Legal fight looms over name
The owner of a team in a rival indoor football league claims his league had the name "River Rats" for its Pittsburgh-based team.
And he is promising to sue the owner of the Pittsburgh River Rats and the American Indoor Football League for stealing the team's name.
The suit will also include "anyone who uses the River Rats name," which will include the team's home arena, the Ice Gardens in Rostraver Township.
The Pittsburgh River Rats have yet to play their first game in the AIFL. The expansion team is set to begin play in 2007.
In fact, the team hasn't even picked its squad yet, with tryouts being held Aug. 20 at the Pittsburgh Indoor Sports Arena in Harmarville.
However, Jim Terry, the owner of a Steubenville, Ohio-based franchise in the fledgling Eastern Indoor Football League claims his league has been in existence for seven months and has a team in the Pittsburgh area called the 3 Rivers Rats.
He noted that the EIFL is getting ready for its inaugural season and that Shawn Liotta, the coach of the AIFL's Pittsburgh River Rats, had been previously hired to be the coach and general manager of the 3 Rivers Rats.
The EIFL 3 Rivers Rats team has a Web site which announces the hiring of Liotta to the two positions.
"They can steal our coach, but they can't steal our name," said Terry, owner of the Mahoning Valley Hitmen.
"We're definitely going to sue them," Terry said. "We're not going to co-exist with that name. We can't. We've got no choice but to sue the league, the owner, everybody involved. That includes the arena and the coach."
Terry said that when he learned last week that the AIFL Pittsburgh franchise would be the River Rats, he contacted the team's owner, Andrew G. Haines, to protest.
"He basically told me that we are the 3 Rivers Rats and they are the Pittsburgh River Rats and he doesn't have to change his team's name," said Terry.
Haines, meanwhile, contends that he didn't do anything wrong and that his league's legal counsel said the River Rats don't have to change their name or logo.
"(Terry) has got a team name and a logo put together on a Web site and that's it," said Haines. "It's just one of those things. He is a disgruntled former coach in our league who has it out for us."
Terry said that it is frustrating for his league, which is trying to get off the ground. He said the situation also is confusing to anyone who knows about the EIFL.
"People see Shawn Liotta as their coach and their name and they think that team has left our league for the AIFL," said Terry. "That simply isn't true. The whole thing with the AIFL is so crooked for them to do this."
Terry said his team received nationwide acclaim recently when Mahoning Valley signed Maurice Clarett to play for the team.
The signing of Clarett, the former Ohio State star and draft choice of the Denver Broncos, was a huge boost for the league.
"It definitely got us noticed," Terry said. "Now this whole thing with the River Rats ..."
Liotta admitted he agreed to be the coach and GM of the IEFL franchise, but opted to sign instead with the AIFL for several reasons.
"The EIFL team was going to be a traveling team and the AIFL offered me a contract with a team with a home," Liotta said. "It was the best deal for me."
Terry acknowledged that the 3 Rivers Rats are going to play all of their games in 2007 on the road because the league could not find a suitable home for the team.
"We looked at several arenas in that area, including the Ice Gardens, and didn't think it was worth it for us," Terry said. "We think the 3 Rivers Rats will play their home games in 2008 in Monroeville. We've been talking to the people who have an arena there that suits us."
Haines said he is thrilled to be involved with the Ice Gardens, calling the mid-Mon Valley an area rich in football tradition.
"I think it is a great area for us," Haines said.
Liotta does not want to be drawn into any controversy and said he wishes both leagues and their teams well.
"He is a good guy who we wish we still had," said Terry of the coach of the Pittsburgh River Rats. "I can understand him leaving us because they offered him more money. It was a better deal for him."
Terry said the new owner/GM of the 3 Rivers Rats is Ameer Dudley, a Duquesne University graduate and former AIFL player. A coach for the team will be named soon.
Other teams in the EIFL include the Mid-American (Ill.) Buzzards, Bay Shore (N.J.) Brawlers and the Baltimore Black Birds.