Last week, the National Gridiron League cited “project deliverables out of our control” for the decision to push the first season of the NGL back to October 2017.
The reaction has been mixed at best from the general public, ranging from angry rants to definitive cries of “meh, whatever”.
The main concern is the effect this decision will have on the perception of the game in Australia.
In a small snap poll, the results reflected this mixed reaction.
NGL POLL: With the NGL postponing the start till October 2017, will you be back next year to follow the NGL?
— Adam #AussieFaithful (@AussieFaithful) August 1, 2016
After the recent delay announcement, do you think the NGL will still launch in 2017?
— Adam #AussieFaithful (@AussieFaithful) August 3, 2016
Over 300 players and coaches had their professional footballing dreams delayed, or in the case for some, cancelled all together with one email.
For the NGL, it seems business as usual, announcing the arrival of Logan Wolverines coach Kevin Magouirk.
The fan reaction
For the fans, it is a deep sense of disappointment as they look for refunds on tickets already bought for the first season.
For skeptics, it has been a mix of anger and “I told you so’s” that warning signs they say they saw coming has proven to be, at least in part for now, true.
Cannot say I'm shocked (or even surprised) that proposed national 'gridiron' league won't launch this year. https://t.co/2WsNjo5Yr6
— edwyatt (@edwyatt) August 2, 2016
What is left behind now is a trail of players seeking new opportunities, assurances and help as they are left without a contract four weeks out from what was to be a new adventure in their playing careers.
Players like Ben Copher, who was to head down to the North Coast Heat relayed how quickly a dream can turn into a nightmare moments after the announcement.
And just like that, it's all yanked out from underneath you
— Coph_79 (@BenCopher) August 1, 2016
Others, like wide receiver Dylan Young quickly moved on, getting his name back out into footballing circles recognizing chances were fast running out for this season.
— Dylan Young (@DY_Lee11) August 1, 2016
Many more players and family members contacting AussieFaithful through private channels.
The underlying theme? Disappointment, some anger, and a mad scramble for the help looking for the next opportunity.
The timing hurt more than the decision
What hit the players the hardest was the timing, four weeks out from training camp, and after a lot of leagues had already filled rosters, high schools had signed coaches and opportunities had gone.
One such player is Sam Leota, signed to the Sydney Express after his performance at the NGL National Combine.
Leota is not the only one, but his story is one you can personally support. Sam’s family started a GoFundMe campaign in an attempt to recoup the expenses he has paid to make his professional football dream come true.
While the majority of players now move on with only time lost, his story is common for those that have lost out financially.
It has been the players that took the initiative and headed to their new home states early have been the worst hit.
That initiative has not paid off this time, and we hope everyone supports them as they push for their next journey, whether that be in Europe, America or here in Australia.
What happens to the local game?
Gridiron Australia, the official body of the game here in Australia released a statement after reports emerged there were some behind-the-scenes discussions on the NGL getting involved with the Australian Gridiron League competition.
The statement acknowledged the contact, but also indicates there is some way to go before any partnership could be found between Gridiron Australia and the NGL.
Local gridiron clubs have been called to look out for opportunities to capitalise on players having their eyes firmly fixed on playing in Australia.
There is a debate over whether overseas players taking local players positions in local leagues is a good thing.
Some say Australian players deserve the spot as they pay the money to play, others cite the expertise overseas players would bring to local teams.
Until emotions die down, and things return back to some normality, the true effect this will have on the long-term image of the game will not be known.
Perhaps though we can get an idea from lessons learned in the NGL Europe initiative that ran for 16 years until it’s collapse in 2007.
Steve Sheppard, the current special teams coach for the Netherlands national team, and former special teams coordinator and defensive line coach for the Australian Outback describes a similar scenario with the delayed launch of what was then known as the World League of American Football. (full context here)
The impact on the players, coaches and other staff who were excited about being part of this is indeed what everybody should be focusing on and managing too. You must not slate any player for ambition! We had NFL Europe until 2007 and one of the biggest challenges to our sport was the lack of management of players who had been courted by NFLE but not quite made the grade. When the Turk knocked on the door, far too often that was it. We lost most of them from the sport entirely. They became disillusioned in some cases (NFL is a business, remember) but many, exposed to a far higher level of preparation, coaching and organisation than they were used to, simply didn’t want to go back to 5 guys at a practice in a cow field with coaches who were not developing themselves. The local leagues pointed the finger at the NFLE for this, but in reality the local leagues failed. They should really have made more effort managing the situation and supporting the local prospects throughout the process. Also the domestic league didn’t hear the wake up call to step up their game as far as organisation and coaching went. The NFLE gave us some great coaching education for those who were willing to receive it. Most us high school coaches don’t get that. So they gave us the tools. But most clubs just felt and acted bitter, and complained about the league while trying to carry on as they had always managed to. I really hope the NGL does come to fruition in 2017 despite the brand damage. Remember the NFLE had a hiatus too (was initially the WLAF) in 93-94 and everybody assumed that was that but they came back bigger and better in 95 and ran for 12 seasons.
Try to support it – if it works you can all get those benefits we had all those years ago. If you look in Europe today you will see that the influence of NFLE on coaching is everywhere. Dresden monarchs, Berlin rebels, swarco Raiders, Hamburg huskies, Frankfurt universe, French, Austrian, Spanish, Dutch, Australian national teams – all head coaches were in NFLE. And many more too. Seven of the eight coaches on the Dutch national staff have been in or developed in part by the NFLE. What a shame so many European coaches refused to accept that development when it was available. And now they complain about the lack of coaching education.
I know it seems fishy but I for one still hope it happens as it can make huge improvement for your local league too. But use this opportunity to improve where you can and please support those players and coaches. Don’t laugh in their faces.
We now keep an eye out to see what the next move for the league will be to win back fans disenchanted by the delay.
Will the NGL be able to attract the quality of player needed for 2017?
Will the local player quota be increased to garner more local interest?
Will the league launch at all?
They are all questions we will look forward to being answered as we approach October 2017.