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Major League Aussie Rules to hit the US Scene

  • Wednesday, July 13 2005 @ 09:59 am ACST
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North America

As Australian Football has developed in the United States over the past ten years, a number of clubs have begun using 9-a-side 'Metro Footy' to overcome the hurdles posed by a lack of large enough grounds, small initial squad sizes and the distances between cities.

Now, a new initiative is underway to take 9-a-side footy to the next level with the creation of 'Major League Aussie Rules', a plan which may see metro sides from across the USA competing against each other.

The model for club structure in the USA has recently tended towards clubs having intra-city 9-a-side Metro Leagues, with a squad representing the city then travelling regionally to play 18-a-side matches. This was first adapted by the then Phoenix Scorpions (now the Arizona Hawks) who founded their Arizona Australian Football League in 2000. Over 100 players pulled on the boots for an AZAFL match in the 2004-05 season, a record for the club and the result of half a decade's recruitment work.

This trend has seen similar leagues created in San Francisco (the Golden Gate AFL), Chicago, New York, Boston, Florida (now becoming a state league feeding into their Eastern AFL side), North Carolina, Nashville, Milwaukee and numerous other cities across the USA.

Southern California has seen repeated attempts to create Metro Leagues within cities, but these have so far been less successful. The California AFL was once the strongest regional league in the USA, now it is essentially in recess. An attempt was made to rebuild the CAFL with a metro-style greater league last year, but the season began badly with the unexpected collapse of the reborn Inland Empire Eagles and then had some further hurdles causing it to collapse mid-season.

Long-time Californian Aussie Rules stalwart Chris Olson is one of the leaders behind the project, and he is starting to gain support from other local clubs. He is quick to reinforce that the idea is not intended to replace 18-a-side football just complement it and offer another avenue whereby much larger numbers of people can play more often and with less travel.

When asked how MLAR would fit into the wider USFooty scene Olson has the following to say. "In my mind this is what we should be focusing our attention on in the states. Don't get me wrong, full-18-a-side games played on ovals 160 m x 145m is what footy is really all about - if you've got the facilities. In California we don't and won't. Property values here make building ovals a near impossibility. So why bother trying to organize a club where you need a min. of 18-20 players and struggle to find a place to play a game? On top of that you're only going to play maybe 6 games a year plus a tournament or two. How can you recruit new players to a game when they're not even going to get playing time?

"Last season in the CAFL was to be the precursor to MLAR, but there were problems that saw it break down halfway through. The first 4 rounds, however were a huge success. So it can work."

MLAR would see metro leagues from around the USA join together as a greater body, with finals held for the first season in mid 2006. For some clubs it would be a matter of formalising existing 'scratch' metro leagues, for others their existing league would sign on. The costs to clubs for registration would initially be zero, however as a national body there is scope for clubs to then be able to use grounds such as smaller soccer or gridiron stadiums and control gate receipts and similar.

In the highly sensitive political world that is international footy, the MLAR is being careful to make sure people are certain that it isn't an attempt to overthrow any existing organisations, just to tie together and formalise metro competitions. Major League Aussie Rules won't get going for a few months yet when the main USAFL season of the Californian clubs has finished, but the potential is there for a new avenue for development in the USA.