The USAFL National Championships are going back to Sarasota Florida for the second time. The beach-side resort city first hosted the biggest Australian Rules Football Tournament in the world in 2016, but since then a lot has happened, some of that controversial maybe, in the Sunshine state in regards to Aussie Rules football development.
After the last Nationals there in 2016 we saw the emergence of an organization called Major League Footy (MLF). The new League was based around the concept of semi professional players playing 9 a side games, similar to what the AFL had started in Australia with the AFLX concept. The main team within their armory was the St Pete Swans, a registered USAFL team who had played in the 2016 National Championships.
The website and social media of Major League Footy grew overnight it seemed, to sometimes 20 + teams apparently located around the USA as far north as Pittsburg PA and as far west as Los Angeles California. To many people around USAFL circles this development was fanciful at best and for some, basically pure fantasy.
The MLF development moved on however, they recruited the St Pete players and those outside or around Tampa and the Ft Lauderdale Squid players on the other side of the Florida peninsula. In January 2018 the USAFL released a statement delisting the St Pete Swans organization from their ranks, basically saying the MLF business model no longer fit with the USAFL's not for profit stance, and as the AFL sanctioned leader of the sport in the USA, the St Pete Swans and MLF organizations were not to be considered part of the USAFL in any way.
From then on the Florida players and teams went somewhat underground and also under the radar it seemed. Games were played between rival teams around Florida according to their website, however reports were that they were the same 20 players just pulling on different uniforms each week, pretending to be opposing teams. From the outside it appeared to people to be like a Ponzi scheme to attract money from sponsors without legitimate teams and without regard for real or actual development of the sport. Social Media and photos of the games were rare, no team photos, and rare player or game reports.
Many of the Ft Lauderdale team players allegedly played in a team called the Miami Saints in this MLF competition whilst several were still registered as USAFL players and then also played in the 2017 & 2018 National Championships without playing any full sanctioned USAFL games during those years. So it seemed the USAFL were hoping to ignore most of what was going, leaving it under the carpet so to speak, in the hope it would just fade away.
And that did just happen just recently in June. In mid June 2019 the entire Social Media accounts of all MLF teams and all websites disappeared, just like they were never there in the first place. A new team seeking affiliation with the USAFL bobbed up in Tampa Florida called the Tampa Bay Tiger Sharks (and were admitted) and were hastily given the green light by the USAFL to send players to the exhibition game in Savannah Georgia in late June. This game was organized by three registered USAFL clubs, the Atlanta Kookaburras, Rome Redbacks and Jacksonville Saints.
In past weeks we also have seen the re-emergence of the Ft Lauderdale Squids on Social Media, apparently under their own steam and not shared posts by a volunteer elsewhere in Florida. So things are looking up for footy in Florida again hopefully.
Will it last?, maybe only the sun, earth and the moon might know right now, but footy is heading back to one of the best locations for the game in October, Sarasota Florida. Even if footy in the area has a recent dark past, it is sure to be a great time come October.