2015 Women’s Football Playoff Preview
The 2015 women’s football playoffs begin this weekend (actually, they began last weekend, but we’ll get to that in a minute), so it’s time to preview the playoffs! Here are my previews of the playoff brackets in the three women’s football leagues.
2015 WFA Playoff Bracket
Here is the 2015 playoff bracket in the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA). It’s a 16-team bracket, broken down into four regions:
#1 Boston Renegades
#4 West Michigan Mayhem
#2 Chicago Force
#3 Cleveland Fusion
#1 D.C. Divas (moved into the Southeast Region by virtue of winning the Northeast’s Mid-Atlantic Division)
#4 Miami Fury
#2 Jacksonville Dixie Blues
#3 Atlanta Phoenix
#1 Dallas Elite
#4 St. Louis Slam
#2 Arlington Impact
#3 Kansas City Titans
#1 San Diego Surge
#3 Central Cal War Angels
#2 Seattle Majestics
#4 Tacoma Trauma
The National Conference championship will pit the Southeast against the Northeast. Home field advantage in the National Conference will go to the D.C. Divas should they make it there, otherwise it will go to the Northeast Region champ.
The American Conference championship will pit the Midwest against the Pacific regions. Home field advantage in the American Conference would go to the teams in the following order:
San Diego/Seattle/Central Cal
And of course, the National Conference champion and American Conference champion will square off in the WFA championship game held in Los Angeles, California.
2015 WFA Conference Quarterfinal Matchups
Here is a breakdown of the eight WFA conference quarterfinal games being held on Saturday:
Miami Fury @ D.C. Divas
The D.C. Divas and the Miami Fury are two of the three oldest franchises in the WFA. Three WFA teams – the Divas, the Fury, and the Austin Outlaws – are all celebrating their 15th anniversaries in 2015. This will be the first ever meeting between two of the most historic franchises in women’s football, and the first time in women’s football history that two teams – both with 15 years of experience – will oppose each other.
The Divas clinched their sixth undefeated regular season in team history this year and their first since 2009. They also locked up their 12th division title and their 12th playoff appearance, both women’s football records. The D.C. Divas secured home field advantage throughout the playoffs for the first time since 2006 with a 56-28 victory over their archrivals, the Boston Renegades, on the last week of the regular season.
As the last undefeated team in the East, the Divas are the #1 overall seed in the National Conference and are trying to break a five-year duopoly in the East held by Chicago and Boston. The Chicago Force and the Boston Militia have represented the East in the last five national championship games, and the Divas hope to become the first team other than Boston or Chicago to win the Eastern Conference since 2009. That year, the Divas advanced to the national title game by defeating the Militia in Boston, 27-21, on a kickoff return touchdown with under a minute to play.
The D.C. Divas are led by quarterback Allyson Hamlin, a ten-time All-American who led the WFA in passer rating in 2015, tossing 19 touchdown passes in six regular season contests without throwing a single interception. On June 13, Hamlin helped the Divas clinch home field advantage throughout the WFA playoffs with a tremendous 17 of 20, 331-yard, five-touchdown passing performance in the Divas’ 56-28 home victory over the Boston Renegades, a game in which she surpassed 200 passing touchdowns in her incredible career.
The D.C. offense has plenty of playmakers at Hamlin’s disposal. Kenyetta Grigsby, one of top running backs in women’s football history who has earned six straight first-team All-America selections, ranked seventh in the league in rushing yards (713). At wide receiver, the Divas have one of the top one-two combinations in women’s football with Ashley Whisonant and Kentrina Wilson. Both rank in the top ten in the league in receiving yards, with Whisonant fifth (492) and Wilson ninth (432). Defensively, the Divas’ linebacking corps of Tia Watkins, Cherre Marshall, and 17-year veteran Trigger McNair powers the top-ranked defense in the sport.
On the other side, the Miami Fury were outside of the playoff picture entirely going into the final weekend of play. They matched up against the Tampa Bay Inferno in their last regular season contest, taking the field against a Tampa Bay team that had beaten them earlier in the season, 21-13. Facing playoff elimination, the Fury came through with a dominating 26-0 victory that simultaneously propelled them into the playoffs and knocked Tampa Bay out of the postseason. The win also made the Miami Fury the South Atlantic Division champions; it is the third straight division title for the Fury and their fourth in the last five years.
The Fury will be making their third consecutive playoff appearance this season and their sixth playoff appearance in team history. Last season, they won the Southeast Region championship and claimed their first playoff victory in franchise history with a 9-7 win over the Atlanta Phoenix. That win over Atlanta avenged a 28-24 playoff loss Miami suffered to the Phoenix the year before.
Offensively, the Fury are led by running back Ronkia Toombs. Toombs, a veteran of women’s football, has rushed for over 1,500 yards the past three seasons with 21 rushing touchdowns. Those are strong numbers in the Southeast Region, where teams typically win with strong defenses. Toombs has also gained 382 yards and four touchdowns receiving over the past three years, along with two kick return touchdowns. She was named a first-team WFA All-American this season for her efforts.
The strength of the Miami team, however, lies on the defensive side of the ball. Six members of the Fury were honored as All-Americans this season, although only one – defensive end Danitra Rogers – was a first-team honoree. Miami is ranked fifth in the WFA in scoring defense, allowing opponents an average of under ten points per game this season.
In full disclosure, I am the VP of Communications for the D.C. Divas, and I have a real affinity for their players and organization. As a staff member of a WFA team, I’m not going to be making a prediction on this game, but it should be a fun matchup between two historic franchises.
Atlanta Phoenix @ Jacksonville Dixie Blues
This is one of two playoff games this week that rematches two teams who faced each other on the final week of the regular season. On June 13 in Jacksonville, the Phoenix clinched their spot in the playoffs with a 13-6 victory over the Dixie Blues. Two weeks later, they’ll play it again…this time for the Southeast Region title.
It’s the tenth playoff appearance in franchise history for the Jacksonville Dixie Blues, but their first since 2012. Jacksonville is seeking its first Southeast Region championship since the Dixie Blues defeated the Atlanta Phoenix in the 2012 WFA playoffs by a 49-41 score.
The Dixie Blues are seventh in WFA in scoring defense, allowing an average of under 12 points per game. Jacksonville cornerback Jackie Huffman leads the league with eight interceptions on the year.
On the other side, Atlanta will be playing in their fourth straight Southeast Region championship game. As mentioned, Atlanta lost to Jacksonville in the Southeast Region title game in 2012, but they bounced back to win their first regional championship in 2013 over the Miami Fury, 28-24. They made their third appearance in the Southeast Region title game in 2014, but they fell to Miami Fury last year by a 9-7 score.
As is the case with all three Southeast playoff teams, defense is Atlanta’s strength. Defensive end Amanda Lewis leads the WFA in sacks (10) and is second in fumble recoveries (four). Lewis also ranks in the top ten in the league in tackles for loss (17).
This game is expected to be the biggest tossup of the weekend. It features Jacksonville, who dominated in the Southeast for about a decade but who fell off after 2012, trying to recapture their regional throne. But to do so, they need to unseat the Atlanta Phoenix, who replaced Jacksonville as the region’s dominant team when the Dixie Blues took a step back the past few years. Jacksonville has been tabbed as a six-point favorite…it should be an outstanding game.
West Michigan Mayhem @ Boston Renegades
The Boston Renegades were the story of the women’s football offseason. The sport’s reigning dynasty, the Boston Militia, abruptly folded on the eve of training camp. Several elite players and coaches from that franchise who were seemingly left stranded by the move quickly reorganized into the Boston Renegades.
While expansion teams in most sports usually suffer through a difficult adjustment process, women’s football is a different animal. Despite being a first-year team, the Renegades were immediately stocked with a core of players who had helped the now-defunct Militia capture three national titles in five years. The Renegades were instantly established as a championship contender, and in their first year, they captured the top seed in Northeast Region. They did so thanks to narrow, dramatic road wins over the Cleveland Fusion (24-20) and the Chicago Force (30-24 in OT), the second- and third-seeded teams in this region.
The Renegades are a talented team with 12 All-Americans, the most in the WFA this season. They are led by All-American Allison Cahill at quarterback, who ranks ninth in the WFA in passing yards (936). Her favorite receiving target is two-time IFAF gold medal winner Adrienne Smith, who is tenth in WFA with 424 receiving yards. In the running game, the Renegades suffered a huge blow when they lost Whitney Zelee, their record-setting running back, to a season-ending injury, but they have brought in the talented Stacey Tiamfook from New Jersey to fill those shoes. Not to be overlooked, the Renegades’ strong defense – led by linebacker Jennifer Dulski, the former standout with the Chicago Force and Pittsburgh Passion – ranks third in the WFA this season.
On the other side, let’s give it up for the West Michigan Mayhem. West Michigan may not immediately leap to mind when listing off the great enduring organizations in women’s football, but that would be an oversight. The Mayhem are impressively making their tenth playoff appearance in franchise history this year. They sealed up their spot by bookending losses to playoff teams Chicago and Cleveland with a six-game winning streak in the middle of the season.
Heather Anderson ranks ninth in the WFA in rushing yards (655) to power the West Michigan offense. But defense is the Mayhem’s real strength, thanks to linebackers Jennifer Plummer – who leads WFA in tackles (105) – and Ashley Andrews, who ranks third in the league in that category (76).
The Renegades are heavy favorites to win their first playoff game in the history of their new franchise. And surely they are excited to host West Michigan at Dilboy Stadium…it will be Boston’s first home game since May 2.
Cleveland Fusion @ Chicago Force
I love all of these playoff games, but man…this should be a good one.
If you ask me, the Chicago Force are the sneakiest team in this year’s playoffs. I haven’t heard as many people mentioning Chicago as a title contender as I have in the past, and that’s a big mistake if you ask me. With a very strong coaching staff and a roster littered with gold medal winners, I wouldn’t sleep on Chicago, as they say.
The Chicago Force are making their 12th playoff appearance in team history, tied with D.C. Divas for the most in women’s football all-time. The 2013 WFA champions have outscored their opponents 478-52 this season, and only an overtime loss to Boston kept them from the #1 seed in the region.
Chicago boasts the #2 scoring offense in the league behind the Dallas Elite. The Force are led by former Seattle Majestics star quarterback Rachel Gore, one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks ever. Gore ranks second in the league in passer rating and passing yards (1701). Impressively, Gore also ranks in the WFA’s top ten in rushing yards (660).
Gore has two elite targets to throw to when she drops back to pass in Jeanette Gray and west coast transplant Jamie Fornal. Gray has been a star for years and is having another great season, placing sixth in the league in receiving yards (472). The addition of Fornal – an experienced player with the Majestics and Central Cal War Angels – has given Chicago another weapon; Fornal ranks just outside the league’s top ten in receiving yards (414).
One of the top acquisitions of the offseason involved Cassey Brick, who was the MVP of the 2012 national title game for the San Diego Surge when they defeated the Chicago Force. Brick is now on the Chicago sidelines, and despite muddling through some injuries this year, she remains one of the top running backs in the game. She’s also been a solid receiving threat, ranking eighth in the WFA in receiving yards (442), and she’s a special teams standout who leads the league in punt return yardage (239).
Meanwhile, Chicago’s third-ranked scoring defense has several standouts. Defensive end Angel Smith is second in the league in tackles for loss (20), while fellow defensive end Kim Marks ranks eighth in that category (16). Linebacker Sarah Rogers placed fifth in the league in sacks (six), and fellow linebacker Kelsey Casey earned first-team All-America honors.
The Chicago Force are a legitimate national title contender, but on the other hand, it would not be completely stunning if they didn’t even get out of the first round. That’s no disrespect to Chicago but simply an acknowledgment that the Cleveland Fusion have had a breakout season. Cleveland is making their eighth playoff appearance in team history after what may have been their strongest season yet.
The Cleveland Fusion showed they were serious conference title contenders by going toe-to-toe with Boston before falling, 24-20. In case anyone might think their performance was a fluke, the Fusion followed that up with an admirable performance, even in defeat, on the road against the overall #1 seed D.C. Divas. Despite the 27-7 loss, the Fusion shut the Divas out in the second half, the only team to do that to D.C. all season. Cleveland’s remarkable showing this year puts them in the conversation with the top contenders in the National Conference.
Cleveland leans on two quarterbacks, Beth Andrasik and Keri Palma, both of whom are talented and who bring different skills to the table. These quarterbacks were bolstered by a breakout year for wide receiver Maria Jackson. If you list the top wide receivers in the game – Gray, Fornal, Whisonant, Wilson, Smith, King, Sowers – you need to include Maria Jackson on that list. Jackson led the WFA in catches (53) and receiving yards (890) this year. And with 317 receiving yards, Cleveland’s Kanisha Coward is a fine wide receiver as well.
At running back, the Fusion’s Mercedes Ephraim was narrowly edged out for the 2015 WFA rushing title by Priscilla Gardner of the Pacific Warriors, but Ephraim still tallied a remarkable 1,326 rushing yards this season. Ephraim has established herself among the top running backs in women’s football.
Defensively, Cleveland has the #2 defense in the league, powered by linebacker Veronica Rucker. Rucker ranks second in WFA in tackles (83) and tops the league in tackles for loss (21.5). She is a disruptive force for a standout defense.
This serves as one of the most anticipated contests of the weekend. These two teams met in a 2013 playoff game, and Chicago obliterated Cleveland, 65-7, en route to the national title. But Chicago has been pegged as just an eight-point favorite on Saturday, and it should be a much more entertaining and competitive contest this time around.
St. Louis Slam @ Dallas Elite
Like the Boston Renegades, the Dallas Elite are an expansion team in name only. Stocked with former members of the legendary four-time national champion Dallas Diamonds, the Dallas Elite clinched the #1 seed throughout the WFA playoffs in the American Conference.
Dallas obliterated their opponents by a combined 449-12 score this season. As such, the Elite have the top-ranked scoring offense and top-ranked scoring defense in the sport this year.
The Elite are quarterbacked by Jessica Gerhart, who ranks fourth in the WFA in passer rating and eighth in passing yards (983). At their other skill positions, the Elite are so deep and so talented that few players at running back or wide receiver compiled eye-popping stats. Still, Tiffany Hill at running back and Brittany Satterwhite at wide receiver are All-American caliber, while veteran Alberta Brydson is a long-time standout and a two-time gold medal winner at the IFAF Women’s World Championships.
On the other side, the St. Louis Slam are back from a one-year hiatus and had an outstanding bounce-back year. The inaugural 2009 WFA champions are making their eighth playoff appearance in team history. Quarterback Jelani Kelly ranks just outside of the league’s top ten in passing yards (775), but the focal point of the offense is Taylor Hay at running back. Hay, who was a thousand-yard rusher last year for the Kansas City Titans while the Slam were on hiatus, has helped resurrect the Slam and ranks fourth in the WFA in rushing yards (817) this season.
This will be a tough task for St. Louis…Dallas has been dominant everywhere and will be tough to take out at home. And it’s a long trip for St. Louis as well. But no matter how the game goes, it has been a great comeback year for women’s football in both towns.
Kansas City Titans @ Arlington Impact
In their first year in the WFA, the Arlington Impact have proven to be one of the South’s top women’s football teams. This is Arlington’s fourth straight winning season, but now they are trying to win seven games for the first time in team history.
Marquita Williams takes the snaps under center for the Impact. However, it’s Charnika Foster, an All-American running back, who powers one of the top ten scoring offenses in the league. Defensively, safety Nikita Johnson leads the team in tackles by a comfortable margin, an impressive feat for anyone at the safety position.
On the other side, the Kansas City Titans, as they have been for years, are powered by the remarkable Sowers twins. The Sowers tandem gives Kansas City one of the top passing offenses in the entire league. Katie Sowers at quarterback ranks fourth in the WFA in passing yards (1235). Her favorite target is her sister, Liz Sowers, who is second in the league in receiving yards (791).
Like St. Louis, Kansas City faces a long, tough trip down to central Texas. Arlington is comfortably favored, but if Kansas City can make the trip at full strength, they can make this game interesting. Kansas City has faced tough opponents all year long, including Chicago, Dallas, and St. Louis twice. They’ve seen playoff caliber opposition before, and I think they’ll be ready for what should be a fun game to watch.
Tacoma Trauma @ Seattle Majestics
Okay, so I’ll start with a retraction…the league-approved playoff structure had the four playoff teams from the Pacific Region split into the top two teams in the Pacific Northwest and the top two teams in the Pacific South. Just days before the WFA season began, the Utah Falconz – who were expected to be a serious playoff contender and a team slotted into the Pacific Northwest – bolted the league for the IWFL. At that point, the possibility was raised of just taking the top four teams in the Pacific Region rather than two from the North and two from the South. Apparently, while that possibility was discussed, it was never formally adopted. I was under the false impression that the league was just going to take the top four teams in the Pacific Region, rather than two from each sub-region. I’ll take the blame for that one…I am sorry about that.
Because the league took two teams from each sub-region rather than just the top four overall in the Pacific, it allowed the Tacoma Trauma (the region’s overall #5, but the #2 Pacific Northwest team) to lock up a playoff spot over the Pacific Warriors (the region’s overall #4, but the #3 team in the Pacific South). That’s why you now have the wacky #1 vs. #3, #2 vs. #4 seeding configuration in the Pacific Region that is unlike the other three regions.
Before we go any further, a shout out to the Pacific Warriors…they were one of my favorite teams this season, and what Coach Bobby Hosea did with them after bringing them back from a one-year absence was commendable. They’re also technically the host team for the WFA championship being held in Los Angeles as well, and I applaud the season they had.
But the Tacoma Trauma had quite a Cinderella season of their own. The Trauma had a 1-15 record over the past two years, mostly just serving as competition for the true contenders. But this season, they came from out of nowhere with a 7-1 record, an amazing and impressive breakout year for Tacoma.
On the other side, the Seattle Majestics resumed their typically dominant ways. They went 8-0, one of three undefeated teams in the regular season this year along with the D.C. Divas and the Dallas Elite. It was the seventh undefeated regular season in the Majestics’ storied history. They dominated teams in the Pacific Northwest, outscoring their opponents, 395-30.
Despite the losses of Gore and Fornal to Chicago, the Majestics bounced back to rank fifth in the league in scoring offense. They were led by quarterback Rachel Woods, who was third in the WFA in passing yards (1259). Her top receiving target was tight end Tessla Rennie; Rennie ranked fourth in the WFA in receiving yards (508). Wide receiver Chris Hernandez paired nicely with Rennie in the passing game, placing tenth in the WFA in receptions (24). The running attack was led by Kalena Firstrider, who placed fifth in the WFA in rushing yards (802).
The Majestics also feature the second-ranked scoring defense in the league, allowing under four points per contest. Defensive back McKenzie Tolliver ranks third in the league with five interceptions, as does Hernandez, who made her mark as a two-way player. Defensive tackles Kase Tukutau and Tara Shively clog up the opposing running game, while All-American Holly Custis guides the Seattle linebackers. Cornerback Jackie McCall not only leads the league in pass deflections (11), she is also a talented punt returner, ranking fifth in the WFA in punt return yardage (182).
By the way, here’s an interesting note…the Seattle Majestics started out as the Tacoma Majestics from 2002-2005 before moving north and leaving that territory free for the creation of the Trauma. As such, it’s kind of quirky for longtime women’s football fans to see Tacoma facing the Majestics in a playoff game.
As a fan of competitive women’s football, however, I think it’s unfortunate that the Pacific Region was divided into sub-regions rather than simply taking the top four teams. It’s an understandable and defensible structure from a travel standpoint, as it really does cut down on travel distances. However, a top four structure in the Pacific Region would have pitted Seattle vs. the Central Cal War Angels, a team Seattle survived in last year’s WFA playoffs by a single point. Instead, we get to see Seattle rematch with a Tacoma team they defeated by thirty points just last month. I can pretty confidently say that most fans would rather watch the rematch of a one-point playoff game from last year than a thirty-point blowout a month ago.
Now, sometimes competitive games like that need to be sacrificed due to financial constraints. And who knows, maybe Tacoma gives them a better game this time around, and for the sake of the sport, I hope they do. Of course, while most fans would rather see a competitive game for Seattle, I’m sure the Majestics much prefer a first-round playoff game in which they’re overwhelming favorites. Careful what you wish for, however…I have a sneaking suspicion the Majestics are going to get a cruel wake-up call when they are forced to venture outside of the Pacific Northwest. However, thanks to the WFA playoff structure this year, Seattle gets to remain insulated for one more game.
Central Cal War Angels @ San Diego Surge
Wow…who saw this coming? Like the Jacksonville-Atlanta game, this contest is a rematch of a game played in the last week of the regular season. That June 13 game, stunningly, saw the Central Cal War Angels upset the San Diego Surge, 23-14. Some have apparently called that win by Central Cal the biggest upset in WFA history. I’m not sure if I agree, and it’s all subjective, since I don’t really keep track of games that are considered big upsets. But I can see why an observer would call it as big an upset as we’ve seen in recent memory.
All the Surge needed to do on June 13 was bring home a straight up win over Central Cal to secure the #1 seed in the American Conference and home field throughout the WFA playoffs. With the WFA championship game being played in Los Angeles, it would have afforded San Diego as favorable a travel schedule as you could ever hope for.
San Diego was widely expected to beat Central Cal…after all, they had a 38-1 regular season record over the past five years going into the game. Furthermore, they had already played and beaten Central Cal earlier in the year by forty points! Needless to say, San Diego’s unexpected loss sent shockwaves throughout the league.
That’s not to minimize Central Cal’s ability to pull off that victory. Central Cal is perennially one of the top teams in the Pacific Region, and they are the only American Conference team to defeat the San Diego Surge in a playoff game, which they accomplished back in 2013. But I just don’t think anyone expected San Diego to lose with so much on the line. Because of that loss, San Diego dropped to the #2 seed in the conference and will be forced to go to Texas for the American Conference title game should they and the Dallas Elite – the top two seeds in the conference – advance that far.
As it turned out, Central Cal had a lot on the line, too. Because the playoff bracket only allotted two teams from the Pacific South, Central Cal needed a good showing to secure a playoff bid over the Pacific Warriors. Central Cal, in dramatic, improbable fashion, got the win they needed to clinch a playoff spot. Their reward for that victory is a chance to face the Surge all over again…this time in San Diego in an elimination playoff game.
Most observers would say that despite their upset loss, San Diego is still in the driver’s seat. The Surge have championship pedigree, having won three of the last four American Conference championships. They feature the #3-ranked scoring offense in the WFA, an offense littered with stars. San Diego is led at quarterback by longtime star Melissa Gallegos, who ranks fifth in the league in passing yards (1205).
Like Dallas, the Surge are so deep at running back and wide receiver that no single player dominates statistically. The best-known name in the San Diego backfield is the legendary Jessica Springer, one of the best running backs in women’s football history and a former star for the Dallas Diamonds and Chicago Force. But Alexis Snyder actually leads the team in rushing yards (422), and top wideout Deana Guidry is both a rushing and receiving threat, leading the team with 623 combined yards on the ground and through the air.
Defensively, the Surge are paced by cornerback Kesia Williams, who leads the league with eight interceptions this season. Defensive tackle Knengi Martin has added 12 tackles for loss this season, while linebacker Katrina Walter joined Williams as a first-team All-American for the San Diego defense.
On the other side, the Central Cal War Angels based out of Fresno, California, feature the top passing offense in the WFA. They are powered by quarterback Chantel Nino Wiggins, who leads the WFA in passing yards (1852). But running back Destanie Yarbrough provides balance to the offense, ranking third in the WFA in rushing yardage (906).
Nino Wiggins spreads the ball out to maybe the deepest pool of receivers in the league. Four different Central Cal wideouts rank in the top 20 in the league in catches, plus Yarbrough does as well. That means five of the top 20 players in the WFA in receptions all play on the same team in Central Cal. Lisa King, the co-owner of the WFA, leads the team and ranks third in the league in receiving yards (629), while fellow wide receiver Michelle Simmons ranks seventh in receiving yards (447) and third in receptions (33).
Like the Chicago Force, I could see San Diego advancing to the national title game, but on the other hand, I wouldn’t be completely shocked if they were defeated in the first round. Honestly, how could you be, with Central Cal having beaten the Surge just days ago?
Still, most would predict San Diego to win this one, especially now that Central Cal’s costly upset win got their attention. The Surge will be vying for a little revenge and to make a statement that they are still top title contenders, despite the June 13 loss. Throw in the fact that they’ve never lost a home game in their five-year history, and it’s hard to pick against them.
Central Cal is probably unfazed by that, though…few were picking them to win on June 13, either. The War Angels will come out ready to try and prove that their win wasn’t a fluke, and the fact that they defeated the Surge a mere two weeks ago proves that they have to be taken seriously as a team with a real shot to take out the reigning West champ.
2015 IWFL Playoff Bracket
Now we move on to the Independent Women’s Football League (IWFL), and their playoff bracket is, quite simply, a complete and total mess. But before elaborating on that, take a look at it yourself.
The IWFL bracket is a ten-team bracket, with five teams per conference (four division winners and one wild card). The two conference quarterfinal games were actually played last weekend on June 20, so here is the remaining eight-team bracket:
New York Sharks
Carolina Queens (courtesy of a 20-6 victory over the Toledo Reign)
Utah Falconz (courtesy of a 63-0 victory over the Rocky Mountain Thunderkatz)
2015 IWFL Playoff Bracket Analysis (AKA Stop the Insanity)
I teed off on the league’s playoff setup on a private Facebook message board, earning the eternal enmity of IWFL COO Kezia Disney (assuming I hadn’t earned that already, and I’m guessing I had). A lot of the commentary coming next is just repurposed from that conversation…but tellingly, Disney and the rest of the IWFL brass didn’t even attempt to refute any of it. That’s pretty much all you need to know.
This bracket is a complete and total mess. Point blank, there are two ways to set up a playoff structure. You can come up with a structure that is agreed upon and understood before the season by the public and member teams, which is how every reputable pro league in America does things. This is also what the WFA at least attempts to do…some years with more success than others. I truly appreciate the attempt, though. While this objective method occasionally leads to head-scratching final outcomes (like Tacoma making the playoffs over Pacific, as outlined above), at least there’s an understandable logic to why it happens.
Then there’s the other way…let’s call it the subjective way. This method consists of waiting until the end of the season and then just letting your co-commissioners create whatever the heck playoff structure they feel like and assign the matchups and seedings however they wish. That’s the IWFL way. Make up the playoff system at the last minute however the mood strikes you, with no rhyme or reason to it, and then try to find a way to retroactively justify what you’ve done.
Back in simpler times, the IWFL had a “division-champions only” playoff structure every year from 2011-2013. Four divisions a conference, division champs only to create an eight-team playoff. Easy peasy. While there was still controversy over who exactly was a division champion, it made a certain amount of sense.
Then there was the Keystone-Pittsburgh fiasco last year. The IWFL had to alter its playoff structure at the last minute to account for the fact that two teams sharing the same division – the Pittsburgh Passion and Keystone Assault – were both destined to go 8-0, thanks to the fact that these heated division rivals didn’t even play each other. A “division champs only” structure wouldn’t work, what with two undefeated teams in the same division and all. Suffice it to say, the IWFL changed their playoff structure at the last minute to let both teams in. A lot more to that story, but that’s a topic for another day.
Anyway, this year, the IWFL was back to four divisions per conference. The league never published a potential playoff structure, but several IWFL teams published their schedules on their websites and listed the playoff dates for the IWFL’s conference semifinal round, conference championship games, and the IWFL league championship game. Not one IWFL team – not a single solitary one – ever included the possibility of a June 20 conference quarterfinal game on their projected schedule. Not one. Because of that, there was absolutely no reason to believe that a non-division winner would make the playoffs, given that that hadn’t happened in the IWFL since 2010.
Lo and behold, the regular season ends and two conference quarterfinal games magically appear in the IWFL playoff structure, with two teams making the playoffs as wild cards. So now we’re going to act like this was the plan the entire time? Please. This was something clearly instituted by the league at the last minute, for heaven only knows why.
Let’s break down the idiocy of the above bracket, and let’s start with the two wild card teams. In the west, why include the Rocky Mountain Thunderkatz at all? Didn’t this 5-2 team already get shelled by the Falconz earlier in the year (not to mention a blowout loss to the 4-3 Nebraska Stampede)? If you’re going to let them into the Western Conference playoffs, why not also let in Austin, given that they went 4-2 with two losses to Houston and at least gave the undefeated Energy a game in a 14-12 loss? Or how about the 6-2 Minnesota Vixen, the only team to hand a Western Conference division champion a loss this year when they beat the Madison Blaze?
The Eastern Conference wild card team is even more of a head-scratcher. The Carolina Queens made it, despite two shutout losses to the division champion Carolina Phoenix. Meanwhile, the 5-2 Montreal Blitz and 6-2 Philadelphia Firebirds both got snubbed despite playing vastly superior schedules, including games against easily the two toughest teams in the East (Pittsburgh and New York).
Now let’s move on to the seedings of these teams. In the West, the 8-0 Utah Falconz were pegged to host a conference semifinal game against the 8-0 Sacramento Sirens. Why does Utah get to host, you ask? That’s the ever-loving point…nobody knows why. No reason has ever been given. It’s like the co-heads of the IWFL just woke up on Sunday morning and said, “Eh…let Utah host it.” I’m not even joking…I honestly think that’s how the decision was made.
This decision to seed Utah ahead of Sacramento has drawn a lot of criticism (well, at least in Sacramento!) Probably the most criticism the IWFL has received over their playoff bracket has been over the Utah-Sacramento seeding. Ironically, I’m not convinced it was the wrong decision – if you compare both teams’ schedules and results, I’d strongly argue Utah should, in fact, host. But that’s the point…no one should be “deciding” it that way. The decision about home field advantage should be made on the basis of objective criteria spelled out to everyone beforehand – Massey ratings, fewest points allowed, largest margin of victory, largest margin of victory over common opponents – something. Anything.
This decision, conversely, appears to have been made on a whim, which obviously opens the league up to charges of favoritism. Remember, the Falconz – up until three days before the start of the season – were members of the WFA before defecting for the IWFL. Is it out of the realm of possibility that the IWFL is merely rewarding Utah with home field advantage for their sudden, public defection? That’s probably unfair to Utah (who, again, I think had the better season than Sacramento), but can you really rule it out? Those are the questions that come up when seedings are the result of executive decisions and not based on objective merit.
If the Sacramento-Utah home field decision was made on the basis of objective criteria, no one really knows what that criteria was. We’re simply left to guess, and because the IWFL didn’t state their criteria beforehand, any justification the IWFL might give now would still make it look like they just subjectively chose Utah and then reverse-engineered and justified their decision with objective criteria after the fact.
One last example of how the Western Conference seedings in the IWFL are completely arbitrary: let’s say both West home teams – Houston and Utah – win this weekend. Who hosts the Western Conference title game? That’s right…as of this moment, no one has any idea. My guess is that the IWFL will do what they did when they created the bracket…wake up Sunday morning and flip a coin. Or see which team owner pays them the bigger favor. Either way.
While we’re on the subject of seedings, the Eastern Conference is no better. The Pittsburgh Passion are clearly the #1 seed in the East as the conference’s only undefeated team. Toledo was the worst division winner by record and forced to play conference’s wild card team, the Carolina Queens. The Queens beat Toledo…and now they get to play the Carolina Phoenix in the conference semifinal round.
Doesn’t it make sense for the worst division champ vs. wild card winner to play the #1 seed in the East? I mean, there’s a reason Toledo and the Queens were playing in the quarterfinal game and not New York or the Carolina Phoenix, right?
But instead of having Pittsburgh play the Toledo-Queens winner or even the Carolina Phoenix (who lost to the Passion, 41-6), you match the #1 overall seed against the New York Sharks in the semifinals, even though the Sharks are the only team this year to stay within 35 points of Pittsburgh and a team that lost to them by a 21-14 score a mere three weeks ago! Meanwhile, the Carolina Phoenix get to coast into the conference title game by playing a team they beat twice already this year rather than a Sharks team that bounced them from the playoffs last year, 60-12.
Long story short, the IWFL in the Eastern Conference subjectively decided to pit the #1 seed against the #2 seed in the conference semifinals. Why? As always, who knows.
1) The conference quarterfinal round (and the addition of one wild card playoff team per conference) seems like it was created at the last minute,
2) The choice of both wild card teams was questionable at best,
3) The matchups in the East make absolutely no sense, and
4) The seedings in the West look completely arbitrary, to the point where we don’t even know who’s hosting the Western Conference championship game should the favorites win this weekend.
But other than that, great job, IWFL.
A Failure of Leadership
At the beginning of this rant, I mentioned that there is an objective and a subjective method to creating a playoff structure. The biggest benefit of the subjective method is that you get to wait until the end of the regular season to craft your playoff structure, which means that you can account for variables which may not be apparent at the beginning of the year. That’s the advantage the IWFL had this year. But if you’re going to wait until the end of the regular season to create your playoff structure…why in the world would you create that one?
The downside of the subjective playoff method, however, is that you have to have total faith in the powers that be to ultimately create a fair and equitable system. The downside is that it opens you up to charges of favoritism and rampant abuse of power if you create an absurd bracket. That’s the downside, and the IWFL is living in it.
Here’s the real truth…the IWFL isn’t even going to attempt to stand up and defend these decisions. They’ll sweep it under the rug and wait for it to die down. They’ll pretend that their lack of defense is because they’re staying above the fray and not “lowering themselves to the critics’ level”, somehow…the level where people expect answers for biased and irrational decisions. They’ll put on a public front that, as commissioners of the most stable and respected women’s pro-tackle football league in the world (ummm…okay), they don’t engage in such discourse with simple, uneducated fans.
But the honest truth is that they won’t defend their choices because they’re completely indefensible. Maybe they’ll do better next year…maybe they’ll see the error of their ways and pledge to improve. I truly hope so. But the first step to fixing a problem is admitting there is one, and it’s pretty telling that such an acknowledgment just isn’t happening in the IWFL. When the arrogance and ignorance runs this thick, it’s hard to imagine a serious effort to change. After all, they’ve been at this for 15 years, and they are still having these issues? At some point, tigers, stripes, etc.
So you can see pretty quickly why I’ll never be on Kezia Disney’s Christmas card list…pretty sure I was never making that list anyway. She had no direct response to this mess, choosing instead to ignore the merits of my perfectly logical arguments and instead alluding to me as a “sexist idiot” on Facebook. Because, of course, when a man brings up very valid points about the absurdity of your playoff structure, it must be because he’s a sexist and hates women. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
See, in Kezia’s world, it’s instinctive for sexists to volunteer hours and hours of their free time writing about and bringing exposure to women’s football…all for free, no pay, but out of their love for female athletes. That, clearly, is just a diversion to hide a deep-seated bias against women, because it’s perfectly natural for someone to dedicate a substantial portion of their life trying to help people they secretly hate. That’s a very clever ruse…so clever I don’t think anyone would have thought it made any logical sense whatsoever until Kezia laid it all out for us.
I’ve been a commentator on women’s football for three years now, and I’ve had multiple conversations with WFA owner Lisa King about the state of the sport. I never saw eye-to-eye with Randall Fields, the former head of the WSFL, but we certainly had an open line of dialogue. And the current commissioner of the WSFL, Mary Butler, actually sought me out and contacted me shortly after she bought the league, and I’ve had a number of very good conversations with her as well.
As for Disney and Laurie Frederick (Disney’s partner and the IWFL’s co-founder and CEO)? I’ve been at this three years, and this is literally my first contact with either of them. Ever. I was told by multiple people from all across the country never to expect them to initiate any contact with me, either, despite the fact that I’ve been constantly writing about the IWFL and the rest of women’s football for years. There’s a reason for that lack of communication, too, and as you can probably already discern, it does in fact involve a culture of rampant, blatant sexism on the part of one of us. Yet I’ve digressed enough from the topic of women’s playoff football at the moment that I should probably save that for another day.
Last word on this…I swear I don’t go around trying to make enemies with people like Kezia. But sadly, there are some people in women’s football try to gain an advantage by misleading the public. They prey on people’s ignorance and the fact that this sport has virtually no media coverage, and they use that to either gain a PR advantage or to take shortcuts on how a legitimate sports enterprise should be run.
I call people out on that stuff…not because I want attention and certainly not because I suffer from some kind of Messiah complex. I love women’s football, and I want to see it thrive. One of the ways to allow it to thrive and grow the fanbase of this sport is by making the sport accessible to the public at large, giving casual fans an opportunity to easily follow and understand what’s happening within the sport. Think about it…no one is going to become a fan of a sport they can’t follow and where they don’t understand what’s going on. That, I feel, has always been my role in all this. And because of that, you can see why I’m diametrically opposed to those who try to obfuscate the public for their own personal gain and who fail to conduct themselves in a professional, straightforward way that can be clearly conveyed to the public.
Just as a quick example, the IWFL is the #2 league in women’s football, and it has been for the past five years. That wasn’t the case before 2010, and it may not be the case in the future, but that’s the truth right now. The IWFL is the clear #2 league in women’s football, both in the quantity and, probably more importantly, the quality of the teams within it. I need to tell casual fans this, because it’s important they understand the hierarchy within the sport. But obviously, you can see why the IWFL (and many of their supporters) doesn’t want me broadcasting that, especially when they’re telling every media outlet they can find the exact opposite. So I’m at a crossroads…I have to either suppress the truth or anger some people. There’s no middle ground. What would you do? Personally, I’ve always leaned toward honesty…call it a flaw.
As a result, some people will get upset with me, even when I’m not even baiting them into it. I tell the truth and certain people are bound to get angry with me…not because what I’m saying it’s untrue (you’ll note that they never, ever offer to engage in a civil conversation with me and debate me on the merits of my statements), but because, while they know what I’m saying is true, they really don’t want anyone to point these things out!
In summary, I’m trying to use my role as a women’s football writer and commentator to educate women’s football fans, make the sport more accessible to casual fans, and hopefully help grow the fanbase of the sport overall so women’s football can one day become a niche mainstream sport. But those efforts make me the enemy of those who leverage public ignorance of the sport to their personal advantage.
At the end of the day, I take comfort in Winston Churchill’s quote, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” (For the record, I think that’s simplistic…that’s not the only reason a person might have enemies. It’s one reason, though, and I’m pretty sure it’s the origin of most of mine.)
2015 IWFL Conference Semifinal Matchups
Anyway, let’s get back on topic. The IWFL playoff structure is completely moronic, but let’s take a look at the four upcoming games anyway, just for kicks.
New York Sharks @ Pittsburgh Passion
This game between the two best Eastern Conference teams this season will probably decide the IWFL’s East representative in the league title game. The New York Sharks have been the only team to make the Pittsburgh Passion break a sweat since, well, probably since their debut in the IWFL. The Passion beat the Carolina Phoenix in their IWFL opener last season, 29-6. Since then, no team has been able to stay within 30 points of the Passion…except the Sharks, who have done so all five times these two teams have played the past two years. Yet it’s worth noting that the Passion have emerged victorious in all five of those games, and until that changes, you can’t really pick against them. Pittsburgh should win this game and continue to roll through their IWFL competition like a steamroller, but New York will likely make them work for it, at least.
Carolina Queens @ Carolina Phoenix
The Carolina Phoenix won their two regular season meetings against the Queens by a combined 42-0 score. That brings us to a simple truth of football, kids – if you can’t score, you can’t win…the best you can do is tie. I’d say that makes the Phoenix a sound bet to rule the Carolinas and waltz into the conference championship game.
Madison Blaze @ Houston Energy
This game, by rights, should have been compelling…after all, no team from Houston’s neighborhood played any team from Madison’s neighborhood this year. So not only can you not compare Houston to Madison, but you can’t compare any common opponents, because there were none.
Normally, that would provide a lot of intrigue to a game like this. Unfortunately, these two teams met in the Western Conference championship game last year, and Houston traveled up to Madison and convincingly extinguished the Blaze, 53-0. I don’t think Houston is nearly as good this year as last, but this year the Blaze are the ones who have to make the 1,137 mile trek from Wisconsin to Texas. (Not joking…that’s the actual distance.) So I’ll stick with Houston as the projected winners of this one.
Sacramento Sirens @ Utah Falconz
Ah, the most compelling game on the IWFL slate this weekend. The Sirens have had a heck of a nice bounce-back season after their one-year hiatus in 2014. They outscored their first seven opponents, 351-13, but a narrow 21-18 victory over the Phoenix Phantomz might have cost them the right to host this conference semifinal game. Or at least it might have in a league where home field advantage was chosen on objective merit, anyway.
The Utah Falconz, on the other hand, have never lost a game in two years. This might be one of their tougher challenges, but just by looking at common opponents, you’d have to favor Utah in this one. Add in the fact that the Sirens are the ones making the nine-plus hour trip to Utah, and I think it’s safe to give the Falconz an edge. And then we’ll all wait until the IWFL tells us who “earned” the right to host the conference title game.
2015 WSFL Playoff Preview
Finally, a quick note about the WSFL, which is playing its final weekend of regular season games on Saturday. The WSFL announced plans before the season to have a six-team playoff field – three teams per conference, with the top-seeded conference team getting a bye into the conference championship game. Here’s a look at where teams stand headed into the final week of the WSFL regular season.
In the Northern Conference, the Keystone Assault have locked up the #1 seed, while the New England Nightmare have likely all but secured the #2 seed. The #3 seed is between the Cincinnati Sizzle, Baltimore Burn, and West Virginia Wildfire. Given that the Burn and Wildfire have both already forfeited games this season, that probably puts the Sizzle in a good position, I would think.
In the Southern Conference, the Tri-Cities Thunder and Memphis (Tennessee) Legacy have clinched the top two seeds, while the DFW Xtreme will be the Southern Conference’s #3 seed. The only question is who gets the #1 seed in the South, Tri-Cities or Memphis. It’s a tough call, and I wouldn’t want to be the one making it, but I’m guessing it goes to Memphis on strength of schedule grounds. But I don’t think Tri-Cities would have too much trouble with DFW in a conference semifinal matchup, setting up the game of the year in the WSFL between the Legacy and the Thunder.
Good luck to all the teams and players in the 2015 postseason!