UPDATED 10:10 a.m. : The Outlaws first-round playoff game will be played at the SportsPlex, the Outlaws' practice facility, on Sunday. Members of the Outlaws team and management made the announcement this morning at a press conference.
Rumors were flying around like Chris Dixon touchdown passes Monday at the Outlaws SportsPlex.
Billings Outlaws players and coaches, still stunned by Sunday’s tornado that left their home field — Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark — temporarily unplayable, were left to wonder what was next.
The defending Indoor Football League champions wrapped up the regular season in that same building Saturday night with a 68-40 win over Tri-Cities. With the win, Billings finished the regular season with a 12-2 record and clinched home field for at least the first three rounds of the IFL playoffs.
The Outlaws learned on Monday that their first-round playoff opponent will be Tri-Cities. They are scheduled to play on Sunday afternoon, but the question now is where.
“I’ve heard everything today,” said Dixon, the Outlaws’ quarterback. “Here (the SportsPlex) … Daylis Stadium … Rocky (Mountain College) … Bozeman … Great Falls … Tri-Cities … Colorado … I’ve heard it all.
“The whole day has just been stressful. And depressing. Seeing those pictures of Metra on TV last night was like watching your house getting blown up.”
Outlaws majority owner Mike Parnell said all of those options and more have been considered. Due to the damage done by the tornado, Parnell had to rule out setting up an indoor field at either Daylis or RMC’s Klindt Field.
“That might have been an option for us, but several of our dasher boards and dasher-board pads (at Metra) were destroyed,” he said. “It looks like our turf was destroyed, too.
“Obviously, no venue is going to be ideal. We’ll be here late tonight weighing all the options, and we’ll try to make a decision on Tuesday.”
Parnell added that with some modifications, the SportsPlex might be the most fan-friendly option.
“There is a scenario where we could get temporary seating into the Plex for 1,500 to 2,000 fans,” he said. “It would take a lot of work and it would have to be approved by the fire marshals and city officials, but it’s a possibility.
“It would be like having a game in your favorite nightclub … every seat in the house would be up close and personal with the action on the field.”
Outlaws coach Heron O’Neal said he’s in favor of any scenario that keeps the team’s playoff games in Billings.
“I know Mike and the other owners are fighting to try to keep the games in Billings, and I’m hoping they can do that,” said O’Neal. “We put in a lot of hard work to earn home field in the playoffs, and it would be a shame if we didn’t get to take advantage of that.
“I hope they can make a decision soon so our guys know what’s going on. We had team meetings and watched some game film today, but we didn’t get a lot done because all anybody is thinking about is the tornado and where we’re going to play. And I’m no different … that’s the first time I’ve ever been near a tornado, so the whole thing has been crazy.”
While they all dealt with different feelings on Monday, Dixon, O’Neal and Parnell all echoed one common sentiment.
“Thank God that tornado didn’t hit during a game or some other kind of event at Metra,” said O’Neal. “Who knows how many people would have been injured or killed … I don’t even want to think about that. As bad as this situation is for us, it obviously could have been a lot worse.”