"Ask Me That Question After Saturday's Games" - National Conference Up in the Air
The 2013 Arena Football League season has been full of twists and turns, but in the most shocking twist, the league office has apparently called an audible on the eve of the postseason. According to a report in the Spokesman-Review, Commissioner Jerry B. Kurz has stated that the No. 1 seed in the National Conference has not been settled. The report does not say that the Arizona Rattlers haven't clinched the No. 1 seed, but it doesn't affirm that thought either.
The Spokane Shock beat the Pittsburgh Power 61-43 on Friday night to start Week 19, finishing up their season at 14-4. They enter play on Saturday a half game behind the Rattlers, who take on the Iowa Barnstormers on Saturday.
The Rattlers celebrated their division championship following a Week 17 win over the New Orleans VooDoo. Championship hats and shirts were worn on the field after the game, and in fact, you can buy this Western Division champions shirt on the Rattlers' official site.
However, as ArenaFan reported the Monday after the game, the Rattlers should not have been declared the division champions at that point. According to the AFL's playoff tiebreakers, the first tiebreaker to determine a division champion is record in head-to-head games. The second tiebreaker is record in division. Arizona and the Shock split their regular season games with each other, and both teams went 4-2 in Western Division play.
The third tiebreaker is record against common opponents. Assuming that Arizona loses to Iowa, the Rattlers would be 11-3 in common opponent games, while Spokane would be 10-2 in common opponent games.
The AFL originally refuted ArenaFan's reports, stating that the total number of wins in games against common opponents was the tiebreaker instead of winning percentage in those games. If the league was to use winning percentage instead of total wins, which is the tiebreaker procedure that every other major sport in the country uses, Spokane would indeed with the tiebreaker over the Rattlers. Spokane's 10-2 record yields a .833 winning percentage, while Arizona's 11-3 record yields a .786 winning percentage.
Chaos broke loose when the Rattlers were beaten by the Chicago Rush in Week 18. The lead in the Western Division was cut to just one game over the Shock. It was then that the league removed the 'Z' from next to Arizona's name on the standings in the Western Division on the Rattlers' page, prompting everyone around the league to ask the question. The AFL's front page still shows a 'Y' next to Arizona's name in the Western Division, though obviously, whichever team wins the West will win the #1 overall seed and home field advantage in the National Conference playoffs.
Spokane has sought clarification from the league, according to both the Arizona Republic and the Spokesman-Review.
"It is my understanding that the competition committee has met this morning," Shock owner Brady Nelson stated in the Arizona Republic on Friday.
Nelson also told the Spokesman-Review, "The league bylaws say that you have to have 48 hours notice to have a binding meeting."
Emails sent on Friday to the league office have not been returned as of this hour. However, sources close to the situation have stated that the Board of Directors has convened and voted as to whether to continue using the original league-stated tiebreaker of total wins in games against common opponents, or to use winning percentage for that tiebreaker instead.
No announcement has been made by the league since the completion of the Spokane/Pittsburgh game.
Perhaps the most telling sign of confusion came straight from the top. For an article in the Arizona Republic, Richard Obert asked Commissioner Kurz whether the Rattlers had clinched the Western Division or not. Kurz responded, "Ask me that question after Saturday's game."
On the SWX broadcast out of Spokane, play-by-play man Greg Heister went so far as to suggest that there were shenanigans going on in the league office. He stated, "The league wants Arizona to win the championship."
On multiple occasions during the SWX broadcast, the playoff scenarios were referred to as "bizarre" and "unbelievable."
Once ArenaFan receives official word from the AFL as to what the situation is regarding the tiebreaker in the Western Division, we will update this report.