TAMPA — Storm fans might want to bring boxing gloves to tonight's game — just in case.
Orlando receiver Bobby Sippio, who was involved in a skirmish in the stands during the July 31 game against the Storm at the St. Pete Times Forum, leads the Predators' return tonight as the teams tangle for the American Conference championship.
"It was an unfortunate incident that we are very disappointed about," Predators coach and former Storm quarterback Pat O'Hara said. "Those players are accountable for their actions."
Well, sort of.
Sippio and teammate Julius Wilson were suspended one and six games, respectively, by the Arena Football League. Wilson has said the incident occurred after he attempted to toss a football to his father, but the ball was knocked out of his hands by a Storm fan, prompting Wilson and Sippio to confront fans.
Wilson's suspension took effect immediately because it wasn't his first ejection this season (league rules call for a suspension after two). But Sippio filed for arbitration and will be on the field tonight with a trip to the ArenaBowl at stake.
"Yes, (the situation) is absurd," Storm coach Tim Marcum said. "I've never seen anything like it in 22 years of coaching this game."
AFL contracts stipulate that a player can appeal a suspension through the American Arbitration Association. Appeals are common in any sport, with the players remaining eligible until the process is completed. But the delay in hearing this case, especially with a postseason championship on the line, seems unusually lengthy.
Sippio played last week in the Predators' first-round playoff win against Jacksonville. And there's no doubt he's an asset to his team.
"(Sippio's) a guy with ability, and his size and speed make a difference," Marcum said.
Sippio would suit up in next week's ArenaBowl should the Predators win.
According to Orlando public relations director Adam Soucie, the league must notify the team 10 days before Sippio's hearing and since it hadn't by Wednesday, the case will not be heard before the ArenaBowl on Aug. 20.
So Sippio will not be disciplined this season.
"According to the labor laws you can request an appeal," O'Hara said. "He's able to do that legally. That's just the way it is."
But why is it taking this long to uphold the punishment?
League officials couldn't provide the answer. AFL manager of media services Linnea Coulter said the appeal had been "turned over to the AAA and was not being handled in-house."
Coulter said commissioner Jerry Kurz should be able to shed more light on the situation, but "he was traveling for the playoffs and couldn't be reached."
"It's not being rubbed in our face, it's being rubbed in the face of the AFL," Marcum said. "I mean, what's happened is a joke."