AFL, Butera take black eye by booting Las Vegas out of playoffs
For the first time in Arena Football League history, a team which has qualified for the postseason won't get the opportunity to play in it. The Las Vegas Outlaws were officially shut down by the AFL on Sunday, creating a massive storm in the National Conference playoff picture. Las Vegas, who rightfully qualified for the second season by finishing 5-12-1, will now cede its position to the Portland Thunder, who finished at 5-13.
The biggest problem the AFL runs into here is the fact that it made a liar out of brand new commissioner, Scott Butera. It was only two weeks ago that he told me in an exclusive ArenaFan interview that the Outlaws would be awarded a spot in the playoffs if they were to qualify after being awarded a tie for a canceled game with the New Orleans VooDoo, who also officially ceased operations on Sunday.
"We do award teams playoff positions based on winning percentage, so there was a way that we could do it without impacting the playoffs," said Butera.
Had the Outlaws played that canceled game against the VooDoo and lost, they would have also finished at 5-13 and would have lost a tiebreaker to Portland.
I challenged Butera on that thought when he gave me the whole winning percentage theory about awarding a team a playoff spot.
"It is what it is," the commissioner stated. "And teams will be awarded playoff spots based on their win percentage, and if somebody falls short or gets a benefit because they played one less game, that's the way it is."
But it didn't have to be that way.
I was on the record at the time stating that the league should have made the Outlaws ineligible for the playoffs immediately. Instead, the league played out the last few weeks of the season, continually printing playoff scenarios for how Las Vegas could get into the postseason. If the decision was made immediately, no one would have batted an eyelash at it. Put out a press release stating that no team without proper ownership will be eligible for the playoffs, and let it be known to all of the players, coaches and fans that that will be the case. Would it have stunk? Absolutely. But would it have been justifiable? Certainly.
Instead, the AFL strung us all along, holding to this story that the ownerless Outlaws could get into the playoffs until the bombshell dropped on Sunday to remove a deserving team from the second season.
With all due respect, you got this one wrong, Commissioner.
What are you telling the players who played and coaches who coached through 18 games and rightfully earned a spot in the second season? Sorry about your luck? Oh yes, and that paycheck you thought you were going to get for being in the playoffs? That might not happen either without a fight, at least if you listen to AFLPU Executive Director Ivan Soto.
And worse… The fans? I understand that there are more fans in Portland who are going to be happy to see their team play in the second season than there are upset fans in Las Vegas that their team is finished. But what do you tell those same fans if you get a prospective owner for 2016 or beyond? Mea culpa? That won't work.
The Arena Football League will never return to Las Vegas after this, and it'll be the third time since 2010 that the city of the league's headquarters has had its team either move or fold.
I completely understand the dilemma here, though. It costs money to pay the Outlaws players and coaches. It costs money to travel to San Jose and put players up in hotels. Las Vegas doesn't have any owner or ownership group to foot that bill, so the rest of the owners of the league will have to pay for it. Butera is a man who was brought into this league to clean up debts and past sins. Asking Terry Emmert to pay to bring his team from Portland to San Jose with a chance to win a championship is a lot more fiscally responsible than asking the 10 paying owners in the league to foot the bill for Las Vegas to go play in the second season, and perhaps even beyond that if a massive upset happens.
It makes all the sense in the world. But even when the 2013 Chicago Rush were homeless and ownerless, they were granted a chance to play for a championship in the playoffs.
Las Vegas won't get that opportunity.
So now, the black eyes continue. What if Portland – who, by the way, damn near won a game at the SAP Center just a month ago – happens to beat San Jose? Or even worse! Wins the ArenaBowl! It'll be the biggest black eye that the league ever receives. A 5-13 team which didn't qualify for the playoffs wins a championship. I'd guess that'd be a first in professional sports.
Of course, we know that it isn't going to play out that way. San Jose will be a three-touchdown favorite next week and will almost certainly waltz into the National Conference Championship Game without much opposition.
But that's not the point.
The essence of having a governing body is to make sure that rules are adhered to. Coming into this season, the rules as set forth by the AFL stated that all 12 teams would play 18 games, and the four top teams in each conference would get to play in the playoffs. Butera made it quite clear to me and the rest of the world that those rules about the playoffs were not going to change even with the cancelation of the Las Vegas/New Orleans game.
And then the rules changed, and they changed AFTER the conclusion of the regular season.
To quote one of our esteemed members and posters on our message board, VooDooNut, "Even the National Cat Juggling Association would have handled things better than this."
Let's remember if that Las Vegas/New Orleans game was played and the VooDoo had won, we wouldn't be having this discussion today. Let's also remember that had Butera made the decree immediately that any team without an owner is ineligible for the playoffs, we wouldn't be having the discussion either.
But here we are, five days before the start of the tournament to award the Foster Trophy for the 28th time in the history of the Arena Football League, and all we have is controversy to show for it.
Commissioner Butera could very well go on to be the greatest commissioner this league has ever seen, and he might be the man to right this ship after all, but there is no denying the fact that he will always be remembered as the man who was in charge when the 2015 playoffs were turned up into a laughable disaster.