Auckland Tuatara's withdrawal from the 2020/21 Australian Baseball League season has sparked a strong reaction from organisers, who warn they may not be allowed back in the competition.
Faced with the logistical challenges of a trans-Tasman campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kiwi franchise has made the difficult decision to suspend their involvement, hoping to return for future seasons.
But Baseball Australia is clearly not impressed, blaming "mismanagement" for their late exit and threatening to end the Tuatara's participation for good.
"Baseball Australia was first told of Auckland's intention to withdraw on Monday, November 9," says chief executive Cam Vale. "They were strongly advised to reconsider their position and they have chosen not reverse this decision.
"Auckland agreed to the 'international conference' model in August and no significant circumstances have changed to create their withdrawal. If anything, there was improvement in their position to play this season with NZ Government support.
"Whilst COVID is proving extremely challenging, all ABL teams committed to this season on four separate occasions, as recently as Monday, November 2. Teams have been given multiple opportunities to change their position and Auckland haven't wavered from this model until this week.
"Therefore, issues cited by Auckland, such as quarantine and flight costs, whilst challenging, should have been better managed and addressed weeks, if not months ago."
Vale claims the Tuatara withdrawal will have dramatic consequences on the upcoming season, costing the league valuable sponsorship and broadcast partners, and greatly inconveniencing other franchises.
"The reason for this withdrawal is best summed up as being due to mismanagement by Auckland," he accuses.
"Whilst the ABL and the other teams see the strategic importance of a New Zealand-based team in the league, the ability for Auckland to compete in future seasons is now in serious doubt.
"The current ownership is in breach of their ABL licence agreement. They will be given 28 days to address this."
The Tuatara were well advanced in recruiting for next season, signing seven ex-Major League players, along with established ABL stars Dylan Unsworth and Mikey Reynolds, and several returning players.
"We are absolutely gutted," says chairman Noel Davies. "We’ve poured our heart and soul into trying to push ahead with a season.
"As the situation has constantly changed, we have adapted with it, working in conjunction with the ABL and our rival teams, as well as the Government and Sport NZ, but ultimately it just got too challenging.
"That was too big a risk to our ongoing survival. We want to be in the league for a long time, and taking the gamble to try and push ahead would seriously jeopardise that."