2017 Women’s Football Playoff Update
A lot of playoff action coming up this weekend! On a purely personal note, I have largely shut down my women’s football coverage for the year, as my wife and I are expecting our second child any day now. With that said, here is a very, very brief update of the 2017 playoffs across all three leagues still in action.
WFA Playoff Update
The conference championship games have arrived in all three tiers of play in the Women’s Football Alliance, and there are six very exciting games on the docket this weekend. In the top division, the Chicago Force travel to play the Boston Renegades in the Eastern Conference championship game; this game is a rematch of a regular season meeting that was won by Boston by a single point, so it should be a good one.
The Boston Renegades look to make their first national championship game since the Militia days, and they’ve dodged every bullet this year en route to an undefeated record. Five of their victories this season have been by a touchdown or less, including a conference semifinal win over the two-time defending league champion D.C. Divas. In that game, the Renegades rallied from an 11-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter, scoring two unanswered touchdowns late to notch a 27-24 victory. It was a typical performance for this Renegades team, which has been coming through in the clutch all year long in thrilling fashion.
The Chicago Force have already signaled on multiple occasions that this year is their swan song and that the franchise will be shutting down after this season. That gives the playoffs an extra layer of finality, as their next loss (should it come) would not only signal the end of their season but the end of their franchise. They are determined to go out with a bang, and the only thing standing between them and the national title game is the team that handed them their lone defeat this year. This game should be a very good one.
In the Western Conference, the Dallas Elite host the San Diego Surge for the right to go to the championship game in Pittsburgh. The Dallas Elite rolled through an easy regular season and then blasted the Minnesota Vixen to claim the Midwest Region title and put themselves in the conference title game for the third year in a row. The Elite still, incredibly, have not surrendered a single point all season…I don’t care what your strength of schedule is, seven straight shutouts is an impressive feat. Dallas has had a chip on their shoulder for much of the year, fueled by consecutive national championship game defeats and a regular season schedule that presented no challenges, and they are the clear favorites to advance to the title game for a third straight season.
The San Diego Surge are the team that, frankly, no one expected to be here. Entering the playoffs as the #3 seed in their own region, the Surge needed to engineer consecutive road upsets just to get to this point. But engineer them they did, knocking off the Los Angeles Warriors in the opening round and then stunning the top-seeded and undefeated Central Cal War Angels by a single point in overtime to advance to their fifth conference title game in seven seasons. The Dallas faithful were more than thrilled at San Diego’s upset win, as it flipped the site of the conference title game from Central California to the Lone Star State, and it’s hard to imagine the Surge actually pulling off the victory over the talented Elite…most probably expect that the Surge exhausted all of their magic just upsetting Central Cal. But then, San Diego has been an underdog in their last two playoff victories, so finding themselves in that position for this one will not shake their confidence at all.
In WFA2, the Eastern Conference championship game will be an international affair, with the Tampa Bay Inferno traveling to Canada to face the Montreal Blitz. Of the ten teams that joined the WFA from the IWFL this past offseason, the Blitz are the last one still alive in the postseason. They’ve had a tremendous debut year in the WFA and are strong contenders to make the WFA2 title game in their first WFA season.
To get there, however, they’ll need to get past the undefeated Tampa Bay Inferno. The Inferno are the defending Eastern Conference champions of WFA2, and they already pulled one upset by traveling to Carolina and dispatching the Carolina Phoenix to win the Southeast Region title. It will be a very long trip for the Inferno, but this should be an outstanding contest.
Over in the West, the St. Louis Slam are the only defending champion from the WFA’s three tiers still in contention to repeat as champs. They’ll host the Mile High Blaze for the WFA2 Western Conference title, who are making their first appearance in a conference championship game. Mile High finally surrendered a point in a 28-14 playoff victory over the Sin City Trojans after not allowing anyone to score on them in the regular season, but the win over Sin City was enough to keep their undefeated record intact and give them the Pacific Region championship for the first time in their franchise’s history.
Finally, WFA3 will feature two conference title games this weekend as well. In the East, the Toledo Reign will host the Orlando Anarchy in a matchup of two feel-good stories. The Reign defeated the Maine Mayhem, 22-7, in a conference semifinal game for their first playoff victory in their 14-year history. Now this long-time franchise in the heart of Troopers territory stands just one win away from the first national title game appearance by a Toledo-based team since the Toledo Furies won the NWFL back in 1984.
Their opponent, however, has proven to be Cory Strong all season long. The Orlando Anarchy were uniquely devastated by the Pulse shooting last year, when assistant coach Cory Connell was among those who lost their lives in the tragedy. The Anarchy, who went 0-8 in 2016, came back this season with a renewed vigor, dedicating the year to Connell’s memory. Orlando not only made the playoffs, but they won the Southeast Region championship over the Cincinnati Sizzle to advance to the WFA3 conference title game. No matter how it turns out, the winner of the Orlando-Toledo game will be an inspirational entrant into the WFA3 championship game this year.
In the Western half of WFA3, the Southern Oregon Lady Renegades have qualified for the conference title game for the second straight year. Last season, the Lady Renegades were offered a chance to play in the WFA3 Western Conference championship game, but they were unable to travel to Louisiana for the contest and had to concede the conference title to the Acadiana Zydeco, who went on to win the inaugural WFA3 championship. Southern Oregon is back with a vengeance in 2017 and will host the conference title game against the Arkansas Wildcats for a chance to make the trek to Pittsburgh one year later.
The Arkansas Wildcats will not go quietly, however. The Wildcats have gained notoriety for the fact that injuries and attrition have reduced their numbers to only 12 available players for some games. Yet they have persevered by having all of the remaining players play on both sides of the ball, and they have managed to survive all the way to the Western Conference title game. Traveling halfway across the country will be a difficult challenge, but I certainly would not want to count these dozen or so women out just yet.
IWFL Playoff Update
In my last update, I noted that the IWFL had only ten non-affiliate teams in their entire league…a sad state of affairs for the IWFL, to be sure. Looking toward the playoffs, I added:
In fairness to the IWFL, creating a playoff structure for a ten-team league should be so simple that it might not be possible for even Kezia Disney to screw it up. But she’s been known to surprise in that regard.
My guess – and it’s a completely uninformed one, given the secrecy that pervades the IWFL and its inconsistent application of any and all rules – is that the IWFL will go with a four or six-team bracket for their playoffs. I can’t imagine they’ll go with eight, given that there are only ten teams eligible…A four-team playoff would absolutely be sufficient, but if I had to guess, I’d wager that the IWFL goes with a six-team playoff…
Sometimes I think the IWFL brass deliberately makes inexplicable decisions, just to “prove the critics wrong” and show everyone that they’re still in charge of things over there. Anyway, instead of four or six or eight playoff teams, the IWFL decided to go with seven: four teams in the West and three in the East.
The disparity lies in the fact that in the Eastern Conference, the IWFL split their four teams into two divisions, placing Austin, Houston, and Tulsa in the Central Division and the Carolina Queens all by themselves in the Atlantic Division. The league then announced that the top two teams in each division would make the playoffs, except of course, the Atlantic Division had only the Queens in it. So the IWFL playoff teams in the East were the Austin Yellow Jackets, Houston Energy, and Carolina Queens.
It gets sillier. The IWFL was set to send the 5-2 Houston Energy halfway across the country to play a conference semifinal game against the 3-4 Carolina Queens, all because the Queens were division champions of a division of one team. Look, I’m an advocate of taking into consideration more than just straight record…if a 3-4 team played a much tougher schedule than a 5-2 team (as determined by a reliable, unbiased source like the Massey Ratings), I can see giving a 3-4 team home field advantage over a 5-2 team. What doesn’t make sense, however, is giving a 3-4 team home field advantage over a 5-2 team because the 3-4 team is “division champs”, when their division consists of only their team! That’s just madness.
Anyway, it was all academic; the Carolina Queens eventually forfeited their home playoff game to Houston, chalking the decision up to “miscommunication and unforeseen situations”. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the IWFL keeping their postseason structure a complete secret until just before the playoffs began didn’t give member teams a whole heck of a lot of time to prepare.
Over in the West, things were just as chaotic. I hypothesized that the Utah Falconz, Sacramento Sirens, and North County Stars would make the IWFL playoffs in the Western Conference, but the league’s decision to take four teams allowed the Carson Bobcats to make it in as well. This announcement was understandably celebrated by the Bobcats faithful, who had all but written off their playoff chances until the IWFL elected to advance four teams from a six-team conference into the playoffs.
The celebration didn’t last long for Carson, however, as they drew the Utah Falconz in the first round and had to concede the game at halftime when they ran out of players. My suggestion to cap the number of IWFL playoff teams in the Western Conference at three would have avoided that embarrassing scenario, but have it your way, IWFL.
In the other Western Conference semifinal game, the 4-4 North County Stars hosted the 6-2 Sacramento Sirens. Yes, the 4-4 Stars – who lost twice to Sacramento by scores of 48-6 and 27-0 – hosted the 6-2 Sirens, a team that beat them twice. Why? Because Sacramento, with the second-best record in the Western Conference, was placed in the same Pacific Division as the undefeated Utah Falconz, while the North County Stars were placed in a different three-team division altogether.
I’ve railed on the IWFL for years for relying solely on straight record to determine playoff seedings. I think that’s antiquated thinking. This year, the IWFL powers-that-be topped themselves and did something even more ridiculous, believe it or not…the league handed home field advantage to a 4-4 team over a 6-2 team because the 4-4 team was a “division champion”. Never mind the fact that those divisions were arbitrarily drawn, considering that Sacramento and North County played roughly the same schedule, and the Sirens beat the Stars twice. Nope, give North County home field advantage because they’re “division champions”. Lunacy.
But if you think that Sacramento got a raw deal by having to go on the road, North County actually had a bigger gripe. The IWFL has, for many years, shown blatant disrespect for the IFAF Women’s World Championships. Although the IFAF champions are the only true “world champions” in women’s football, the IWFL continues to tout their league champs as “world champions”, which is particularly laughable now that the IWFL scarcely operates east of the Mississippi anymore.
This year, the IWFL decided to hold their conference semifinal games the same day as the opening of the IFAF Women’s World Championships. While the women’s football world focused its attention to the international play taking place just outside of Vancouver, the IWFL was insisting that the Sirens take on the Stars at that exact same time.
Now, the IWFL supplied only three of Team USA’s 45 players at the IFAF Women’s World Championships, but two of those players – Knengi Martin and Katie Ott – play for the North County Stars. The Stars would have been underdogs to Sacramento, anyway – after all, they lost to them twice in the regular season – but forcing North County to host a playoff game while two of their best players are competing for their country is outrageous. The Sacramento Sirens cruised to victory, and I’m not crediting Martin and Ott’s absences for that. But it’s galling that these two women are in Canada, competing for Team USA, and they return stateside only to find that their domestic seasons are over because the IWFL scheduled their team to host a playoff game while the IFAF tournament was going on.
I think I’ve roasted the IWFL enough…but if you’re wondering why teams are leaving that league in droves, don’t.
This weekend the IWFL will host their conference championships, with Austin hosting Houston in the East and Utah hosting Sacramento in the West. These are clearly the top four teams in the IWFL this season. I have a ton of respect for the Houston Energy (who were the first great dynasty of the modern era with national titles from 2000-2002) and the Sacramento Sirens (one of the winningest teams in the history of the sport and national title winners in 2003-2005). But while I respect the tradition those two franchises bring to the table, the Utah Falconz and Austin Yellow Jackets are still the heavy favorites to duke it out for the 2017 IWFL championship.
USWFL Playoff Update
The big news to break in women’s football over the past few days is that there has apparently been a change in ownership in the USWFL. We’ll get to that more later, but in the meantime, the league has finally announced their playoff plans, and it’s an interesting solution.
I’ve said since the start of the season that the Houston Wildcats and Washington Prodigy are clearly the top two competitive teams in the league…they’re basically WFA2 caliber teams competing in a WFA3 caliber league. The USWFL just went ahead and announced that the Wildcats and Prodigy will play for the USWFL championship, which is now being held in Bristol, Tennessee.
What’s more interesting is that the USWFL also announced that they will be holding a six-team “Ironwoman” tournament, which is sort of a consolation bracket for the smaller teams in the league. That tournament starts this weekend, with the Tennessee Diamondbacks traveling to play the Fayetteville Fierce in a Southern Conference semifinal game. The winner will travel to play the Tri-Cities Thunder for a berth in the Ironwoman tournament championship.
In the Northern Conference, the Southern Indiana Storm forfeited their game to the West Virginia Wildfire, who will now move on to play at the Detroit Pride on July 15. The West Virginia-Detroit winner will represent the Northern Conference in the Ironwoman tournament championship, held during USWFL championship weekend in Bristol.
That’s the latest from around the sport! Sorry for the relative lack of detail, but it’s time for me to resume baby watch, which means I likely won’t be checking in for the rest of the season. Good luck to all the teams still competing…your championships await!