TURF BURN: NAL Punishment More Right Than Wrong

It has taken a week, but the official National Arena League punishment has been brought down with fines to both teams, a one-game suspension for Carolina Head Coach Billy Back and a forfeit victory for the New York Streets.

Needless to say, the announcement was met with controversy.

The thefts and consequential walkoff by the victimized team may be the most controversial issue the league has ever faced and unquestionably the most public. The response by the league has already been criticized by many, but this is a stronger and more proper response than the public realizes.

Let’s break down the individual punishments:

UNDISCLOSED AMOUNT OF FINES TO NEW YORK STREETS: The Streets were fined for conduct detrimental to the best interest of the league by not providing adequate security with added emphasis that this was not the first time a similar theft was reported at the arena.

According to multiple news outlets and the league, an 18-year-old Connecticut woman has been charged with the thefts that occurred during the Cobras game and other times in the arena. Why did it get to the point where there were two times? This is the home of the New York Knicks G-League affiliate and a WNBA team. There is literally no excuse for not having proper security at this event.

It definitely highlights the ongoing problems with home games for New York, including a game where a field goal was decided on which net it hit and a season of playing on a short field where yards are roughly nine inches shorter. Hopefully this will be the last of games at Westchester and they can move the Streets to a new venue. It was only a matter of time that their pockets were lightened for not providing a good home venue.

UNDISCLOSED AMOUNT OF FINES TO THE CAROLINA COBRAS: Also listed as conduct detrimental to the best interest of the league, the Cobras were fined for not finishing the game.

So this has to be really pointed out based on other commentary, but how much money do you think this issue cost the league? In ticket sales? In advertisement commitments? With the offseason looming, how many potential partners will see the last game in New York having a championship quality team not finish a game? Simply the labor for league officials and coordination to deal with the punishment is worth fining the Cobras.

I’m not justifying or condemning the actual reasons why one might not want to continue, but no one can ignore that ending the game has much more extreme and long-lasting impacts than the criminal act of a non-league individual. The Cobras could have been unquestionably the victims, but they made a bad a situation worse.

League officials would be able to better figure out who will be off the table in terms of how much money will no longer be available, but it is very important to recognize how the same punishment of “detrimental to the league” has two very different applications.

BACK SUSPENDED FOR ONE GAME: The press release implies that Back made the decision to not continue the game. Honestly, that’s a kind punishment because he should have been gone for the year.

In attempts to get a first hand perspective of what happened, it seems that Back was not someone that should have made the call. He overstepped his position, he was reported as belligerent in the process and there have been no reports by players saying if they would or would not be willing to go out and finish the game. From all points, the more common-sense aspects of getting in fights with the other team, filing police reports, injury concerns or even the lopsided score were never brought up.

As someone who has had to deal with in-game locker room thefts as a fourth official and staff member in hockey, Back’s response is completely unique. Instead of rallying players together to get the win and keeping his players calm, he showed bad leadership through such an unprofessional response.

If he had taken the look from the bigger picture, I have every faith that Back would have made a better choice. Unfortunately, that isn’t how this played out. This should be punished separately from the organizations and I’m happy that the NAL has made a commitment through their release to clarify how and if these situations should ever happen again.

NY STREETS AWARDED FORFEIT WIN: This is the one that I disagree with wholeheartedly, but in a way that really hasn’t been enumerated in other opinions. The game should have been completely wiped from the gameday slate.

There’s no change in standings or seedings if the Cobras and Streets play one less game. Playoffs were set earlier in the week as Columbus won their game and obviously a 46-0 game was embarrassing before the criminal discovery. Between the more logical aspects of injury risks and uncertainty about other security issues, questions are definitely fair to ask. But as pointed out before, it doesn’t look like logical inquiries were given a shot.

It is frustrating to me to see a victimized team get punished further given the already traumatizing situation. Carolina was the team to not come back on the field, but do you really think the players had a fair opportunity to voice their opinions if the due process was undermined by their coach? The players themselves weren’t a part of the decision. To have their hard work on the turf get wiped out because of higher ups is a terrible way to lose and goes beyond the punishment of what a loss means for coaches or ownership.

But ultimately, what does the NAL gain by awarding the win? The largest complaint in the punishment is that a team clearly losing avoids the L because they let a criminal action occur in their arena. A slanted, but understandable, depiction of the issue, it would be easy for its supporters to swing people not in the know to their side.

In dealing with conduct detrimental to the league, this seemed like a following of the rule that no one would support. Both sides were found at fault for something leading up to the issue, so a cancellation seems like a logical compromise.

Obviously playing commissioner is hard and this was a tough situation for all involved. Personally, this was the strongest press release the NAL has ever put out and it definitely broke down the individual aspects of the situation. In one week the playoffs will be upon us and hopefully we can all move on.

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