FCBL, Martha’s Vineyard Sharks in court dispute

NASHUA – Now we know what is holding up a Futures Collegiate League/Nashua Silver Knights schedule, and it isn’t just finalizing the addition of a new franchise.

It’s trying to keep one of their own in fold – legally.

According to a recent Worcester Telegram report, the Futures League has been involved in a legal dispute with the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks since mid-October, as the Sharks have made it known their intention to join the rival New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL). The Telegraph reported two months ago that the Sharks’ future in the league was in doubt, but outgoing FCBL Commissioner Chris Hall said earlier this month that Martha’s Vineyard would be staying.

However, according to the Telegram, the FCBL filed a lawsuit in Middlesex (Mass.) Superior Court to prevent such a move, saying the Sharks would be in violation of their contract with the league.

That contract reportedly says a team needs to prevent a financial hardship and receive two-thirds vote from FCBL owners to leave. Without that approval vote, a team would have to pay an exit fee of $100,000 and cannot join another league for two years.

The league, the report says, failed to get a preliminary injunction barring any move. Earlier this month, the Sharks filed a countersuit, apparently using a technicality in their defense, saying the league bylaws were never signed.

The two sides appear to be dug in. According to the report, the Sharks in a legal brief argue that the league, in filing an amended suit earlier this month, “is seeking to delay the resolution of this case as lont as possible in an effort to punish (the Sharks) for having the temerity to consider leaving to join another league.” MV has reportedly filed a motion asking that the FCBL lawsuit be dismissed.

The FCBL, meanwhile, says in its original suit that allow the Sharks to leave and immediately play in the NECBL would expose the league to “immediate and irreparable harm to the present and future stability of its operations” as well as set “a dangerous precedent.”

The league operated with seven teams a year ago after the Seacoast and Wachussett franchises opted not to operate, but still paid dues. Neither is expected back this year; Seacoast is reportedly still looking to build a facility on land purchased in the Dover area. An eight team schedule would allow for Monday to be a league wide day off and perhaps go back to a two-division format.

Silver Knights officials have repeatedly said they would not comment on the makeup of the league until a schedule is finalized. However, owner Drew Weber did express some surprise that early this past month that Hall, whose last day as commissioner is supposed to be today, had said the Sharks would remain in the league.

Now we know why. Knights co-general manager Victoria Cookson told The Telegraph a week ago that the league wouldn’t resume work on the schedule until after Jan. 1.

It was fairly common knowledge, after word had leaked in October that the Sharks may have been looking to leave, that the number of teams was an issue. However, Hall told The Telegraph that there was the possibility of adding an eighth team, and that was believed to be one of the holdups. Sources in western Massachusetts have said that Westfield, Mass. is a strong possibility for the location of that new franchise. That would give Pittsfield an opponent approximately just 45 minutes away.

Theoretically, the departure of Martha’s Vineyard could bring some financial relief to the league. It requires a long bus ride to the Cape, then a ferry ride, and another, albeit shorter, bus ride to the Sharks home field on the island – as well as a chartered boat ride back to the mainland then the bus ride home after games.

Ironically the Sharks are one of the founding franchises of the league back in 2011. Word was they helped form the league after a failed attempt to join the prestigious Cape Cod League.

A schedule delay hurts teams primarily in advance ticket sales, especially groups at this point. But for the FCBL to not have its house in order may also prevent some college coaches from assigning players to teams, especially not knowing who’s in, and who’s out.