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Changing Rules Midway Through the Game

Matt Loeschman
Thursday July 21, 2016

Ah, the Arena Football League.

The only league I can recall that will literally change the rules during the game. Or in this case, during the season — with only two weeks left in it before the playoffs.

Remember all that talk about the conference winners getting the top two seeds and the rest of the league being seeded 3-8, regardless of conference? Remember announcers trying their best to explain this format on national telecasts during the past few weeks?

Don't worry if you missed it. It's all moot now. The AFL announced July 19 that the postseason for the 2016 campaign will return to the traditional conference format.

“In light of the season's results, teams will be seeded by conference for first two rounds. This will enhance strong regional rivalries and make it convenient for our loyal fans deciding to follow their team on the road,” AFL Commissioner Scott Butera said in a press release.

Say what? “In light of the season's results?” Does this mean the league was watching the standings to determine how the playoff format would shake out?

This doesn't seem quite right to me. You set the playoff format before the season starts and that's it. You don't tinker with it after you glance at the standings after 15 games. If the LA KISS or Cleveland Gladiators had won the west, would this change have been made?

The “regional rivalries” stuff is also marginal at best. I believe the Arizona Rattlers will make easy work of the Portland Steel in round one. That will set up another home game (the conference championship) at the Snake Pit against either the KISS or the Gladiators.

According to the commissioner, Phoenix better prepare for the onslaught of Glad Fans or KISS Army members that will descend on Talking Stick Arena. These are strong regional rivalries, right? Not so much.

I will admit I was very frustrated with the way the Orlando Predators played the last minute of their 62-45 loss to the Rattlers on July 18. Instead of playing to win and playing like men, Orlando elected to fall down, waste time and kick a normally meaningless field goal as the clock ran out.

However, in this case, the successful kick gave the Preds the smallest of tiebreakers over Arizona should the two teams meet in the ArenaBowl. It was shameful the way Orlando “celebrated” a 17-point defeat.

Rattlers quarterback Nick Davila perhaps summed it up best. “I don't know how you celebrate losing a game, period,” Davila told the Arizona Republic.

Was it a smart move? Maybe. Was it gutless? I think so.

Karma has a way of coming back in situations like this. And this change in playoff structure is already a sign of it.

While I may not agree with switching up the format during the regular season, the big picture shows this will only help the Rattlers. The Snakes' chances of still hosting the ArenaBowl got a big boost with the format change.

First, the conference format means Arizona (assuming the first-round win) will host a much weaker team in round two of the playoffs. Under the old format, it is likely the Rattlers would have hosted the tough Philadelphia Soul in the second postseason game. Now, not only will the Predators face off with Philly for the east crown to end the regular season, they will probably have to take on Dan Raudabaugh and the Soul once again in the American Conference title game.

The Rattlers hold the tiebreaker on Philadelphia, so Arizona fans are hoping their team keeps winning and Orlando — who has beaten several bad teams by narrow margins — stumbles at some point.

It's going to be an interesting fight to the finish. Let's hope the league doesn't do any more tinkering once the playoffs begin.

Matt Loeschman is the business editor/city reporter at the Williamson County Sun and a color commentator for SHN Sports in Georgetown, Texas. As a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, he bleeds burnt orange but is also an avid fan of the Arizona Rattlers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Stars, Texas Stars, Houston Rockets, Houston Dynamo and Austin Aztex. With nearly 20 years of experience in print journalism and radio, Matt has covered sports ranging from high school to the pros along with local news. He has followed the AFL since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter @MattLoeschman.
The opinions expressed in the article above are only those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, or official stance of ArenaFan Online or its staff, or the Arena Football League, or any AFL or af2 teams.
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