Once again, the Yakima SunKings are back on the sidelines.
Just a few months ahead of what would’ve been their third season in The Basketball League, team owner Jaime Campos confirmed that they will sit out the 2020 season, although he left the door open to returning in 2021.
“I want to be part of the league but it was an easy decision,” Campos said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “I still sort of believe in the league and if they can work things out, we’ll come back.”
TBL president David Magley said he was surprised by Campos’ move, which he learned of in late September, and said he will do what he can to re-establish a team in Yakima.
“I’m disappointed. I think it’s a great market,” he said Wednesday. “My position is I want to be back in Yakima next year.”
At the core of Campos’ decision was the league reducing its schedule from 32 to 24 games, and the continued lack of teams in the Pacific Northwest.
Dropping the schedule reduced the number of home games from 16 to 12, which Campos notes, cut revenue opportunities by 25 percent.
“To me, the schedule was the big thing,” Campos said. “When I do the numbers, I’ll lose more money this year. I’ll save a little on salaries and hotels but I can’t go to our sponsors and ask them for the same amount of money for less (exposure).
“I talked to Dave and said if he fixed the schedule and we still played 16 home games, I’d have jumped in.”
Magley defended the decision to shorten the season, saying that move gives more of the now-13 teams set to play in 2020 a better chance to at least break even financially.
“Shrinking the schedule gives us a chance to save money. That’s one less pay period and one less plane trip for each team,” Magley said, estimating that will save each team about $50,000. “Our goal is to get us profitable at 24 games and then work back to 32 games.
“There’s a lot of process going into this. It’s not a lot of knee-jerk reactions.”
As for the lack of regional rivalries, Magley said he understands Campos’ frustration but said it hasn’t been through a lack of trying.
Magley has often publicly stated the need for more teams in the Northwest to help ease the travel burden for the SunKings and believes the league is close to delivering those markets.
“We have verbal commitments from two markets for next year (2021) and I think they’ll turn into financial commitments by the end of this year,” Magley said, referring to potential Oregon teams in Portland and Salem. “I think we’ll have four teams in the Pacific Northwest, including Yakima (in 2021).”
“He’s trying to get more teams in the northwest,” Campos acknowledged, “but at this time, that’s not happening.”
Campos also expressed concerns that some franchise aren’t strong enough financially, noting that games were canceled late last season to save money, and that he would like to see the league shore up existing markets before continuing to expand.
“It doesn’t matter how many teams you have,” he said. “It’s how strong are those teams?”
Magley has addressed that issue in the past and again on Wednesday said his goal is not to just add teams but find ownership groups and cities that can be viable long term.
“We have to create a model that makes financial success,” he said. “We really have made great strides to make the league better.”
Campos said he had every intention of playing this season and was moving forward within the organization.
“I had coach, a general manager, a team president, sponsors,” he said. “I had things lined up and then I went to the owners meetings (in August. After that) I was not going to announce anything until the league got everything worked out (to my satisfaction).”
This decision caps a tumultuous five months for the team.
In late April, the SunKings were one victory away from a second straight championship before the stunning firing of popular coach Paul Woolpert following game two of the TBL finals.
Yakima lost game three at Albany, sending the franchise into an offseason of uncertainty, culminating in Campos' decision at the end of September.
Prior to that, the SunKings had been the model franchise for the fledgling league, being recognized as the franchise of the year both seasons.
In its first campaign, Yakima had a league-best 24-8 record and beat Albany for the championship. This past season, the SunKings again had the league’s best record at 22-6.
As for the future, both Campos and Magley said a reunion is certainly possible.
“Dave’s a nice guy. I like him and he means well,” Campos said. “If I want to be a part of (the league), I will.”
“I like Jaime and his family and I hope things can be resolved and we can have him back,” said Magley, adding that he understands the connection between the SunKings and the community.
“There’s a generational love for the SunKings that, if done well, will go on forever,” Magley continued. “There’s an absolute professional basketball need in Yakima and we want to fill that.”
Just not this coming season.