Tri-Cities Fever

Rule change irks Billings franchise

The recent Indoor Football League's preseason meetings in San Antonio where pretty non-eventful.

The owners decided on the playoff format, discussed the upcoming season and made a slight rule change. But that rule change caught the ire of a few owners and coaches, most notably the defending IFL champion Billings Outlaws.

In an overwhelming majority, owners voted in a new rule that would allow a lineman to play a more traditional tight-end role, adding another option in the passing game.

It's the same rule that Tri-Cities Fever fans got used to in the last three arena-football2 league seasons.

But what some thought was a simple change by adding another dimension to the offensive-oriented game -- one that Fever coach Adam Shackleford supports -- was an unfavorable move for both the Billings owner and its coach.

"It would be extremely disappointing if this rule was not reversed, and would have an extremely detrimental effect on our franchise," Outlaws' co-owner and general manager Adam Steadman told the Billings Gazette said. "If this rule was brought to our attention at the meetings back in August (in Baltimore) and we could have debated it then and changed the other rules that go with it, we wouldn't have this situation."

Outlaws coach Heron O'Neal echoed his owner's comments.

"If I would have known we were going to have a tight-end type player, that would have helped," O'Neal said. "I turned away probably 15 tight-end type guys because that's not the way we play the game."

Steadman went on to accuse league members of waiting to vote on the new rule after some of the owners left the meeting.

"The majority of the teams in favor of this rule change are teams from different leagues or under new ownership and haven't met the requirements to be able to vote." he said. "They waited until (IFL attorney Bob Freeman) and some of the owners left the meetings to bring this proposal up and then voted on it immediately with no discussion."

The IFL is expected to announce the rule change and other details from the meetings shortly.w The owners also voted on the playoff format for the upcoming season. Sixteen teams will qualify for the playoffs, eight from each conference. The three division winners in each conference receive an automatic berth and the other five spots are wild cards, determined by records.

The top four teams in each conference will host a first-round game, but their opponents will be determined by location. The top seed will not necessarily play the eighth seed. It could end up playing the fifth seed if that team is geographically closer, in a move to try eliminate added travel costs.

After the first round, the playoffs will return to the more traditional format where location will not play a factor.

-- In the past week, the Fever has added seven new players to its roster to bring the total to 24. The list includes: George Perry (WR/DB); Harrington Waa (Center); LaReeylle Cunningham (WR); Demetrius Crawford (RB); Derrick Huff (CB); Montavis Pitts (DB); Thyron Lewis (WR).

-- Former Fever coach Pat O'Hara was officially announced last week as the new Orlando Predators coach. He resigned from the Fever on Dec. 21.