Sad Day for AFL, as San Jose, Arizona Separate Divisions
HONOLULU -- There is a point that all good things come to an end, and one of the best things that the Arena Football League ever had going for it came to an unavoidable end on Tuesday afternoon, as the AFL announced its new divisional alignment for the 2014 season. For the first time since the inception of the team, the San Jose SaberCats won't be playing in the same division with the Arizona Rattlers.
It was a necessarily evil here for the AFL, and I certainly don't blame the league for it. With the addition of the Portland AFL franchise and the Los Angeles KISS, the league essentially had to either go down to three divisions, split into two conferences, or separate into four divisions where geographically, it didn't make all that much sense to keep San Jose and Arizona together.
They elected to do the latter.
The Rattlers stay in the West Division, where they will be playing against the KISS and the San Antonio Talons, while San Jose is in the newly formed Pacific Division, where it will battle it out with the Spokane Shock and the new Portland team.
"That's akin to Arizona and Arizona State not being in the same conference," said Richard Obert of the Arizona Republic. "You lose significance to the greatest Arena Football rivalry today. It's sad."
In the American Conference, little changes. The Iowa Barnstormers moved from the now-defunct Central Division to the East Division to join the Cleveland Gladiators, Philadelphia Soul and Pittsburgh Power, while the South Division remains unchanged from last season.
Though the schedule will not be announced until at least later in the week, the format seems to be that you will play everyone in your own division three times. If that is the case, there will have to be other teams that the National Conference clubs will have to play against twice.
I hope for the sake of the AFL, they remember how important the San Jose/Arizona rivalry really is and let those teams both play a game against the other at home.
These two teams have played against each other 41 times in their history, the second longest running rivalry in the history of the AFL. All 41 of those games came as division opponents dating back to 1995. There have been two regular season meetings in each of those seasons when both teams were in the league. San Jose leads the all-time series 22-19.
One of these two teams has won all but two Western Division titles dating back to 1995 when the league split into divisions instead of conferences. The exceptions were in 2010 when San Jose wasn't in the league and the Shock beat out Arizona for the best mark in the West and in 2005 when the Los Angeles Avengers won their lone division title in franchise history.
On 10 different occasions, Arizona and San Jose finished first and second in the same season in the division race.
Though these two clubs will surely play against each other in 2014 at least once, the game(s) won't quite have that same sort of feeling of divisional duels. There are 10 times in the history of this rivalry when one team swept the other in the two regular season meetings. In five of those seasons, the sweep was the difference between one team winning the division or the other. Not surprisingly, in three of those seasons, that made the difference for which team was going to host the playoff game that the two would inevitably meet in, including at the 2003 ArenaBowl, where San Jose had to go on the road to claim its championship.