They came, they saw, they conquered.
And then they left.
In a letter from managing owner Skip Seda to American Indoor Football and commissioner John Morris, the Columbus Lions announced on Monday their intentions not to return to the AIF for the 2017 season.
The Lions finished the 2016 season 11-0 in the AIF en route to the franchise’s first undefeated season and a third league championship. Columbus outscored its competition 801-309 during the regular season and playoffs.
“We just believe there is a better fit for us elsewhere. We are looking for a competitive league with established rivalries that our fans will enjoy,” the team stated in a press release.
“We’re going to explore our options, because my No. 1 responsibility is obviously to win football games, but also to provide the best possible product on the field for our fans,” Lions coach Jason Gibson said. “It was a great season, and I appreciate the AIF for letting us play in their league and wish them the best, but as far as our fan base goes, I feel like I owe it to them to put a professional product on the field as best we can.”
“While we don’t like moving from league to league, we felt it was our best option to put a product on the field people want to see and give our players an opportunity to advance,’’ Seda said.
“We will leave no option unexplored. We’re looking into several options, with one being very attractive at this point.”
Not only did the Lions outscore their competition by nearly 500 points during the season, but several of the Lions’ opposing teams had well-documented off-field problems. While Gibson and Seda didn’t cite a specific instance, the volatility of the league this season was a factor in the Lions’ departure from the AIF.
“I’m not going to sit there and finger-point and say one thing or another,” Gibson said. “Basically for me, it goes back to the fact that we have a way we do things in Columbus as far as perception and how we operate and run our organization. We’re going to explore our options to make sure we uphold those standards.”
Despite the pitfalls from the other AIF franchises, the Lions were the only team in the Southern Conference to not have a game affected one way or another by a forfeiture.
“We got lucky,” Gibson said. “I scheduled the home games early on purpose. We were front-loaded because we had considered the possibility that some of the teams would not finish the season, and we did not want our fans exposed to that.
“Did it work out for us because we got lucky? No, we planned it. That’s why I wanted to schedule our home games (earlier in the season) to make sure ours got played.”
The Lions are contractually bound to the AIF until mid-July, according to the team press release. Information on which league the Lions will be playing its football games in 2017 will be forthcoming, according to the team.