At the 2016 NCAFA planning session, one of the topics revolved around the continuing deterioration of Midget and Bantam football within NCAFA; Both in terms of participation and perception within the city. Select groups have long been discussing methods to address this continuing downward trend, however, over the last 14 years there has been very little changed.
In a breakaway session, led by Mark Ouellet of the Cumberland Panthers, it was discussed and unanimously agreed that a change was neccessary for the survival of both Bantam and Midget Football in Ottawa. In an attempt to bolster the Bantam division, it was suggested that we slowly move towards a three year Bantam program with teams having the ability to add up to four (4) 17 year olds to their rosters starting in the 2016 season. In addition, roster sizes at Bantam would increase from the existing 35 player capacity to 40.
Although there is some fear from members that this will negatively impact 15 year olds participation at the Bantam level, and similarly Midget football will take a hit with the removal of select 17 year olds; There are others, like myself, who believe this change is well overdue and will act to spark interest for NCAFA Football across the city.
So how would the Extended Bantam level work?
In 2003 grade 13 in Ontario was abolished, making grade 12 the last and final year of High School, and as such, forcing 17 year olds within NCAFA to play with 18 and 19 year olds who are outside of the school system. Although the original intention of Midget Football was to help develop 17 year olds by having them play up with older and, in theory, better players; in actuality, this is not how it has worked.
University Football in Canada has developed significantly over the last 10-15 years, and players are now eligible to receive academic scholarships worth up to $5,500 per year. With increased operating budgets, University programs have put more emphasis on recruiting and are now identifying players at earlier ages. In Ottawa, if a player is capable of advancing to the CIS, they would likely be identified at 15, or 16 years old, at which point a program would keep track of the player, their academics and continue to build a relationship with the prospect. The problem with Midget Football in Ottawa is that the qualified, CIS prospect would advance from their successful senior Bantam season - and start playing with older players who are not of any interest to the CIS programs due to their academic ineligibility. Players are aware of this, and their motivation and commitment to their teams is diminished as a result. They may choose or be forced to focus on employment as oppose to extra curricular activities like football. These factors have ultimately made a Midget league in it’s current form unsustainable.
Midget Football has struggled because it is effectively a final destination for players unsuitable to advance to the CIS. The players eligible to advance will have already been identified and additional support should be given to these select players to help showcase their abilities in their final year of High School. This leads me to believe NCAFA executive and coaches should select these showcase players at Bantam based on both ability and academics. As a league these players should be promoted to University programs so younger players aspire to be Bantam selects themselves.
The new Midget football league should be looked at as a preparatory league for those players still interested in advancing as late entry players into a CIS program. Or a competitive young adult league 18-23 years old with players finishing off their playing careers.
Another positive outcome with this proposed age change would be the paralleling age brackets with the QMFL, which would give the Ottawa City Championship team the ability to play for a cross province championship with the winner of the QMFL champion. This would also give players from Ottawa additional exposure within the RSEQ and Quebec players exposure to OUA programs the same.
In terms of marketing the sport and the attractiveness of playing football within the NCAFA, a change like this is not only needed, it is neccessary for the sport to continue to grow.
What do you think? Please post your thoughts in the comments below. . . :)