Wolfpack weathering a chaotic AFL storm

General manager Miguel Morga talks about carrying on, despite the indoor football league’s struggles.

EVERETT — As the Washington Wolfpack enters the home stretch of its first Arena Football League season, general manager Miguel Morga has seen a decade’s worth of twists and turns over the past few months.

AFL owners ousted commissioner Lee Hutton.

Seven teams folded.

A TV deal with the NFL Network dissolved.

One team’s players were kicked out of a Super 8 motel due to an unpaid bill.

“It’s been stressful,” said Morga, whose team is scheduled to play the Salina (Kansas) Liberty on the road Saturday. “I’ve probably aged five years through the season.”

Through all the chaos, Morga believes a stronger, more stable AFL emerged. According to Morga, issues developed early when Hutton failed to deliver financial promises made to teams. Morga did not offer specifics, and fellow Wolfpack owners Kelly Fahey and Mike Thomas could not be reached for comment. The lack of finances led to the inability of several teams to pay players and other expenses. The now-defunct Rapid City Marshals players reportedly refused to come out of the locker room prior to a May 11 game unless they were paid their salaries. The franchise sent fans home with promises of refunds and folded soon after.

“There were some teams that were propped up through wishful thinking and duct tape,” said Morga, whose team broke through with its first win on May 23 after four losses to start the season. “Some teams were reliant — as we were reliant — on the league coming through with commitments that didn’t materialize.”

Morga said the Wolfpack have not lost any players due to salary issues and have paid their players. Players no longer on the roster, such as former Marysville Pilchuck High School star Austin Joyner, are out for the season due to injury, he said. Most AFL players earn $250-1,000 per game, though some are paid more. He indicated that the Wolfpack did renegotiate with players midseason during the league upheaval and are no longer paying players on the “higher tier.” Morga, who holds a full-time job in addition to his Wolfpack duties, said Washington runs a lean operation focused on building over the next few years. He works in the merchandise stand during games, and sometimes he takes on the duty of washing the team’s uniforms afterward to help the team keep expenses down.

“Things have been difficult — they’ve been very difficult,” Morga said. “But, we’ve been able to weather it.”

He believes the nine remaining franchises are prepared to navigate the turbulence and grow the league into what they all envisioned prior to the broken promises from Hutton. Morga said he has “zero concerns” about finishing the season, as well as the long-term viability of the league and the Wolfpack franchise.

“I’ve never been more optimistic about the AFL — the league as a whole,” Morga said. “Jeff Fisher (who took over as commissioner following Hutton’s ousting) has been a tremendous leader, stepping in to work out challenges, and teams are working together.

“There’s a collective will to collaborate and get through the season.”

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