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Sharks in the Water, Part 3: New Year, New League?

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To go along with a new team thanks to the departures of players like Jeff Hughley, Marco Capozzoli, and possibly Isaac Morales, the Sharks will be in a slightly different, smaller league in 2014.

As first reported by Adam Markowitz of arenafan.com, the Chicago Rush and Utah Blaze will not participate in the 2014 season. While league commissioner Jerry Kurz has stated that both teams will return to the league in the near future, they did not file the paperwork to play in the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

The Milwaukee Mustangs will also no longer be in the Arena Football League, as they’ve been sold and relocated to Portland, Oregon. With the expansion Los Angeles KISS, the 2014 season will feature 14 teams.

For the Jacksonville Sharks, they’ll remain relatively unaffected, allowing fans to focus and breathe easy. The South division remains unchanged, meaning that they’ll contend with New Orleans, Orlando, and Tampa Bay on the path to their unprecedented fifth straight division title, which would tie them for fourth all-time with Tampa Bay for most division titles in league history (Arizona and San Jose each have eight, while Orlando has seven).

While their division hasn’t changed, the other three have undergone significant changes. Like the National Hockey League, the owners agreed on an unbalanced conference format for the 2014 season.

In the East division, the Iowa Barnstormers will join Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. This not only means that Iowa will be switching conferences (National to American), but this means the division will again have four teams, and the American Conference will have eight teams next season.

With the loss of Utah and Chicago in the National Conference, there were very few ways that the remaining teams could be fairly aligned. However, the league found the best alignment possible, though not without controversy. The West division was broken apart entirely, leaving only Arizona while pairing them with San Antonio and the expansion Los Angeles KISS. The Central division will be replaced by the new Pacific division, featuring the other teams from the old West, Spokane and San Jose, along with fellow Arena Football League debutante Portland.

This means for the first time in league history, San Jose and Arizona will not be in the same division. This goes against a long, storied history with these rivals, with several meetings deciding playoff fate. However, with an 18-game season, the opportunity remains that these two teams will play each other twice, as the full season schedule will be released in the coming days.

The realignment has a dramatic effect on the playoff shake up. With unequal conferences, the four team per conference format is no longer feasible. While owners will not finalize a new format until their meeting later this month, past convention states that the eight teams with the overall best records in the league will qualify for the postseason. While it would be less of an advantage for the Sharks, since the franchise began in 2010, Jacksonville finished with a top-eight record each season, meaning that they would have qualified for the playoffs each year.

Next time, the season schedule will be out, which means a preview of the potential pitfalls, landmines, and sure things the Jacksonville Sharks will face in the 2014 season.

For more information on the Sharks, log on to www.jaxsharks.com. For more on the rest of the Arena Football League, including the latest news and transactions, log on to www.arenafootball.com and www.arenafan.com.

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