South Coast League’s Season In Jeopardy

Barring an unexpected miracle, the South Coast League has likely played its last game.

The league has unpaid vendors in most of its cities. The water and electricity has been turned off at Macon’s Luther Williams Field while the city awaits payment of its utility bills. The league recently announced that it would scale back from six teams to four for the 2008 season, but even that schedule was thrown into doubt with the surprise resignation on Tuesday of the league’s chief executive officer, Jamie Toole.

Toole told the Macon Telegraph that he was resigning because the league needed a fresh approach to deal with mounting financial problems. But his resignation came as a surprise to chief development officer J.D. Hardin, who now has become the de-facto head of the league thanks to the departures of Toole and chief operating officer Chris Allen.

"I’m kind of the last man standing," Hardin said. "That’s a lot to take in for someone, especially for someone who just started in baseball last year."

Hardin said that the league’s primary owners, the Ferro investment group, based out of Joliet, Ill., will make a decision about the league’s future later this week. Peter Ferro is also the chairman for the Joliet Jackhammers. A call to the group was not immediately returned.

For the league to continue, the owners would likely have to agree to give the league a capital infusion that would cover the debts left from the 2007 season as well as cover expected losses for 2008. The other options include announcing that the league is going dark for the 2008 season (although no independent league has ever successfully returned after shutting down for a season), finding new investors/owners to bring in the money needed to keep the league going, or simply folding the league.

"When you have debt it seems like it’s a mountain of it. Obviously that will play into the conversations with the ownership group . . . Standing at the bottom, there is quite a mountain ahead of us," Hardin said.

If the league does fold, it would give one more example of the difficulties of operating an independent league in the Southeast. No Southeastern-based independent league has every successfully completed a second season. The league’s attendance during the first season was in line with what could be expected, but the league went in the red partly because of its inability to reign in expenses. The league went into last season with nine league front-office executives. In comparison, several other more established independent leagues have operated successfully with as few as three or four league officials.

Shutting down would be extremely bad news for the various players and managers already under contract with the league. Most other independent league teams have largely assembled their rosters, making it difficult for players to find jobs. And almost no coaching jobs remain open, which would leave most of the current coaching staffs out of work for the 2008 season.

It obviously would also be bad news for the various vendors and other creditors still owed money by the league. The league is currently working at paying off its debts, but creditors for leagues that have folded in the past have found their invoices unpaid.

—J.J. Cooper