Yesterday afternoon, reportedly after a lengthy period of back and forth between BUCS, BAFA and the Sports Advisory Group regarding concerns about a number of teams’ capacity to meet minimum standards coming into the season, we saw the full release of the 2017-18 British Universities and Colleges Sports American Football schedule and league structures.
Let’s take a look at what’s changed, what hasn’t, what maybe should have, and what days to put in your diary early!
Welcome to the big league!
Two new programmes join the Uniball community this season as we welcome the York St John Jaguars and Bedfordshire Bulls.
The Jaguars join the 2A Borders, now an eight-team conference that will see each of the teams therein play each conference rival once – giving them a seven game schedule for 17-18. The Jags join a conference that was hotly contested last year and saw three teams reach the postseason. A gruelling 415 mile round trip to last year’s playoff contenders, Heriot-Watt, will particularly test the fledgling programme.
Similarly, the Bedfordshire Bulls top up the 2A Midlands to eight teams, and will be facing each of their conference rivals the just the once during the regular season. The Midlands Conference saw every team but one pick up at least two wins last season, so expect the Bulls to have to hit the ground running to find success in their debut season.
And welcome… back?
Two sides who failed to complete their seasons in 2016/17 return to the BUCS leagues this season, as the Northampton Nemesis and Westminster Dragons return. It’ll be familiar territory for the Nemesis, who return to the 2A Midlands, while the Dragons find themselves shunted sideways to the 2A South.
Rumblings across the league are that there were concerns regarding the return of both these programmes, that in part lead to the delays in the schedule/structure release. Supposedly neither programme has yet met the minimum requirements requested by BAFA from all Uniball programmes this past offseason, though BUCS themselves were intent on allowing the teams a chance to compete this season.
One programme that hasn’t returned this year, after withdrawing from the league in the preseason of 16/17, are the LSBU Spartans. Last we heard, the Spartans still intend to return to the BUCS scene, but it seems were not able to muster the numbers coming into the year. Hopes are they don’t go the way of the Wolverhampton Wildcats who we haven’t heard from in some time…
A little bit of reshuffling
Alongside the promotion and demotion of teams (which went according to expectations from the end of last season – two up, two down from Prems, six up, six down between Divs 1 and 2) a few teams have also found themselves shunted sideways.
As mentioned, the Westminster Dragons have slid from the South East to the South, potentially to try to mitigate the damage a potential withdrawal could have upon an already undersized conference. Combined with no replacement for the promoted Canterbury Chargers is how we see the seven team 2A South East reduced to five this year.
The Southampton Stags depart from their long-time home in the South Conference, and will now ply their trade in the 2A South West, replacing the tennis balls of the west coast, Tarannau Aberystwyth, who find themselves in their fourth different conference in four seasons.
Finally, the LJMU Fury have gone from the frying pan into the fire, displaced from the 1A Midlands by the return of the NTU Renegades, and instead find themselves in the 1A Yorkshire (ooh, you can bet the Lancastrians and Liverpudlians LOVE that conference name), former home of the 2017 Division One Champions.
One last thing of note, the Manchester Tyrants dropped a tier, but due to already stacked conferences, we’ll now see the two Manchester sides (Tyrants and MMU Eagles) competing in the same tier, but different conferences.
Division Two season lengths are a tad wonky
In an effort to ensure within-conference parity, the schedule in the lowest tier, in all cases but one each team will play each conference rival once. The exception to this is the five team 2A East where each team will play each other both home and away.
However, due to conference sizes varying from one to the next, this has also led to varying schedule lengths:
2A Borders, 2A North, 2A Midlands, 2A South = Eight team conference, seven game seasons.
2A South West = Seven team conference, six game season.
2A South East = Five team conference, eight game season.
Cue complaints about unfair advantages for smaller-season sides heading into the postseason, but remember! Based on the shift in formats last year, it’s only regular season standing that effects promotion. The Division Two postseason is just for glory, honour, and a trickle of BUCS points.
Dates for the calendar
Week One – Sunday 5 November 2017
The season kicks off first weekend of November and stand out fixtures include the Derby Braves hosting the National Champs, the Stirling Clansmen. In a repeat of last season’s opener, can the Braves cause a shake up right from the outset once again by defeating the Clan as they did in Week One last year?
xpLosION – Saturday 11 November 2017
One of the biggest events of the Uniball, nay Britball, year – xpLosION takes place Saturday 11 November and this year will feature the Birmingham Lions hosting the newly promoted Portsmouth Destroyers. After a shock loss against the Bath Killer Bees in last year’s xpLosION, the first ever loss for the Lions in their marquee event, will we once again be seeing fireworks other than the post-game bonfire and pyrotechnics display?
Hangers On Week (Week Seven) – Sunday 17 December 2017
A possible rain week for early fixture losses, last year’s Week Seven had only a single fixture scheduled (between Herts and Swansea) that was itself postponed on the day of due to lack of medical coverage. This year we see two games slated up, as Herts once again play hosts, this time to Pompey, and the UCLAN Rams host the Hallam Warriors.
Rivalry Weekend – Super Bowl Sunday 4 February 2018
As ever, Super Bowl Sunday will include a host of key local rivalry fixtures. The tier structure means there’s not quite so many local contenders able to square off, but we’re still going to see old rivalries reignited, such as the Devon Bowl match up between Plymouth Blitz and Exeter Demons.
Anything else stand out about this year’s schedule/structure?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments down below, via our Facebook page, or @Dbl_Coverage on Twitter!