New Year, Same BAFA?

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Sean BreenNews
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Well, 2021 is in the books for Adult American Football and all the focus now turns to the prospect of a normal season in 2022. I think it’s fair to say that between alignments, lack of punishment for forfeits to the complete lack of acknowledgement or accountability for those forfeits, BAFA once again didn’t live up to expectations as a governing body. I think simply accepting that mistakes were made would have gone a long way with those involved with the sport rather than the self pat on the back that appeared around the league. But hey, we are looking forward to 2022 now and a chance to return to a normal season for the first time since 2019. So with all the mistakes made and lessons learned surely things can’t go wrong again. Can they?

As the league have done well in previous years, the communication for teams to clarify their participation and un/available dates on the calendar has begun however there have already been some major red flags.

Traditionally the regular season has taken place over a 19 week period which allows plenty of time for the Premier Division and Division 1 to complete their 10 game schedule as well as the Division 2 teams completing their 8 game slate with the vast majority of games receiving appropriate levels of BAFRA officials and sufficient breaks to accommodate teams adjusting for holidays etc.

However, with the 2022 game period, there has been a massive change and it is pretty alarming. Within the 18 weeks allowed there is one weekend blocked out for the Coaching convention, as is customary, however there are also two mandatory “Bye Weeks” built-in for all teams as well as three national programme weekends where BAFA is suggesting that all teams have a Bye Week. That means out of the 18 week time frame a whopping SIX weeks are being marked as league-wide bye weeks. That leaves just 12 weeks left for the completion of all the league games. That means that teams will be playing every weekend available through the season where one of these events is not scheduled and only 2 potential dates teams can mark as unavailable. The tone seems to have changed from “if you can’t play no worries” to “we don’t really care what’s detrimental to your players just play all your games together”.

18-Week 2022 Season Schedule sent to Clubs by BAFA

For Premier Division teams assuming only 1 week is blocked out as unavailable they will be playing every game week with exception of one meaning they will likely have to play three games on the bounce twice or four games on the bounce to start the season. Hardly a smart move and more than likely going to result in high injury levels.

On top of that, this truncated timescale means there may need to as many as 30 games played every weekend. There simply is nowhere near enough officials to cover this meaning no doubt Division 2 teams will simply be left to self officiate. Which begs the question of why they would bother paying league fees when BAFA clearly doesn’t care about its largest group of members.

Take Scotland as an example. If a minimum of 5 games are played, at least 15 officials are needed simply to fulfil 3 person crews at all games which is around max capacity, so no weekends off for officials either. But the reality is there could be up to 9 games played, and that would mean a minimum of 27 officials and there simply is not the resources for that to be possible. Leaving multiple games with no cover which is embarrassing.

I like the direction the National programme is heading and more time together is a good step, but why the league has decided that is enough reason to stop caring about everyone else baffles me.

However, some steps that appear to be hinted at is more Saturday games as well as one week where the Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday are available. Surely the league aren’t suggesting teams play on a Thursday Night. Whilst I would wager the Tamworth Phoenix would be first to volunteer for this given the GB Lion weekends are surely the idea of programme Head Coach Jason Scott. But how many of their opponents would be willing to make a Thursday night road trip to Birmingham when the reality is most of us have jobs.

As has become custom for BAFA, the wants of the few seems to have trumped the needs of the many. While the transition to a higher quality product was marked as a priority by Pete Ackerley in order to attract sponsors, this move seems a premature attempt to kill the lower levels of the game, long before the dizzying heights of a semi-professional sponsored league is even close to happening. Perhaps BAFA would do well to look where the majority of their membership fees come from.

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