The offseason. It’s a phenomenon that takes over each sport. And though it hasn’t yet taken a complete hold yet in the AUDL, each year we move closer to it. The offseason has become one of the most intriguing aspects of each of the four major sports, particularly the NBA. Last year the AUDL had its first truly exciting offseason, with the announcements of players like Beau Kittredge, Tyler DeGirolamo, and Ashlin Joye all finding a home in the AUDL. This year with expansion teams from all over joining the league we will likely see even more player movement. And like any offseason questions face each team and the league itself. Here are seven of the biggest questions going into the AUDL offseason.
1. What expansion team will make the most noise this offseason?
With new franchises in San Diego, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Ottawa, Nashville, and Jacksonville, there are plenty of teams to choose from. But the team that has the potential to make the most noise by bringing in major pieces across multiple club teams has to be the Los Angeles Aviators. Los Angeles has always been regarded as a community that hasn’t lived up to its potential. Skyd’s own Jeremy Ziskind documented it better than anyone. The Aviators are hoping to finally take LA to the next level. The team has already started taking steps to make sure it happens. There are quality club teams in the area that the Aviators are no doubt trying to draw from. There’s LA Renegade, an up and coming Men’s Club team. 7 Figures is a Mixed Club team based in LA that has appeared at the Club Championships each of the last four years. And not too far away are the Santa Barbara Condors, one of the most storied club teams in the history of the sport.
So who have the LA Aviators brought in to run their tryout process? Franklin Jin Rho, the coach of LA Renegade, Condors legend Steve Dugan, another player with Condors connection in Grant Boyd, and Ben Potash, one of the original founders of 7 Figures. It’s not a new phenomenon, but talent follows talent. And having talented people running the show makes it more likely that talented people will try out for the team. If the Aviators can draw the kind of top players available, they could give San Jose and San Francisco the kind of challenge that no other team gave them in last year’s Western Division.
2. Can the new ownership from the Titcomb family in Seattle bring the team to new heights?
Last year the AUDL franchise in Seattle was something of a disappointment. While they were occasionally able to scare some of the top teams, they were not able to put full games together. The Seattle Raptors went 3-11. The only team they beat was the 0-14 Salt Lake Lions. This offseason the Titcomb family, which also owns and runs Five Ultimate, purchased the Raptors. They are now the Seattle Cascades.
While it may seem like a superficial change the new ownership and team name are a welcome change here. Last year the Raptors name seemed like a poor fit for the Seattle, and it was not an aesthetically pleasing design. The Raptors owners were not nearly as linked to the Seattle Ultimate community. In fact, the owner had been planning on running a Denver franchise as late as September 2013. Meanwhile the Titcomb family undoubtedly has Seattle Ultimate bona fides. This team has yet to announce any player signings, but Seattle will most likely end up quite a bit stronger in 2015 than it was last year.
3. Will anything Minnesota does in the offseason matter?
In 2013 the Minnesota Wind Chill had the kind of roster almost any other team in the AUDL would envy. With players from Mixed Club team powerhouse Drag’n Thrust joined by a few other elite players from Sub Zero and Chad Larson Experience, Minnesota looked the part of a contender. They made their debut by beating the Indianapolis AlleyCats 34-25 on the road. It seemed like they were announcing the arrival of a new power in the AUDL. But the Wind Chill finished only 4-12, despite a decent point differential. In 2014 they added even more talent, with more Sub Zero players joining their ranks, including former NexGen star Eric Johnson. While they would do better, they would still only finish 8-6, out of the playoffs despite a more friendly point differential.
This offseason Minnesota may add even more big names. The team has already brought back their 2014 coach, Lou Abramowski. The question has never been about the names on the roster for Minnesota though. The question is how often those players will be on the field, and how the team will play in crunch time. Last year they lost two one point games to Indianapolis. They led in the fourth quarter in both games. The AlleyCats ended up getting the last playoff spot in the Midwest. And Indianapolis has already announced the return of one of their starting O-Line players from 2013 in Michael Ames. Ames played with Cincinnati in 2014, and was second on the team in throws while finishing third in assists. Given the history of the Wind Chill, it’d be best to wait until the season starts before moving them ahead of Indianapolis again.
4. Is Dutchy coming back to the DC Breeze?
In 2013 the Breeze went 4-12. In 2014 they were 10-4. Clearly the players are the ones on the field making the difference, but don’t underestimate the coach’s effect. Players want to play for great coaches. Especially coaches like Alex Ghesquierre, who has coached Revolver and Scandal to multiple championships. Last year having Ghesquierre on board helped draw a much bigger crowd at tryouts. It resulted in a much deeper Breeze team that was able to hold its own even when DeGirolamo and Thorne weren’t on the field.
Of all eight 2014 playoff teams the Breeze are the most poised to fall out in 2015. The ownership in DC has shown that the team is willing to get creative to put a winning product on the field. But if DeGirolamo and Thorne choose to play in the AUDL again, it will most likely be for the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds. With the MLU’s DC Current coming off a dominant championship run it’s unlikely the Breeze will see many, if any, converts from the Current. And if Ghesquierre doesn’t come back, it is unclear how much of last year’s team decides to sit out as well. Combined with the fact that Pittsburgh will most likely be stiff competition, Montreal will have another year under its belt, and a new team with potential in Ottawa, just getting this squad back to the playoffs would probably be a significant accomplishment for whoever is coaching them.
5. What’s going to happen with the Southeast Division?
At the moment there are 23 publicly announced teams in the AUDL. Two of them (Nashville and Jacksonville) are in the Southeast division that was originally planned to be in place by 2015. In a recent post on a new partnership with an advertising company, the AUDL was mentioned as having 24 teams, so it seems possible that another team is on its way, possibly from the Southeast. Of course, three teams aren’t enough to compose an entire division. It’s possible the AUDL could get creative, and move teams from other divisions into the Southeast. Geographically DC and Cincinnati would make the most sense. Joining a new division that would require a lot of travel wouldn’t be ideal, but it wouldn’t be that much more travel than the current West division. And playing in the new division might give Cincinnati and DC a better shot at the playoffs. Of course the other alternative is that the league decides to postpone the Division another year. Regardless it doesn’t seem like the AUDL will have the ideal Southeast Division in 2015. Any division in the Southeast should have representation from both Atlanta and North Carolina, and it doesn’t appear that will be the case this upcoming season.
6. Is a lack of parity becoming a problem for the AUDL?
In 2014 the AUDL became a league of have and have-nots. In the Western Division, San Jose and San Francisco went 20-0 against the rest of the division. Salt Lake City went 0-14. In the Midwest, Detroit went 0-14. In the East, Rochester and Philadelphia were a combined 0-22 against the rest of the division. Those bottom four teams only played two games (not counting Rochester vs. Philadelphia games) that were decided by three points or less. Detroit lost to Minnesota 16-42, and Madison 9-34 and 9-28. Rochester lost to New York 8-27 and Toronto 11-26. Salt Lake lost by 20 or more to each of its divisional opponents at least once. Philadelphia didn’t play many close games, but they were able to avoid getting blown out with the regularity of Rochester, Salt Lake, and Detroit.
Why does it matter? First, it puts the future of these teams into doubt. They make the league less attractive to prospective players, fans, and owners. Top level players aren’t as interested in playing games where the outcome is never in question. Home fans are less likely to show up when the team isn’t competitive, and fans on the road don’t get as excited about watching total blowouts. When fans aren’t showing up to games at home or on the road, it makes buying a team a less attractive prospect.
Some of these franchises do show strength in other aspects. Philadelphia played more competitive games, and sent eight of its players on an Armed Forces Entertainment Tour to represent the team this November. Salt Lake averaged 366 fans a game, drawing over 500 three times. Detroit has long been active in promoting the sport in local schools. Each of those teams is doing something right.
Unfortunately they weren’t doing enough right on the field in 2014. Each will need to take steps to put a more competitive product on the field. Salt Lake could try to recruit more players from the Powderhogs. The Powderhogs had their most successful season to date in 2014, winning games against LA Renegade, Mental Toss Flycoons, and Voodoo. There were 11 players from the Powderhogs that played for the Lions in 2014, and if they could draw even more they might be able to start getting a few wins. The Mechanix could desperately use some players from High Five, the local club team that finished second in the Great Lakes in 2014. Zero players from High Five played for the Mechanix in 2014. Each of these teams has serious work to do if they want to approach .500 next season, and the AUDL is certainly hoping they are able to take those steps. Whether or not they will remains to be seen.
7. Does it matter what any team does in the offseason? Aren’t the San Jose Spiders repeating in 2015?
It’s hard to envision the Spiders losing if they return something close to last seasons roster. Beau Kittredge will be back in 2015. Marcelo Sanchez, another Revolver veteran, is coming back too. And once again, talent follows talent. If Beau is coming back, it makes it much more likely that San Jose can bring back the bulk of last year’s team.
And it’s worth remembering not just that the Spiders won the championship last year, but how they did it. They were 13-1 during the regular season, with their only loss coming by one point, in extremely windy conditions against the San Francisco FlameThrowers. Coming from the West with only one berth to the final four, their route to the championship was no cupcake either. They beat the FlameThrowers 26-16 in the first round, and San Francisco was the best team not to make the final four, and probably the fourth best team in the league. Then in the semifinals they won an exciting 23-20 game against the Madison Radicals, the two time Midwest Division champion. And in the finals they handled the Rush easily, winning 28-18.
There’s a reason they play the games though. In many ways repeating a championship is more difficult than getting the first one, as the Rush found out in 2014. And while the smart money will most likely be on the Spiders to repeat, there will be some road blocks. In 2014 San Jose had four players from the Condors on the squad, including Tyler Bacon and Mark Elbogen. Bacon had 18 assists and 30 goals for San Jose, while Elbogen had 14 and 31. With Santa Barbara so much closer to LA than San Jose, it seems unlikely that many Condors players will be suiting up for the Spiders in 2015. And the FlameThrowers are no doubt thinking about how they can add more firepower to close the gap with San Jose next year. Last year they went 1-4 against the Spiders counting the playoffs, with that one win coming only in very windy conditions by just one point. The FlameThrowers will probably put on a better performance in 2015. The West will clearly be tougher, but despite the thumping they received in the finals, the Rush won’t be able to be written off either. They were unprepared for San Jose in 2014, that won’t be the case in 2015. And nobody played the Spiders better than Madison did in the semifinals last year.
Even with all that said, there’s little doubt the Spiders will the favorites heading into 2015. They had too much firepower. And despite the stars at the top, and that other teams were more ballyhooed for their depth, San Jose was a very deep team in 2014. Role players stepped up and became key cogs of the offense and lesser known names became valuable role players. There’s a long ways to go before the opening pull of the 2015 season, but the road to the title will have to go through the Spiders.