Pulling The Flag

BAFA Flag 2016: Youth Edition

We often get so hung up on the senior flag season, that the youth season often gets overshadowed by its upper age grouping.

So what have BAFA got lined up for the future of the game for the 2016 season? With a controversial end to the 2015 finals, they’ve actually stepped up and made quite a few changes actually!

Before we start, lets have a quick recap of what happened at the finals last season.

Well, the Horsham Barbarians seemed to have an insatiable desire to claim their first junior title after losing out to the formerly named Marlow Wolves in the final of 2014.

They steam roller-ed their way to success, going the whole season undefeated after a comprehensive display against the extremely talented Coventry Cougars in the final.

What of the cadet age group? That was far less straight forward. It must have been a year for firsts as the London Blitz claimed their first title at the Under 13’s age group with a nail biting win over 2014 champions the Chorley Buccaneers Red Beards.

However, that win wasn’t without some raised eyebrows from the flag community, as just prior to the final group stage game, the Chorley Buccaneers coaching team requested a roster check of the London Blitz players, as there was some question as to the eligibility of some of their squad!

What would come from this, were heated discussions between all concerned as the Blitz had been using a different age cut off date to seemingly the rest of the league, thus allowing some of their players, who were actually nearer 14 to be eligible to play in the under 13’s age group!

The age groups had been set by BAFA in a circulated email to all head coaches prior to the season and were pretty clear weren’t they?

Age groups

Kinda, so what happened, that says U12’s doesn’t it? But it was the U13’s age group? What was the age group? Was there a lack of understanding? It seems that way! The age groups were U13s & U17’s for the season.

London were allowed to field their team in the final and went on to claim the title. Tempers flared around the youth community, BAFA investigated the matter after the season had concluded and London Blitz were legally deemed champions, due to a lack of evidence.

What?

They possessed an official emailed document that was issued to all head coaches in the league prior to the league season, with BAFA officials cc’d in the email itself, the London Blitz roster which showed the in correct ages and nothing was to be done?

Well, yeah sure, BAFA could have done something, but that wouldn’t be fair on the kids who sweated blood and tears to claim their first title would it?! They are kids after all. But that shouldn’t excuse the oversight from the national governing body, should it?

Thankfully lessons have been learnt and BAFA have done their due diligence and have put in a plan of action for the 2016.

Age cut off 2016

IT’S UNDER 12’s THIS YEAR PEOPLE!

To put a rubber stamp on it, the age group has been confirmed at U12s and U17s with a cut off date of 31st of December 2015 for the 2016 season!

Got it?

That’s not ambiguous, its out right definitive!

So how will this be enforced to stop the same thing happening?

Rosters

“Teams must submit their rosters to ALL attending opponents, to the BAFANL Coordinator (bafanl.youthcontact@gmail.com) by 5pm on the Friday prior to the event.
It is the team administrators responsibility to ensure that players photographs and D.O.B are accurate on the team rosters”.
Important
 
“All tournaments require a FULL roster check!
Once checked they must be signed by the opposition HC or GM.
A scanned or photographed copy of the roster must be returned to bafanl.youthcontact@gmail.com within 48hrs of the games completion”.
Player Identification 
“The team administrators must have a copy of all player ID’s available at each event. Any player unable to provide proof of age upon request will not be permitted to participate within the event”.
That’s quite comprehensive and should eliminate all future eligibility questions for the rest of the year. It does however create one not so slight issue…
The U17’s age group just got stretched, from some still 12 year old’s lining up against far more physically advanced 17 year olds!
Scary right?
Anyway lets put that to bed and get down to brass tacks, who is playing in what conference?
Conferences
The major change for the 2016 season see’s the addition of several teams from across the country dictating a change to the conferences landscape. What was once the North and South, is now the new and improved North, South and Central conferences.
North Conference
Leeds
Under 17’s                                                                                 Under 12’s
  • Burnley Tornados                                                             Burnley Tornados
  • Chorley Buccaneers – Broadswords                               Chorley Buccaneers – Red Beards
  • Chorley Buccaneers – Cutlasses                                      Chorley Buccaneers – Black Beards
  • Leeds Academy Assassins                                               Leeds Academy Assassins
The introduction of both the Burnley Tornados and the Leeds Academy Assassins in the North, plus the ever growing numbers at the Chorley Buccaneers deciding to enter two teams this year allows the North to have its own sustainable conference, allowing the Midlands teams to break-a-way to form the Central division.
Whilst we are accustomed to the Buccaneers fielding two teams at cadet level, this is the first time we have seen the “Buccs” enter two at U17’s. The Broadswords and Cutlasses will be fighting it out for supremacy with their Lancashire War of the Roses rivals the Burnley Tornados.
Burnley, who have just relinquished their place in the senior league, have been developing a youth team in both age groups for over year and take their bow in the flag arena after years of success at the youth contact format of the game.
In parity with the U17’s the U13’s also see’s the same teams compete within the confernce. The Leeds Academy has been in development for a couple of years now and they also enter the league as rookie teams. However, don’t underestimate their quality. Large numbers pile through their doors at training week in week out. They are one of the fastest growing teams in the land, so keep an eye on them this season in both age groups.
Last years finalist at cadet, the Chorley Red Beards find themselves moving with the times seemingly without fuss. Most of their influential players from 2015 have moved up into the U17’s age bracket due to the changes. They do however retain a few players from that team and with a year in the league, their second team, the Black beards team will feed much needed experience into the team, with many new rookies also joining the fold.
Central Conference
Cougars
Under 17’s                                                                                 Under 12’s
  • Coventry Cougars                                                             Coventry Cougars
  • Coventry Cougars Girls                                                   Coventry Panthers
  • Coventry Black Panthers                                                 Leicester Huntsmen
  • Coventry Panthers                                                           Studley Bearcats
  • Coventry Pink Panthers
  • Leicester Huntsmen
  • Studley Bearcats

Are they breeding flag footballers over in Coventry? It certainly seems that way. We all know about the Coventry Cougars. The perennial Britbowl attendees look like favorites to finally claim their first U17s title this year.

Having lost to the Horsham Barbarians in last years final, the Cougars find themselves in a very different conference to last year. After the Doncaster Mustangs pulled out of the league, the Cougars only had the Buccaneers and Bearcats to compete with in their conference, leaving them relatively unchallenged by the time the reached the finals.

This year they have split their outfit into gender specific teams to allow for more game time for their players and to also develop their next wave of female talent to bolster their impressive two time champion winning ladies team.

Will that be of determent to their club? Unlikely! The boys team picked apart all that came before them at this years Huntsmen Bowl, only conceding 6pts all day long. The girls team finished third at the recent Northampton Charity tournament and that was against senior ladies teams who compete at the Opal Series. Impressive!

So what of the other Coventry teams, where are they getting all these kids from? Pete Evans is the answer. The brains behind the “Panthers” set up has been developing the game in schools in the Coventry area over the past two years and after dipping their toes in the league as a friendly development team last year, the Coventry Panthers teams enter the league as what could be a considerable force for the future.

With two boys teams and one girls team in the conference, we’d imagine there will be fierce competition between themselves for bragging rights.

The Leicester Huntsmen face an uphill challenge this season. The Leicester team competed at finals last year finishing third in the cadet age group in their first year. Their team is mostly made up of the older players from that team who’ve moved up into the U17’s. With addition of some older rookies they look like a development team for now, but 2 wins and a draw at their own tournament does give some hope for the season ahead.

As last years young guns, the Studley Bearcats have a year in the bank and might be a team who can compete this year. After failing to record a win last year, they will be looking to make progress and get some wins in the W column and push on.

The U12’s looks interesting for the Central teams. With the Buccaneers now solely in the North, the Bearcats, Cougars, Huntsmen and Panthers will all competing for the conference title, this one could go anywhere.

The Cougars always look dangerous, but the loss of their strong arm quarterback to the U17s will be a hard gap to fill.  The loss of a couple of key players see’s them rebuilding, but they still have talent across the team, so look out for them to avenge missing out on finals last year.

Leicester similarly have lost a large chunk of their squad to age. A good showing at the Huntsmen Bowl might see them progress as the year develops. With some players retained from last year, they will have a year of experience to fall back on.

The Bearcats could also be a threat this year. With a lot of speed in their ranks, if they can find a passing game to go along with their strong running game, they may find success.

Another Panthers team looks like an unknown to us at this point, If they can mix it with the rest, this conference could be a four way scrap for a finals place.

South

W Wolves

Under 17’s                                                                                 Under 12’s
  • Buckinghamshire Wolves                                                 Buckinghamshire Wolves
  • Hertfordshire Cheetahs                                                    Hertfordshire Cheetahs
  • London Blitz                                                                        London Blitz
  • London Warriors                                                                London Warriors
  • Northants Titans                                                                Waveney Wolves

The first thing you should have noticed straight away, is that last years champions, the Horsham Barbarians will not be defending their title! Other commitments for head coaches, Dayle Kirby and Dave Lee and the loss of players to age and contact football has seen the club put on hiatus for the foreseeable future.

That opens the door for what looks like a very competitive division for the South. With everyone getting a drubbing last year from the Barbarians, the doors wide open for someone to step into the breach.

Prior to the emergence of the Barbarians, the Buckinghamshire Wolves were the best team in the land at U17 level. They’ll be looking to regain that title. A transitional year for Bob Allen and his team last year saw them just reach the finals. With what looks like a fresh up coming batch of players this year, they will be hoping to show their worth and keep up their annual visit to the big show.

Threatening to knock on the door of he finals are the Nothants Titans. Narrowly missing out on finals in their rookie year, the Titans have a very large and talented squad to attack the league this year. They do have some work to do though. A shutout loss to the Cougars in the Huntsmen Bowl final indicates that they will need this year to develop as Britbowl finalist contenders. But we expect them to be there of there abouts.

The London Blitz are genuine contenders as well. If they can merge their older winning cadets to the juniors, they will be in the reckoning. Like the London Warriors, the club is built around the contact side of the game and for both teams this can create continuity issues as they tend to chop and change their teams with their dual registered players depending on what fixtures they have on.

Nevertheless, expect the Blitz and Warriors to have a say in the conference and if they can get some momentum, they might just be seen at finals this year.

The Hertfordshire Cheetahs must feel like they being dealt a bum deal. The much improving rookie cadet team of last year were priming themselves for a run at making the finals this year. However, due to the age changes being enforced, they now find themselves having to split their team up and enter two teams, both in the U17’s and U12′

Lack of numbers saw them pull out of the Huntsmen Bowl and may they are struggling to be competitive, so lets hope they manage to bolster their squads in both age groups and push on from their rookie season.

With the Blitz’s large squad now split into both age groups, the champions of last year still look strong though. Swelling numbers mean they will most likely start as favorites to return to finals. If they can ride the crest of a wave from last year, they will be hard to stop.

Their most likely challenger will be the newly formed rookie team from East Anglia, the Waveney Wolves. An impressive win at the Huntsmen Bowl not only saw them claim their first silverware, but made the rest of the league who were present stand up like Meercats and take notice.

A strong ground game and a stringy defense makes them our dark horse for the U12s title this year.

The London Warriors can take last season as a good development season and if they can gel, they are another team who could cause the league to take notice.

Lastly the Buckinghamshire Wolves American Football Club face a season like no other. Whether at Junior or Cadet, this is the first year they will be without their talisman Head Coach, Sam Mckee.

Sam has hung his clip board up for now to concentrate on his family, so we wish three very special coaches farewell for now in Sam, Dayle and Dave.

The Wolves themselves will look to improve on their fourth place finish at finals last year, but with some transition taking place, we hope they will be back to the club we have known for the past few years.

Finals

With the now three conferences, how is that going to work regards teams making playoffs?

Well what BAFA have done this year is introduce two inter-conference days of which teams will take on some (not all) of their inter- conference counterparts. That all sounds great, teams will play more teams and not get bored playing the same teams.

But how does that affect final placing if they don’t play all of the other teams?

We imagine that will cause quite a few issues actually. So lets look at how the teams will qualify and break it down for you.

Post Season Football

“The “Winners” of each conference will qualify for the BAFANL Championship Finals event.
The HIGHEST SEEDED “Runner-Up” across all conferences will qualify for a BAFANL Championship Finals event as the wildcard team”.
So each division winner will make the finals, with the best runner up from across all conferences taking the “wild card” fourth place.
With teams only playing some of their other inter-conference rivals and not all of them, this may be interpreted as creating an unfair advantage to some teams and not others. Also, it means some teams play their own conference rivals more times than others which can cause an unbalanced final standings.
So what are the tie-breakers?
Standings/Deciders
1. PCT
2. Head to Head
3. Average Points Against
4. Average Points For
5. Coin Toss
Okay, so that’s that cleared up, lets hope its not a three way tie for the wild card. That might make for an interesting Skype three way coin toss if it comes to it!
One thing we do know, the future is bright and it’s in the hands of the coaches who run those teams. If the league can be ran the way it should be, everyone will have a blast!

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