AFL only has two options now: Outlaws must be banned from the playoffs or shut down
On Thursday night, the Arena Football League canceled the Week 18 game between the New Orleans VooDoo and the Las Vegas Outlaws. A statement made by the AFL really shed no light on why the game was being canceled, how the game was going to show up in the standings or what it was going to mean to the playoff picture. There are really only two resolutions at this point that the league can take, though. Either the ownerless Outlaws need to be shut down immediately, or they need to be barred from the postseason.
Las Vegas is sitting at 5-9 through 14 games of the season, and if the regular season ended today, it would be visiting the Arizona Rattlers in the first round of the playoffs as the National Conference's No. 3 seed.
Think it's unbelievable that the Outlaws could shock the three-time defending champs? Think again.
Had this debacle with this Week 18 game not played out this way, Las Vegas probably would have won at least one more game this year, and probably a second as well, whether that other win would have come this week at the Los Angeles KISS, in Week 19 at the Portland Thunder, or in Week 20 at home against the Spokane Shock. Seven wins will surely be enough to get into the postseason. Heck, six probably will the job done, too.
Of course, that schedule does happen to lend itself to a bit of luck. I know that the AFL won't have the fortitude to do this, but if the Outlaws were shut down right now, there would be no competitive disadvantage. Each of the other three potential playoff teams in the National Conference would be credited with the same result against Las Vegas, as they each play the Outlaws in the last month of the season.
Though it would be nice to avoid having to pay the costs for the Outlaws for the rest of the year, there would be no way that a team could ever play in Las Vegas again if the last four games of the season were canceled, and there would be black eyes to cover up for lost home games for the Thunder and the KISS.
So what is the league to do at this point if Las Vegas doesn't shut down operations immediately? Making the Outlaws ineligible for the postseason solves two problems. First off, it makes it so all of the competitive teams have the same number of games played and no one can cry foul that Las Vegas would have won or lost that game. Secondly, it removes any possibility of the other 10 owners to have to foot the bill to pay the Outlaws players, pay for them to travel, put them up in hotels, give them per diem, etc. in the event that they do make the playoffs.
The AFL has already had a similar case come up once before. The Chicago Rush, who were league-owned for essentially the entire 2013 season, were forced to play on the road in the playoffs in spite of the fact that they won the Central Division. They were eliminated by the Spokane Shock in the opening round of the postseason.
One interesting idea would be to just let three of the seven remaining teams in the National Conference get into the playoffs, giving the No. 1 seed a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
An even less conventional idea would be to let whichever one of the three teams in the American Conference that doesn't get into the playoffs "cross over" into the National Conference to take Las Vegas' spot.
More than likely though, if the Outlaws are booted from the postseason, two of the three of Portland, LA and Spokane will be allowed into the playoffs.
Competitively speaking, it just doesn't matter who plays Arizona or San Jose in the opening round of the playoffs. Yes, anything can happen on any given day in this wacky league, just when we saw Vegas beat Arizona or LA beat San Jose, but there isn't a person in the world who would bet against a SaberCats/Rattlers National Conference Championship Game right now.
If the league doesn't make Las Vegas ineligible for the playoffs, a whole new can of worms gets opened up. Imagine if you're Portland, Spokane or LA, and you're a half-game behind the Outlaws when the season is said and done with. Wouldn't you want Las Vegas to have to play that game against New Orleans to get into the playoffs rather than getting a free pass? Or what if you're the Outlaws and you needed that win over the VooDoo to get into the second season? Now, you've canceled a game which affects the integrity of the AFL.
At least if both the VooDoo and the Outlaws are ineligible for the playoffs, the cancelation of the Week 18 game can be deemed as a game which would have had no bearing on the competitive balance of the league.
The AFL has a history of making a debacle out of the playoffs, but in this case, there really is only one choice to be made. It might not be fair to the players and coaches who fought for five months under the common goal of winning the ArenaBowl, and it might not be fair to the fans in Las Vegas, but without an owner, the Outlaws should not be allowed to go to the playoffs, if they are allowed to continue at all.