President's Blog: The Vision

John Sculley said, “The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious”. I’ve never heard of John Sculley and have no idea who he is, but I think its a fantastic quote. Even more, I think it so underlines the potential of the USAFL. We have an amazing future ahead of us and it will unfold like a sophisticated construct of origami - in many diverse ways and forms, some that will seem obvious, others that won’t.

Talking through our vision with club Presidents has been a major focal point of the past few months. With this mostly done, I think now is an appropriate time to convey that vision to the league as a whole. The first step is to convey what our Grand Vision is, as in where we all want to end up one day.

For me, that’s to see a USAFL representative team play an AFL representative team here in the US, in a stadium built for footy. Crucially, the USAFL team will be capable of beating the AFL team. I’m realistic to know that, at 45, there’s a good possibility I may not live long enough to see it. So, although its about as grand a vision as you could have for Australian Football in the US, it comes with something like a get out of jail free card. Nobody can see that far into the future and anything is possible, so its hard to argue that it can’t ever happen.

Where it gets more complicated is identifying the steps we’ll have to go through to get to Aus vs USA. The next step is easy and somewhat obvious, that Australian Football would have to become a major league professional sport in the US. But what about before that? What crucial step must we progress through before we can become major league?

Again I think its obvious. College (and in addition, some form or forms of semi-pro leagues). But what is also obvious may be the hardest for the traditional Aussie Rules fan to grasp. College won’t be played on full sized fields, at least not in its first incantation. Schools simply don’t have the real estate or the funds to build us new fields and stadiums for an unestablished sport. It will have to be played on what they already have. Football or full sized soccer fields.

Our Metro. (I will admit, I’m not sure this is the best name for this format, but that’s another story). In fact, I think Metro is so important to our development, that 18’s can’t develop (at least to its full potential) without Metro developing first. This was the part of our vision that I expected would be the hardest to convey to club Presidents, but that hasn’t been the case at all. In fact, every single one has agreed with the logic, and in many cases its been like a light bulb turning on in their heads. Kind of like they knew all along, they just needed someone else to say it out loud.

So what is our Metro? It started out as 9 a side, played in the winter in the Arizona desert in the early 2000’s. Many clubs were quick to form their own leagues, understanding that the novelty of travel would soon wear off and that we needed a format to introduce the game to the uninitiated that needed to be local. But then we faltered. It didn’t remain 9’s and became 10’s, 12’s, 15’s or whatever numbers we had on the day. We lost sight of the big picture and instead of continually adding new teams to our leagues we tried to play as close to the traditional number of 18’s as we could (our focus on how we’d go at Nationals is also to blame) and our leagues got stuck at three or four teams.

These “teams” were really also in name only. Some players on teams scheduled to play didn’t show up, while others that weren’t scheduled did. They’d get divided amongst the two teams playing with the reality being that we no longer really had a Metro league, but a weekly scratch match. And there we got stuck. I know there are exceptions to this, but for the majority this is the case.

Why I think Metro should be 10’s and not 9’s is also another story for another day. And the actual numbers we play aren’t as important as the size of the field we play on. Football and soccer fields are ubiquitous across the US. To become a ubiquitous game, we need to develop a format that is played on them. The one thing I’ve learned from years of running kids clinics and developing Ausball is that our game is incredibly adaptable. The AFL actually adapts it every year, by bringing in new rules or changing existing ones.

I do want to stress that it is not our intention to promote Metro at the cost of 18’s. In fact its the opposite. We believe that by formalizing and developing Metro, we will in course be developing the more traditional version of the game.

What do you do now when you don’t know who someone is? You google them, right? Obvious (so I now know who John Sculley is). But Google only formed around the time that the USAFL did (I Googled that too) and it took years before that type of search for information became ubiquitous. Back then, you couldn’t find the answer to almost anything with just a few quick key punches like you can now.

Regarding Australian Football in the US, what other possibilities do you see that aren’t yet obvious? I’d love to hear what other visions are out there.


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