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     Week Ending 8 June 2018

the drop of doom

Jay Luster

11 June 2018

By all accounts, this past Saturday was a triumph for the American Arena League. The feature game pitted the potential #1 playoff seed Atlanta Havoc against the likely #3 seed Georgia Doom. The Doom came into their final home game as an underdog against the mighty Havoc but everyone conceded they had a good chance of playing spoiler. After winning their first eight games in a row, Atlanta began suffering through mid-season front office turmoil, including a bazaar forfeit/non-forfeit result against the Cape Fear Heroes two weeks earlier. Their home field was declared not ready for play by league Commissioner Jack Bowman, and the game was canceled. The Havoc appealed the decision and a few days later the league handed down a ruling like nothing fans had ever seen before. While they acknowledged the field wasn’t ready for play and the Heroes kept their W, the Havoc’s L was vacated. The team believed their unreadiness to play had been caused by forces out of their control and the league agreed. To say it’s unusual for one team to win while the other team did not lose is, well, unusual. However, despite the decision, the Havoc still had a home game to prepare for the following week against the Peach State Cats. The Cats had not won a game this past season and weren’t expected to this time either. Fans, now incapable of being surprised by anything happening in the league were nonetheless, taken aback when the Havoc chose to forego the certain win at home for a tough game on the road against the feisty Carolina Energy. The Energy were still in the playoff hunt, and a win against the Atlanta powerhouse would put them in a position to, with help, possibly claim the 4th and final playoff spot. The Havoc’s surprising decision to travel to Charlotte has been covered, and I would direct you to the AAL page on the website for the full story. Needing a victory to remain in contention, Carolina took care of business and handed the boys from Buford their first loss of the season.

Despite a set back the previous week in Carolina, the Havoc fully expected to right the ship in Macon and claim the first seed in the upcoming playoff tournament. They met the Doom earlier in the season, and they won in a blowout. The rematch, while projected to be a close fought battle, was also expected to result in a Havoc victory. Down the stretch, the AAL had not done a good job keeping the public apprised of the tie-breaking system, but coming into this game every fan understood the Havoc needed to win by five or more to claim home field throughout the playoffs. Many of the fans, especially those of the Richmond Roughriders believed, or at least hoped, the Doom could pull out the victory, just as they had against the visiting team from Richmond a few weeks earlier. In their two-year existence, the Riders had never lost a game and their visit into the Doom home stadium, affectionately called Skull Island, was a new experience. Georgia had improved all season and had an opportunity to finish the season 6-2, and if they could blow out the Havoc by more than 25 points, they could even claim the second spot and host a playoff game. The teams took the field, and Georgia dominated. At one point, they led by 19, and it seemed the #2 seed was within their grasp. Atlanta mounted a furious comeback but ran out of time. The loss was their second in a row, and the L bounced them down to number two. Worse still, they lost their starting QB to what is believed to be a separated shoulder, and one of their starting WR’s to a knee injury suffered on a thrilling, and courageous over the wall TD reception. Earlier in the game the team lost Ryan McDaniel, possibly the best WR in the league, to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The last few weeks emotional roller coaster ride had finally caught up with the team and the McDaniel ejection was emblematic of it, as was the chippy pushing and shoving all culminating in the loss. The Havoc’s loss was the Richmond Roughriders gain because they now owned the #1 seed and home field throughout the playoffs.  

After the game,, Richmond's owner Gregg Fornario posted on Facebook that the Doom were opting out of the playoffs. Nobody was sure what was going on, and AF Insider began digging for the truth. According to Jack Bowman, Doom ownership had informed the league by email on Saturday prior to the game that their team would not be traveling for the playoffs. With their victory,, the Doom clinched third place and with it an outside shot at hosting the first ever AAL championship game. Their first game would be against the Havoc, the team they had just dominated a couple of hours earlier. It was this belief that led to the Doom’s owners to cancel the rest of the season. While Buford Georgia where the Havoc played is only a 75-mile drive from Macon, a victory there would necessitate a drive to either Charlotte or worse, Richmond. The trip to Charlotte by bus is roughly five hours and to Richmond,, it’s close to nine meaning the team would need to rent 15 hotel rooms, the bus, the driver, the meals, and whatever miscellaneous expenses are required for road trips. If the team won out, not an impossibility considering they had already beaten both Atlanta and Richmond, rings would cost another $10 grand. In other words, if the team succeeded in the financial layout by ownership would be somewhere around $20K, not insignificant. When asked about the opt-out, Jack Bowman said it was something that was included in the league bylaws and likened it to an NCAA team turning down a bowl invitation. While it’s not exactly a common practice, it isn’t as unusual as you’d think. Top tier college teams like Texas, Missouri, and Notre Dame have all opted-out at one time or another. Still, a league with as many bumps and bruises as the AAL has suffered during year one; this is a headache they don’t need coming at the most highly visible moment of their season.  

Further confusing the situation, the league office issued a statement which reads:

2018 American Arena League

Final Regular-Season Standings and Playoff Pairings

On Saturday night the 2018 American Arena League regular season ended with six teams competing for the final four seeds in the playoff.

Last night, the AAL announced the Richmond Roughriders are the # 1 seed throughout the playoffs, and if they win their home playoff game, they will host the championship game. The # 2 seed belongs to the Atlanta Havoc. The Havoc finished the season with a 6-2 record, and they will host the opening round of the playoffs in Buford, GA.

The Georgia Doom also finished 6-2 in the regular season. The team’s ownership is in the process of negotiating a deal to add a second team to their ownership’s portfolio. Their goal is to add an AAL expansion team in the southeast for the 2019 season. The Georgia Doom has established a terrific fan base and has the support of the business community in Macon. The Doom is in “Good Standing” with the AAL and with the league’s support; the ownership is excited to work with the Macon community on a long-term basis while adding another AAL team.  

The 3rd and 4th seeds are both from the State of North Carolina with the Cape Fear Heroes placing 3rd in the playoff standings followed by the #4 seed, the Carolina Energy. The Heroes beat the Energy in their head to head tiebreaker game to earn the third spot. The playoff pairings went down to the last weekend of the regular-season game with only two games separating the 1st place and 7th place teams.

There are two important points, which stand out regarding the Doom. The first is the team is in “Good Standing.” Basically,, this means the team is paid up with the league, and if they wish to return next season, they will be welcomed back. The second is the announcement the team is negotiating with an investor, or group of investors, with the idea of having not one, but two teams in the AAL. Both points, when taken individually, are significant, and when put together they shed some possibly relevant light on why the team chose to forego the postseason. If you presume Doom ownership understood their decision would create trust issues with the coaches, players, sponsors, and fans the only logical conclusion is they either don’t have the money to travel, don’t want to spend it, or simply don’t care. After speaking with players and Head Coach Gerald Dockery the idea the owners don’t care about winning doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. According to Bowman,, the team is in good standing which likely means they have the money to travel and are choosing not to spend it. That leaves their desire to expand their portfolio with new investors and a second team as the only remaining clue. We reached out to team owner Kevin Akin twice, but he has yet to return our calls, so anything from this point forward is merely speculative. However, new investment requires funds to invest. Whatever profits the team has would have been foreshortened by their travel requirements. Unless ownership was relinquishing control to the new investors, they would need to have the working capital in hand to further their goal of expansion.  

There is one last question, which needs to be answered and that is why the owners handled the announcement in such a ham-handed way? Without speaking directly with Adkins, we can’t answer that question. We know the announcement began with Gregg Fornario, but the reason he could put it out there is that it leaked out of the organization. Once that occurred the team had lost control of its message, and it became a free for all. Players and coaches learned of it by reading Facebook and by text messages and phone calls from sources other than management. Soon there was a kind of pushback saying the information wasn’t true, then later the information was confirmed except that it was a league decision, not Doom ownership and along with that rumor came the notion of appeal. The league was accused of everything from incompetence to conspiracy, but all of it was founded on innuendo and unsourced Internet rumors. Through the league office and other sources,, we have confirmed that the opt-out initiative began with the team and was, by rule, approved by the league. As for next year, right now the Doom will remain in Macon and will continue playing its games at the Macon Coliseum and will be a member of the AAL. As for the trust issues? The fans will be skeptical, but with the right publicity campaign, the team can turn it around. The players may not trust the organization, but they do trust Coach Dockery and according to him, the team fulfilled all of its financial, housing, meal, and medical responsibilities to their players. Dockery is a man of the highest integrity with a league record of 6-2 and with his history of winning everywhere he’s ever been players want to play for him and unless he leaves, that won’t change.  

This coming weekend the Richmond Roughriders will host the Carolina Energy, and the Atlanta Havoc will host the Cape Fear Heroes. While both games promise to be competitive and a great fan experience, it’s the Heroes/Havoc tilt that has fans buzzing. The Havoc blames the Heroes for the forfeit decision a few weeks ago. They claim the game could have gone forward and they believe the Heroes might even be afraid of the Buford bad asses. The Heroes, led by pugnacious Head Coach Charles Gunnings are unlikely afraid of anything and are looking forward to the opportunity to create a little havoc of their own. While the AAL has had a difficult time of it this season and many fans are undoubtedly skeptical, this is play off football with four very good teams playing in, what promises to be the two best games of the year.   

 

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