Hot Takes: BAFA’s 2017 Divisional Alignments

After several delays and a lot of speculation across the community, BAFA Director of Competitions Russ Hewitt has formally announced the structure for the 2017 National League season. As the dust settles on the alignments and the updated structure, here are #TeamDC’s hot takes on the news.

South Wales Warriors have done themselves a big favour…

The big surprise in from the top tier is that South Wales Warriors have opted to take relegation in order to rebuild their team. While they completed the 2016 season with a 3-6-1 record, it’s been an open secret in the Britball community that the Warriors were struggling to put together a competitive team for 2017 due to injuries and retirements.

With that in mind, they went for the short term pain of relegation and play-off suspension (more to come on that one) in order to rebuild their programme. Their placement in SFC1 Central alongside Solent, Sussex, Ouse Valley and Oxford means that they should be able to be competitive in every game, which bodes well for player development.

…but not so much for their former divisional colleagues

The upshot of the Warriors relegation is that the Premier South will now only have five teams. While it does mean that nobody is pushed into a very tough division before they are ready – a fate that has befallen Colchester, Nottingham, Ipswich and others in the last few years – it will mean that Prem South ballers look like they’ll get just eight games of regular season football in 2017.

However, quality over quantity is rarely a bad thing – particularly when quality is so thinly spread. Those fringe players who may miss out of gametime will hopefully be compensated with the odd mid-season friendly here and there, which will in turn help development. Less is, once again, more.

BAFA are getting strict on teams that choose to drop

One of the most interesting elements to the South Wales Warriors decision was that their voluntary relegation will result in a two year post-season ban. After several notable examples of teams forfeiting half a season before coming back at a lower level with little by way of punishment, BAFA appears to be tightening its rules to prevent the “one last ride” gang.

The South Wales Warriors were not given the option of simply dropping down scott-free, and were presented with the choice between dropping a level at the cost of a potential play-off run or starting over as an associate team. Furthermore, the structure announcement also clarified that any team forfeiting more than one game in 2017 will have to essentially start over and re-apply through the associate process. We felt overall this is a very positive step for the sport, helping to raise standards and expectations.

2017’s team intake could be dwarfed in 2018

Five new teams – Dumfries Hunters, Morecambe Bay Storm, Knottingley Raiders, Worcestershire Black Knights and East Essex Sabres – join the readmitted Clyde Valley Blackhawks as Division Two’s intake for 2017, but the big news is the huge list of teams that have entered the associate process for 2018 admission. Twelve teams are currently in the associate process and – even with the usual drop-off – it looks like being a busy 2017 for #AssociateWatch.

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Speaking of new teams, spare a thought for the Black Knights, who are geographical outliers in SFC2 West. It’s an unfortunate product of the UK’s geography that the south west always seems to get the bum deal when it comes to alignments, and this year is no exception. The BKs better get really friendly with their bus driver, with monster road trips to Cornwall, Devon and Dorset on their fixture list for 2017.

Square pegs have largely avoided round holes

Some delays aside, the structure and related announcements seem to be pretty… well, good. The structure of the top tier remains the same for the fifth straight year, and the changes to Division One make geographic sense and maintain what looks to be a balanced competition.

The only area that has raised serious eyebrows is NFC 2, where the North division has five teams and the Central and South both have seven. The imbalance has the potential to play havoc with the fixtures – do teams in the North only play eight games? Will there be some kind of structured involvement for the three associate teams in that region? Will South and Central teams play twelve games? Opting not to seek a temporary band-aid solution of placing Carlisle in the North, considering it’s less than an hour from Dumfries, it’s apparent that BAFA chose to give the Scottish programmes their own conference, likely in preparation for the number of teams looking to join from north of the wall in 2018. However, we’ll need to seek clarification on this one!

Maybe – just maybe – this could be a structure that sticks

If you ignore the disparities in the NFC II, this structure is relatively well balanced in terms of both travel and competitiveness. There’s no obvious “Group of Death” and no patsy conference across either of the top two tiers

There’s a real sense in the community that the structure across the top two tiers desperately needs stability and consistency – this version gives both and gives a true, balanced pyramid look. It won’t be the silver bullet that solves all of BAFA’s problems, and we can’t ignore the fact that delays to the release caused distinct unrest in the community, but structurally? It works.

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Tom Snee

A former local news journalist, Tom has been involved with Double Coverage on and off since shortly after it launched in 2011. Having started his kitted football journey with Huddersfield Hawks in 2007, he played wide receiver for four National League teams before joining the Mansfield Honey Badgers flag team in 2013.