Contributed by: Brett Northey
Aussie Rules has grown steadily in the US since first getting off the ground in 1996. It is easy to overlook how recently the game has been recently in that country. The sport's current strength is individual clubs scattered around the US, but increasingly the clubs are developing social reduced player number "metro" leagues to support the game. Now it appears the next step in growth could be in the college system, the corner-stone of US professional sport.
Several college-based clubs already exist in the United States, such as Arizona State Uni, competing in the Arizona AFL metro league, and Vandy Aussie Rules Club, a member of the Nashville AFL. Also in Tennesse are a Belmont Uni side. It has produced players for the Roos in the past, and the club is looking at developing official status this year, with a couple of Aussies imvolved in Sports Administration coordinating the push. Wisconsin is also showing a lot of potential. Until now, these have all been developments from individual clubs.
The USAFL recognise the need to push the game further into the college system and are taking a systematic academic approach to the issue. US Footy's Randall Upton - "USAFL believes that a push into US colleges and universities provides probably the greatest opportunity for the sport to develop here in the US. Beneath the formal NCAA structure at Div I, II and III levels, all schools have significant intramural and club sport programs and activities. In certain instances, such as in rowing, club teams can compete with NCAA teams in formal competitions. Colleges and universities have the infrastructure and processes in place for non-traditional NCAA sports such as Australia Football to grow. At the Div III college where I work the fastest growing competitive sport is Ultimate Frisbee! Where a USAFL club structure can combine with a university or college for facilities and players -- such as in Nashville (Vanderbilt), Milwaukee (University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee) and Phoenix (Arizona State) - growth in the game should develop quickly."
Randall spoke further about this push in a recent USAFL newsletter:
"It is recognized by many that modifications in the presentation of the sport of Australian Rules Football in the US is a necessary ingredient of the game’s development in this part of the world. Games based on “modified rules” that reflect North American facilities and institutional structures are seen as necessary if the sport we all love can be adapted to the sporting environments as exist here. Without these modified games, rapid growth in the sport will probably not be possible.
The 18-a-side game will always be the ultimate competition in the US, and the one that will be followed at National Championships and in international competitions. But at the local level, games with modified rules, smaller fields and reduced numbers of players are currently being played. These games are developing as a way of attracting greater numbers of players and of developing player skills for the full-size game.
As examples, the “metro footy” that was originally developed in Phoenix is now played most everywhere in the US. In Texas a “touch” version of Australian Rules known as “Ozball” has been played between college teams. Modifications in the rules and in the scoring were used at the ’05 Wild West Shootout and there have been discussions on the merits of a game known as Arena Football.
Although growth in Australian Rules in the US will depend in large part on these types of games, it is extremely important that a coordinated approach be taken to the development of the “modified rules” that are used. If a coordinated approach is not taken, there will be such diversity in the outcomes as to render the efforts meaningless. What is needed is to develop the games within the institutional structures that exist within the US sporting industry/market and to coordinate these developments under the guiding umbrella of the USAFL. The most important of these structures are US college and university sporting programs.
At the Meeting of the Board of Directors in January this year, I was assigned a portfolio being for the development of college footy. It is the opinion of the Board that the collegiate area promises the best hope for rapid growth in Australian Rules Football under the USAFL umbrella.
I took an important step in fulfilling my responsibilities under this portfolio at Nashville prior to the recent MAAFL match between the Nashville Kangaroos and the Milwaukee Bombers. On that weekend I met with Peter Beare in his capacity as Australian Festival Director; Adam Bishop, an Australian graduate student at Belmont University who is pursuing a masters in sports administration; and LaDonna Muechel, Associate Director, Vanderbilt University Sport Clubs.
As a result of these meetings, we are currently developing an academic-oriented approach to the development of college footy, to be known as "Club Footy". Pursuant to this approach we will analyze (a) the structure of college club sports (non-NCAA) in the US; (b) the types of fields that are generally available to these clubs; (c) the type of access than can be granted to non-university teams for university facilities; (d) rules and regulations that are appropriate, ranging from co-ed "touch football" to competition 9-a-side footy that can be played at the inter-collegiate level; and (e) relationships that can be developed between USAFL Clubs and universities and colleges that are located in their geographic regions.
The outcome will be a paper that I will present to the ANZACC Conference in September 9,10, and 11 that will analyze the development of "modified rules" games in the context of the structural differences as exist in the delivery of sport and recreation activities in the US and Australia. Adam will then present his paper which will make recommendations for taking the game to the next level within colleges and universities. In addition to developing proposed rules and structures, we will also present the USAFL "modified rules" matches to more than 150 representatives of US/Australian businesses.
Peter Beare is working with me to ensure that the outcomes and product are owned by the USAFL. His involvement and cooperation is an essential ingredient of these efforts."
Let's hope these thorough plans result in a number of new college clubs springing up in the next few years, with Aussie Rules becoming embedded in the US college sports system.
World Footy News