Within the cavernous coliseum of the 2012 women’s football season, dozens of chariots prepare for a jeopardous race. In an event both brutal and swift, the drivers behind the reigns of their respective teams are hoping their horses can survive the contest and its trials. Everywhere, practice jerseys make way for brilliantly hued gameday threads, and un-fallowed game pants are pulled over girdles. The war paint is on and the mission is clear – be the last one standing on the track come July.But in the crowd, chalices are raised and bets are placed. Still, as the wine flows so does the rumor mill of the coliseum’s future. As a historian of these great chariot races, allow me to present my own bets, and dispel some of the pre-commencement discussions.
RUMOR 1: League Merger: False, but very much in the works.
In the foreground of this topic is the flamboyant businessman Mr. Vasker, who was previously behind the supposed 2011 merger movement with the backing of his company, Artfest International. Along with his partners, Vasker has proved to be one of the most mysterious and controversial people in professional sports. His big push is the “UWFL”, which promises to unite women’s football under one roof and secure coveted air time contracts for select match-ups. It sounds good on paper, but Vasker’s original plan had teams footing the bill–hundreds of thousands of dollars large. The deal is currently being re-worked, and Vasker is reportedly still peddling for sponsors and contracts. He’s either the savior of women’s football, or its prodigal son.
Behind the scenes, big names within the leagues are still hard at work looking for a way to bring the three heads together. League contracts and player protection plans are all being drafted. I can’t tell you who, or what, or when (and least of all WHY), but there will be some major complaints from small market teams that are used to the old rules of women’s football. I’d feel sorry for them if they weren’t the same teams that forfeit and fold with the frequency of Tebow’s name being uttered on Sportcenter. I want everyone to be able to play the game, but the Northern Alabama Boll Weevils will not likely put our sport on that same show.
RUMOR 2: NFL affiliation: False.
Wish I had better news for you, but an attempted deal with the big boys was cut short because of–you guessed it–a lack of unity. Apparently the contact delivered the news by saying it would be too difficult to sponsor our seperate branches. I’m guessing that means they weren’t even inclined to choose one over the others.
RUMOR 3: IWFL scraps Tier system: False.
The discussion over drying up the tiers was again derailed. Teams will still compete regionally and across tiers, but the playoffs will have the same format, and two IWFL champions will be crowned.
Now that the mythic underlay of 2012’s offseason is in the dust (other rumors are too silly or controversial to comment on), it’s time to focus on thundering, helmeted hordes: the championship hopefuls.
In the WFA, it’s difficult to bet against the champs. Boston returns a roster with very minimal changes and a few solid additions. However, my heart is in Chicago. Yes, I believe the heavily hyped under-achievers of 2011 are due for an appearance in the show. And I think they may face a repeat American Conference opponent—San Diego. San Diego has made several key additions, including IWFL & Team USA standout Knengi Martin at DE. If the Surge abandons their reckless anti-special teams mantra, they could be the ones hoisting the trophy. Expect Dallas to make a charge (as their smart ownership and PR work keeps them hot every season), even though their defense has lost some of its youthful spark. New York should make a heartened effort to succeed in the post-season, but their ultra tough divisional area makes their progression unlikely. Jacksonville, or the ‘Littlest Big Guy’ as they are considered, could actually surprise some people if they can make it past Miami with more momentum than last year. As per always, the playoffs should see some less-than stellar attendees due to those weak divisions in the South, Northern Mid-West and Northwest.
From the back of the darkhorse pack, I’m picking the heavily rebooted Columbus Comets, which features some of the best coaches in the nation, and could absolutely slay a few Goliaths and get deep in the playoffs. If they have managed to improve their offense, the heavy-handed Western Michigan Mayhem could knock some contenders from the fray. The upstart West Coast Lightning, an evolution of the dissolved So Cal Scorpions and other fragmented Southern Cal teams, could be a startling shocker (pun intended) in the West if they can up-end the Surge and Bay Area.
The power-packed Chicago Force have my vote.
Sadly, not everyone appears to be moving in the right direction. As is often the case in women’s football, the wheels appear to be coming off for many. Florida seems to suffer from TMTS (too many teams syndrome). Though we don’t appear to have the population for 7 teams, we also can’t justify the lengthy trips up 95 and 75 to conjoin anyone. Many call for the union of nearby teams like Jax and Orlando, as well as my own Palm Beach with our bitter rival Miami. Oddly enough, the biggest stability problems are in places like Tampa (who have JUST changed their name to the Inferno) and the Gulf Coast Riptide. More likely Southern folds are the Carolina Raging Wolves and the Atlanta Phoenix, the latter of which will undoubtedly live in the shadow of the IWFL’s champ Ravens until they take the bait and jump on the wagon. Up North, the Southern Tier Spitfire has rekindled their franchise, but may give up the fight soon—they are without a website and schedule at this time. The San Diego Sting clings to life out West at the feet of Cali titans. Upstart Tacoma Trauma is in for a tough year…with two 17-hour road trips to Utah and a small budget; they should probably be in the IWFL, with teams like Portland and Seattle to showcase against. Their roster is also unusually small, but I respect them for having the guts to make it happen and play the game they love in the league they believe in.
I certainly can’t seem to think about the successes of the season without a few picks from my heart. The Arkansas Wildcats might be the best bunch of people I’ve ever met—hard workering players, fundraising phenoms, and coaches that would do just about anything for their team. Under new ownership and sporting a sprightly name and logo makeover, they have all the makings of a darling Hollywood-caliber underdog. With a big-armed quarterback and some speed injections, the Wildcats could be the team of the future. I’m also a big fan of the Indy Crash. Indy, whose super-confident veterans led well into the playoffs last year, deserve a repeat appearance in the final rounds. Their roster treats football like life, not a hobby, and I’m ever-impressed with their well-coached group of athletes. Of course, seeing Cinderellas in the show is like expecting lollipops to rain from the sky and rainbow-haired ponies to sing showtunes. But hey, a girl can dream.
The fun-loving Wildcats could turn some heads this year.
Keep an eye on the newborn Utah Jynx and Derby City Dynamite. Both teams have some nice sponsors behind them and some pretty keen-minded owners. They also value the much-ignored importance of the pre-season scrimmage (ever heard of that, people?) and a hefty amount of intense pre-season practice. Both also have some fresh graphics and technology at work; many mock my confidence is cemented by a team’s website, design, and social media efforts, but where there is a professional appearance there is money and business sense.
In the IWFL (which has already penned 4 games in week 1) I ostensibly expect the Atlanta Ravens to repeat. Mashonda Gilmore might be the smartest owner and businessperson in the entirety of women’s football, and she has put together another offensive nightmare for her opposition. The Ravens defense will also be as tough as ever, and her 60-woman roster should stand the test of the year. Montreal will likely make a strong run for the title (narrow victors in Week 1 over the sturdy Intensity), as will the always-impressive Carolina Phoenix, who showed some serious beef by shelling out to travel to Philly for their season-opener AND SHUTTING THEM OUT. The California Quake has lost some bite to local WFA teams, but should still do well. Portland has rebooted their defense, but still has major gaps (including special teams) to iron out, and Seattle (34-12 over Modesto) will also be strong Western Competitors.
My darkhorses in the IWFL are the Connecticut Wreckers and the Northeastern Nitro. If you’ve forgotten the story behind the Conn Wreckers, let me refresh your memory: when the Northeastern Nitro left the WFA, they moved to New York. In their wake, the Wreckers set up shop for the Conn girls unwilling or unable to locate. Both of these Northeastern teams should be strong enough to make a show in the playoffs.
The IWFL will likely see some folds this year. The Carolina Queens always seem to pull off a decent season, but the seemingly super-powered ownership & coaching of the Phoenix will likely make a move to absorb them if the merger talks move forward or the Queens struggle with sponsors. Arkansas Banshees are a mix of rookies and WFA Wildcat dropouts. They will have a hard time getting a foothold in the IWFL, and will be traveling to some tough Texan teams. Fortunately, most of the forfeit-fond strugglers of ’11 have gone the way of the buffalo, strengthening the IWFL, but I’d like to take a moment to mourn our fallen franchises, two of which are dear to my heart. The dearly departed Monterrey Black Mambas: the only Mexican team in all of North American pro women’s football. Perhaps it’s my appreciation for my own Mexican heritage, or my support of the IWFL’s international football mission, but I bow my head for you. The Mambas will be playing two games this year against the Houston Energy, so I can at least cross my fingers for an improbable and unconscionable upset. The Chattanooga Locomotion: a long-standing and much beloved Tennessee troop, battling constantly against an abandoned Southern region. A dear friend from Team USA helped introduce me to their dedicated and innovative ownership and team, as well as their grassroots football mission. They will be playing one game against the Banshees. I certainly hope these young ladies can pull it together and return in 2013, as the IWFL plans.
A fresh face in the IWFL is the Arlington Impact. With a big market and big aspirations (as well as some former Diamonds & Mustangs in their ranks) they could do some damage.
Discipline & training are never scarce in Atlanta.
Say what you will about the IWFL—the “baby in the corner”, the stalwart merger-fighters, the continuants of the much-defamed Tier system—they continue to provide a professional image and are constantly working on new product partnerships and PR opportunities. Their front office certainly boasts some enviable business minds, which any Mega-League brain-stormer should seek to include.
Expect to see some highly unusual things this year: shortened seasons for some small-market teams, wacky playoff formats for both the WFA & IWFL, and out of league play for both leagues within the enigmatic WSFL, which I will be discussing next week. But as the chariots begin a-racing and the rumors continue to swirl among the crowd, one truth remains unquestionable—there will be harrowing hits, vexatious controversies, narrow wins and unsung heroes amidst every league, every team, and every showdown.
Chalices up…I’ll drink to that.