BAFA League Primer


The 2018 BAFA season is almost upon us, and there’s lots of news and goings on to look forward to! Today we’ll break down everything you need to know ahead of the new campaign!

What’s New?

Two Tiers

In a groundbreaking move, the BAFA Committee have transitioned the ever-expanding BAFA leagues into two divisions – the Premier, and Division One. There’s a lot of new faces and big names returning. There’s a Northern and Southern split also, and here’s how the divisions look!

Northern Premier Division

HNC – Aberdeen Oilcats, Grangemouth Broncos, Glasgow Hornets, Edinburgh Outlaws, Inverclyde Comets (the Dunbeth Dragons have withdrawn from the league)

MEC – Leeds Samurai, Manchester Crows, Manchester Titans, Newcastle Blackhawks, Sheffield Giants, Sheffield Vipers

Southern Premier Division

SWC – Aylesbury Vale Spartans, Birmingham Lions, Cardiff Hurricanes, Coventry Cougars, Northants Phantoms, Northants Titans – Blue

SEC – Baker Street Buttonhookers, Chichester Sharks, London Rebels, Reading Lions, Victoria Park Panthers

Each conference will play two rounds of divisional games, and each team from the other conference within their division. Very straightforward, and similar to how the NFL runs things.

Northern Division One

HNC – Aberdeen Oilcats 2, Carnegie Flag American Football, Glasgow Killer Bees, Grangemouth Colts, Midlothian Sabres, Paisley Spartans (the West Lothian Chargers have withdrawn from the league)

MEC West – Calderdale Knights, Cheshire Cavaliers, Chorley Buccaneers, Warrington Revolution, Wigan Bandits

MEC East – Nottingham Honey Badgers, Nottingham Bears, Oldham Owls, Rotherham Roosters, Sheffield Giants 2

Southern Division One

Mid-South Division – Bedford Blackhawks, Coventry Cougars Ladies, Coventry Panthers, Northants Titans White, Northants Titans Black, Leicester Huntsmen, Rugby Racoons

South-East Division – Buckinghamshire Wolves, London Lucky R’s, London Smoke, Reading Knights, Southern Reapers, Ware Wolves, Wight Hell Hounds

South-West Division – Cornish Hammerheads, Cynon Valley Celts, Exeter Falcons, Plymouth Buccaneers, Swansea Hammerheads, Swindon Storm, Tydfil Trojans

Keeping it simple, the HNC and South Divisions will all play a double round robin, while the MEC divisions will play a double round robin within their respective division, and each team in the other MEC division once. That’s a lot of new names and changes! But we’ll have a more comprehensive breakdown in our coming extended previews.

Our Thoughts: The league has been expanding for years now, and while it’s unchartered territory, we’re excited to see how this format works! It puts a lot more of a spotlight on teams and more of a weight of responsibility for every squad to make sure their fixtures get played. Forfeits now roll on for a few seasons, so punishments will be based on a team’s historical forfeiture history. Every squad should feel good about their chances of winning their respective divisions and conferences. We shouldn’t see any 100-0 scorelines like last season, and there should be more parity in the league.

Another interesting wrinkle to this season is the introduction of a number of ‘B’ teams, almost exclusively in the Northern section of the BAFA leagues. The Aberdeen Oilcats, Grangemouth Broncos and Glasgow Hornets are all entering two squads into the league this year (Oilcats 2, Colts and Killer Bees) respectively, while the Sheffield Giants follow suit by entering their own development squad into Division One. In the south, the Northants Titans have three (!!!) teams in the BAFA leagues, one in the Premier, and two in Division One. The race to see who gets two teams in the Premier Division is on!

There’s good ground rules for players who suit up for a ‘development side’ and get called up to the ‘A’ team. This is known as the wandering rule. You can ‘play up’ once, but if you do this again, you’ll be unable to ‘drop down’ to the Division One squad. Premier squads can only call up plays for 50% of their game days, so they can only use this sparingly. Again, we applaud for the committee for having the foresight to prevent any abuse of some of the larger outfits in the BAFA leagues, who could have loaded their dev team with talent, and recall them for their premier fixtures. This is encouraged to be a safety net in the event of catastrophic injuries or the like.

The Buttonhookers won it all last year. Who will take the crown this season?
Credit: Vince Machi

Finals Day

Now that you know who’s in, you probably want to know what they’re all playing for. The Premier Division will be chasing the British Championships, while teams in Division One will be vying for their own championships, and spots in the Premier Division in 2019.

The top two teams from each respective division in the Premier Division will advance to the British Championships, meaning 8 teams in total will be at the final hurdle of the season. They’ll be seeded 1-4 respectively, and 1st from the North will play 4th from the South, 1st from the South will face 4th from the North and so on. They’ll be seeded again for the semi-finals, until we have our two teams in the final!

If you finished 3rd or 4th in your division, there’ll be a Plate tournament to play for, which will follow the same format as the Championship bracket.

In Division One, the top two teams from each Northern division will go the Division One Championships, along with the winners of each of the three Southern divisions, as well as the team with the next best record, creating another eight team tournament. Again, each team will be seeded 1-4, following the same format as the Premier Division.

Again, there’ll be a plate tournament for teams that finished outside the Championship bracket in Division One, with 3rd and 4th in the HNC and MEC earning their spot, and the four best records from the South will take part.

All the silverware is nice and all, but promotion is where it’s at. The good news for those in the North is that if finish #1 from the HNC and MEC then you’ll automatically move up to the Premier North! The 5th placed team from the Premier North divisions and the next seeds from the HNC and MEC will face their respective counterpart in a play-off game for the Premier Division berth. In the South, you’ll follow the same format, with the top two Division One Records automatically being promoted, and the next two best records taking on the 5th placed team in the Premier Division which is closest geographically (so for talking’s sake, the London Smoke would play the 5th placed team from the SEC).

Get all that? Good.

Our Thoughts: It gets a little hairy in places, but overall this is a straightforward way of doing things. Twelve teams is an ideal size to make sure that every team in the Premier Divisions has something to play for. 1st and 2nd are going to the Championships, 3rd and 4th have the plate to contest, while 5th and 6th will be fighting to avoid relegation. EVERY game day will have massive implications on the following season, which is unprecedented in the UK flag scene. The number of teams in the league (59 in total) is a pretty awkward number to be working with, but we commend the committee for putting forth a format which works well on paper.

The biggest and best improvement for us, on top of the two tiers, is the finals day. The flag league’s climax has always been a little disappointing with only four teams in attendance. It results in the league ending with a bit of a whimper for many teams who take part in the league. The idea that 55 teams would be at home this year seems criminal, so we’re glad that steps have been taken to include a number of other teams in the finale to the season. The British Championships takes place on the 18th of August, while the Promotional Playoffs will be on the 15th of September.

Refereeing will be standardised and treated with the same importance as it is across Europe. Credit: Aleshina KseniA

Mandatory Refereeing Course

In a move that was trialled a few years ago, the league have reintroduced the requirement for teams to send at least two representatives to a Flag Refereeing Course held by Jed Llewellyn-Brookes.

Refereeing has always been a hot button topic in the BAFA leagues, with the resident Facebook page being somewhat spammed on a weekly basis with miscommunication and confusion surrounding the rules and how they are applied. Thankfully, Jed was at hand to deliver clinics to each of the four conferences, and with an additional mop-up session planned, we should see a higher standard of refereeing across the UK this season. On top of this, we’ll see the introduction of a scoring system, which is already in place in some European leagues and practiced at Champions Bowl.

Our Thoughts: This is a no-brainer, and has been pretty effortlessly rolled out over the last few months. The mop-up session is the cherry on top of this measure taken by the league to cut down on the knowledge gaps. The scoring system should encourage accountability and open-discussion between teams in attendance. Low scoring teams will be subject to scrutiny from the league committee, while high scoring teams will receive praise. We saw this in action at Champions Bowl first hand, and it was an excellent idea.

The Hornets lifting the trophy at last season’s pre-season tournament – NuOla Spring Break
Credit: Glasgow Hornets

Pre & Post Season Tournaments

Another area that the league committee are looking to improve on is the value for money people see from their registration fees. Aside from the league, there’s really not a lot that BAFA offers, so starting this year, we’ll see the introduction of additional tournaments run before and after the season. These voids were previously filled by others independently starting these invitationals, such as NuOla Spring Break and Turkey Bowl, but this is now under the BAFA umbrella. The pre-season tournament is on Easter weekend, while the post-season tournament is to be rescheduled.

Our Thoughts: The teams involved in the first pre-season tournament isn’t full of heavy hitters, and it remains to be seen how teams treat these extra-curricular opportunities for game time. Still, they can be good springboards for the season, so we’re looking forward to seeing how the first one pans out. Once they get a bit of a lineage and fleshing out, we’re sure they’ll be a big success.

3 thoughts on “BAFA League Primer

  • 22nd March 2018 at 1:11 pm

    SWC Haven’t had their refereeing course despite it being compulsory. This was beyond people’s control (weather) so no complaints, but it would be interesting to know where the teams stand as they have been unable to complete a mandated team requirement.

    The tournament idea for more ‘value for money’ seems an odd one to me. No additional value is gained from these pre-season tournaments when the teams are still charged (sometimes a pretty hefty) entry fee.
    In order to make players feel as though they’re not over-paying for the registration (which they are – massively) maybe BAFA could try reducing the cost of it a bit. All players receive is a league which has no official refs, and is basically run by the teams, not BAFA; and a pretty big-standard liability insurance policy. It’s especially galling when the it’s only £10 more for contact registration, but they’re at a much higher risk of needing to utilise that insurance policy, and also get qualified ref’s to attend gamedays.

  • 26th March 2018 at 9:13 am

    I’ll attempt to respond to all of your points.

    SWC teams have been made aware of where they stand, a flag committee member has been in touch and a post from the committee was posted in the league Facebook group confirming the teams will be allowed to proceed until the event has been rescheduled, working with Jed’s schedule to ensure he is available. We’re yet to have a team say the course has been a waste of time, so it is worth rescheduling.

    To run additional tournament under the same player registration is additional value for money. Teams are still charged an entry fee to help cover some of the additional costs. The pre-season tournament is a two day tournament, I believe one of the first run by BAFA for flag, however I could be wrong. The entry fee was £50 per team, which is the same fee as other rival tournaments in the UK charge, however you have your BAFA affiliation here opposed to being completely uninsured. Outlaw Flag League ran Pirate Bowl earlier this year, a one day tournament with game lengths rolling clock and 12 minute halves; with only a guaranteed four games and this was also £50, FNY which is a comparable two day tournament also has the limitations of running at 12 minute halves and only getting 8 games across the weekend. To be clear I am not criticising shorter rolling clock games, however they are not full games. So if we look at Pirate Bowl 24 minute games (60% of a full game, only 4 games guaranteed, meaning £50 for 2.4 games. Assuming 10 players per team as I will do again below, that’s £5 per player for 2.4 games guaranteed and uninsured costing £2.08 per player per game. I’m not saying this is bad; I’m just drawing a comparative example. FNY if we use the same math, 8 games guaranteed at 60% games, 10 players so £10 per player entry assuming the same player numbers, comes out at the exact same amount of £2.08 per game per player. Again no criticism but this is just another example, this more relevant as it’s a two day tournament and again completely uninsured unless players arrange their own individual insurance. Looking at team insurance that is comparable to what we have at BAFA again assuming 10 players, it equates to around £6 per player, meaning if teams took that option so they had the cover they’d be paying £11 per player for the Pirate Bowl and £16 per player for FNY. For one final example, to cover all bases, and I’m going from memory here, the last NuOla tournament was £40 entry fee, same format as Pirate Bowl, pitches too narrow for a regular league match. So assuming same math 60% of full games, 10 players, it equates to £1.67 per player per full game equivalent and is again uninsured, so if you add on team insurance again it equate to £10 per player for the tournament.

    So if we continue to low ball the average team size at 10 players for the BAFA run two day tournament, that’s an additional £5 per player, depending on how each club manages its money, at my club we accrue monthly fees and always run at a slight surplus allowing the team to pay for entry fees to tournaments. Teams will be playing 7 full games across the two day tournament meaning that assuming teams have 10 players they will have paid an additional 72p per game. No additional insurance costs as you are covered by your BAFA insurance. Also the tournament is being held at a good venue, on pitches lined for flag football catering facilities on site, a local bar. The event also offers an opportunity for teams across the country to play against BAFA teams they don’t often get the opportunity to play against. This was an issue raised through the league feedback survey and proposals for moving to a premier division. This event has also been completely organised and will be run by members of the BAFA flag committee.

    I would like to say I’m not discouraging additional tournaments, they have great upside as they provide competition to BAFA, which forces us to improve and try and offer more. They also allow for teams from other countries to get involved as it takes away some of the red tape that would be required between governing bodies. I commend people willing to arrange these tournaments on their own back as there is a lot to deal with and potentially take on a lot of personal liability.

    Regarding over-paying for your registration fee, players in the flag league pay £25 for a year’s BAFA flag insurance. I believe and would need clarification on this I confess, that £20 of this is apportioned to three areas – the operation of the National Governing Body, the insurance that each player is covered by in the league offering some financial protection against serious injury. As well as providing teams protection when hosting events under the BAFA banner, finally a small portion goes towards running the GB flag football programme. To be competing for a British Championship you have to be under the National Governing Body.

    The comment regarding the fee and relating this to contact who have BAFRA officials is irrelevant. BAFA contact teams pay fees to have BAFRA officials at their events. This is not included in team or player registration. Flag teams are welcome if they want to, to arrange BAFRA officials for their league games, no one has ever stopped this, however we structure the league so teams can officiate their own games allowing flag to stay as a more affordable alternative.

    You have commented that the league is “basically run by the teams, not BAFA”, you would really need to clarify in what way, and since we’re drawing links to contact, how is it run differently? The BAFA flag committee has took feedback from all teams to give them a voice, analysed it and put wheels in motion, organising refereeing courses, creating a schedule, working to try and minimise travel costs for teams, arranging venues for additional tournaments and the finals events, putting together a structure, league rules and minimum standards. The only thing left to teams is to arrange the venue and times of their fixtures on dates laid out far in advance by the BAFA Flag League Committee, even then the timing is essentially arranged as the running order has been sorted by the league committee. In comparison to the contact league, contact teams need to arrange the same as in venues, however also have to arrange their own BAFRA officials and medical cover.

    I would suggest if you have issues with the way the league is run, that you contact a member of the BAFA Flag League Committee or open constructive and productive discussions through official channels. It will garner a more productive response if you have suggestions to fixing problems opposed to high level uninformed complaint. The BAFA Flag Committee is committed to making improvements and we all got on board with an open mind, looking to push forward improving the standard of the league, working to offer more for players under their existing BAFA insurance and improve communication from what it has been in recent years.

  • 26th March 2018 at 10:08 am

    I feel the price for the pre-season tournament is on par with any other one I’ve been to, which is quite a lot. I appreciate that it seems a little cheeky being above your registration fee, but when you consider that the committee is going to extra lengths to organise a MUCH bigger set of finals days, you can see where your money is going (for a change). For years we’ve been asking where our £25 goes, but this season there’s a clear set of events organised that will be subsidised by registration fees (I assume).

    We’ll see how it goes, a 2 day event is pretty ambitious for a first foray into this, and I hope it doesn’t muscle out any of the other invitationals we have in the UK. More football = good.


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