Las Vegas and Sacramento.

The UFL opened in mid-September during its first two years but had hoped to start a month earlier this year to capitalize on a slow period in sports nationally and, possibly, a continuation of the NFL lockout.

"We felt, and still feel, that playing meaningful games during August would benefit the UFL," Huyghue said. "Unfortunately the uncertainty gripping pro sports given the NFL and NBA lockouts created a destabilizing impact throughout the industry.

"Ultimately, this delayed our ability to secure television agreements and other related business matters. We believe, though, that the added time will allow for some necessary housekeeping that will strengthen our product and our brand."

Huyghue said in an interview with The Associated Press in March that the league hoped to capitalize on NFL labor problems by filling August television time slots that would have been taken by NFL preseason games.

The UFL's master plan calls for the league to eventually generate revenue from a TV contract. With the lockout jeopardizing the NFL season, Huyghue spoke with CBS and TNT about televising UFL games but couldn't come to an agreement.

UFL games were shown on HDNet and Versus last year, with the league paying production costs for Versus' telecasts.

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.

League investors own at least 50 percent of four franchises and 100 percent of the fifth, the first-year Virginia Destroyers.

The UFL lost $30 million in 2009 and $50 million in 2010, and Huyghue told the AP in the spring that investors considered folding after last season.

The emergence of the Omaha Nighthawks as a signature franchise gave the UFL hope it could find its niche. The team averaged about 23,000 fans for its four home games last season with a roster featuring NFL veterans Jeff Garcia and Ahman Green and former Ohio State star Maurice Clarett.

Clarett is set to play for the Nighthawks again this season along with Nebraska's 2001 Heisman Trophy winner, Eric Crouch.

Last season each 52-man roster included an average of 24 players with NFL experience. NFL teams signed about 60 UFL players last season, assigning them to either active rosters or practice squads.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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