Questions asked about the SFL Schedule, answered by the Commissioner
1) Why do Seattle and Denver have schedules in the bottom half of the league despite having been in or one game away from the Championship, while Vancouver has a top five schedule?
CI: That depends on a person’s criteria for what is deemed to be a difficult schedule. Strength of schedule, based on the records of opponents last season, is just one factor for gauging whether a schedule is difficult or easy. We saw last season that everyone who had Denver or Dallas on their schedule was considered to have an ‘easy’ opponent because the two teams finished 3-9 the season prior, only to find out that those two teams won three playoff games, sported the best offense in the league, the MVP, a rising star in the coaching ranks and two of the most active and dedicated locker rooms in the league. St. Louis ended up playing those two teams – specifically – three different times, for example.
The league uses strength of schedule as a guide, but not the end-all, be-all of a schedule since the data relies solely on old information, and does not take into account all the movement that has happened in the league during the current off-season.
For Vancouver, specifically, their strength of schedule is very high but it’s who is on that schedule and the Legion’s history with those teams that tells a different story. The Legion are 2-0 against Denver at home and are the only team in league history to beat the three time champs twice in their own house. History shows that while these two teams were the two best in the league last season, Vancouver has fared well against these franchises. Mexico City was a headline play – the league selects a dozen or so games for storyline purposes it wants on the schedule, when it wants them and then builds the early-season framework around those talking points.
The Legion also beat Queen City just last season and have never lost to Chicago. They’ve beaten San Francisco three out of four times and never played Carolina and St. Louis, two franchises still looking for their first playoff win.
When you look at all the factors – not just one factor in a schedule – things start to become more balanced than they initially look to the untrained eye. Since Denver and Seattle were brought up, I’ll break down how they all shook out next.
Denver: The Nightwings face one of the most daunting tasks of any team this season – playing their last two games on the road against teams who have already played them. These opponents having home field advantage and an understanding of Denver’s tendencies is a tough way to end the season. Four different teams will face Denver coming off of a bye, giving those teams an extra week to prepare for the Nightwings and see how the team adjusts to two different opponents – this was the first time the league took bye weeks and factored them strategically into the process as a factor for a schedule being ‘easy’ or ‘hard’.
The Nightwings also face an assortment of non-playoff teams who gave them a real challenge and have higher expectations heading into this season. Houston lost to Denver by two – Denver has to go there this season – London defeated the Nightwings late (and play them late again) plus Denver goes to Vancouver, where they are 0-2.
Seattle: Seattle has a reshaped coaching staff and a first-year owner. The task for managing a team, coaching a team while handling ownership and league responsibilities is an eye-opening experience for every person who ends up getting the call to the highest seat in a franchise. The Tyrants received a schedule without Steven Mullenax’s influence, a Hall-of-Fame finalist for 2019 and the person who has orchestrated the league’s top offense for the last two seasons – that just doesn’t get re-created overnight or used properly over time without the proper adjustments.
The Tyrants were also a bi-product of a little bit of luck. Seattle and St. Louis got hung up early in the schedule-making process on odd-numbered roster files, which means the two teams needed an early bye. This complicated and complex process ended up giving Seattle a more favorable schedule down the stretch then some might have thought was possible, but is a bi-product of an imperfect schedule process (it always is, in any sport) especially one that features an odd number of teams and a roster file limit of eight. Without conferences, the league has greater freedom to structure the schedule, but is still limited in various ways and constructs the schedule each season with great attention to detail.
2) Last season the SoS went from as tough to an 8-4 average opponent (aka .667 winning percentage) to 4-8 (.333) Whereas this season it’s from .549 to .438 so the gap is noticeably smaller. What is the reasoning behind this?
Late last season, the league had to delay its playoff bracket and Wild Card schedule because of an impossible-to-break, strength of victory tiebreaker in a four way tie without all the data. While the drama built, it left teams searching for answers on why these common games or head-to-head battles didn’t matter as much as they should.
The league listened, and instead opted for more one-time matchups – 108 of the 117 – than ever before, in order for teams to more likely share four or more common opponents and to make it more likely that the two or three teams tied have all played each other throughout the season, or at least four of the same clubs.
This had a direct impact on the strength of schedule numbers and caused them to not be so extreme, on one side of the other. Having to play Alaska twice is just as extreme as a team getting a team twice picking high in the draft this off-season – those extreme advantages and disadvantages caused a lot of – more than there probably should have been – conversation about ‘weak schedules’ or ‘tough schedules’ – there will be more of an opportunity for teams to play each other and simply just put their money where their mouth is and that was an important part of the schedule-building process this off-season.
The league felt it was important that Las Vegas, Chicago, London and Queen City all have a shot at playing eachother early in the season, not to punish these teams – but to ensure that they don’t have to deal with strength of victory deciding their fate for a second-straight season. I personally witnessed the anxiety it all gave these franchises and this was my way of giving them a chance to go out and prove something against one another – that’s always the best way to settle a score.
3) What happened to Houston and St. Louis? The two teams with the lowest records have a SOS of .507, tied for 10th in the league.
Houston: The Hyenas requested a fair amount of challenging opponents and are not used to – nor did they have interest in playing – a 3-9 schedule. The league took all of it’s longest rivalries, of teams who have played each other the most in league history, and backloaded them into the schedule to ensure a wide variety of entertaining matchups once the SFL regular season bleeds into the NFL season, with the intention of having matchups that can compete for ratings a bit easier. Once the league scheduled teams like Alaska, Mexico City, Tallahassee – the league attempted to give Houston a schedule that fit the mold of what the Hyenas produced last season. Still, Houston made back-to-back semifinals in Seasons 10 and 11, so the Hyenas are not your typical 3-9 team to just throw a bunch of struggling teams to. They will be one of the more interesting teams to watch in Season 13.
St. Louis: An absolute biproduct of the one-time matchups system, St. Louis was simply never going to achieve a .333 SOS (the lowest from last season) based on the simple fact that the league intended to give them 12 different opponents, in order to not give any sort of advantage or disadvantage to playing the Gladiators, who have struggled on the field.
However, in opposite of Seattle, St. Louis received a schedule that was ‘tougher’ than intended. The Gladiators, however, were spared in ways that aren’t easy to spot right away, once again, to the untrained eye.
St. Louis plays five playoff teams but where they are played and who are the opponents matter. They play Seattle (previous differences already mentioned) and play them at home in Week 2, off of a Week 1 bye, which does not allow the Tyrants to know what St. Louis is going to throw out against them. St. Louis played the Dallas version of the Tyrants – and beat them – in their first game last season and have won two of their last three season openers.
Other playoff teams from last season include Sioux Falls – at home – Las Vegas – at home and play at New Orleans the last week of the season. Historically, although there is not a ton of data, New Orleans plays some of their shakiest football down the stretch of the regular season and St. Louis starts to pick up the pieces so if the Gladiators would play them anywhere, it would be late. Mexico City was scheduled in order to keep the priority of 12 different opponents for St. Louis in play and was an unintended draw, but a compelling one all the same with St. Louis heading to Mexico for the first time.
I think the most important thing to note about the schedule is that people have different criteria for what makes a challenging or what makes a difficult schedule. Some feel like having more road games at the end is harder than at the beginning, some feel the opposite. Some feel like last season matters a lot, some don’t think it matters all that much. Some feel like what a team did two years ago is irrelevant, some don’t. Some feel like where bye weeks are in the schedule matter, some don’t.
The point is – there is no perfect schedule because there is no universal way people think, except that if you play Alaska – that’s going to be the toughest game of the season … and even one person out there might disagree. My office takes any and all ways to measure a team’s success – past, present and future – all ways some people find a schedule to be easy or hard – and attempt to use all of those measuring tools in the schedule-making process.
The difference is, the schedule maker is willing to answer questions from the beat team and type 1,911 words in the spirit of open communication with a look into the very difficult job of running a league, while the schedule viewers debate other schedule viewers on their opinions of the result placed in front of them, often very fun and compelling discussion – no harm, no foul – and I’m happy I got to sit down and give you a peak behind the two-week process.
There is beauty in it all and it all starts July 6. #makeanimpact