AFL needs to address scheduling conflicts - commissioner

By Jon MacNeill
Published in the Daily Gleaner on Friday November 13, 2009
Appeared on Page B4

SAINT JOHN - The commissioner of the Atlantic Football League says the cancellation of the loop's semifinal game exposed flaws in the scheduling process that will be addressed as the fledgling league moves forward.

On Wednesday, the Telegraph-Journal reported the playoff game between the University of New Brunswick Fredericton Red Bombers and Moncton Junior Raiders, slated for Saturday, was called off after the Raiders were unable to field a team.

As a result, the championship game will take place Nov. 21 between the University of New Brunswick Saint John Seawolves, who earned a bye into the final for finishing the regular season in first place, and the Red Bombers.

"I think we've learned a few things in our first year, that we have to consider more factors when it comes to scheduling games for next season," commissioner Pat O'Brien said.

"It's an awful thing that we couldn't get the one semifinal playoff game played, but that's unfortunately what happened."

However, Raiders head coach Peter Comeau says the situation could have been avoided.

Under the league's current scheduling format, the second-place finisher earned the home-field advantage in the semifinal and the right to decide when the game would take place.

Fredericton and Moncton both went 1-3 in the regular season but the Red Bombers finished second with a better points-for-and-against ratio during their two meetings with the Raiders.

Before the final standings were determined Fredericton informed the league that should they finish in the No. 2 slot the semifinal would take place Nov. 14 - the same day as the New Brunswick Interscholastic Athletic Association 12-man and 10-man football league championships. Moncton High School and Harrison Trimble High are facing off in the 12-man final and Comeau said a number of the Raiders are coaches or are directly involved with those teams, including himself, the Raiders offensive and defensive coaches and the starting quarterback.

"I approached Fredericton a week ago identifying that this could be problematic if we schedule the (semifinal) game on the same day as the high school championship," Comeau said. "The response was 'Well, why don't we just see what happens?'""

The AFL final standings were determined last Saturday and Comeau said he learned Monday that the semifinal had been scheduled for this Saturday at 2 p.m. He e-mailed Red Bombers general manager Larry Wisniewski early that morning asking if the game could be moved to either Friday or Sunday because only 20-25 Raiders would be able to play if the date stood.

"Our guys are frustrated," Comeau said. "There's a core group of 23-24 guys who still want to get on the bus and play. But this football is physical and aggressive enough that if you're playing guys both ways people are going to get injured - not hurt - injured and I'm not going to position our team for that.

"(Fredericton) had ample opportunity to look at that situation, identifying it as an issue and scheduling the game accordingly."

Wisniewski said the Red Bombers tried to be flexible but in the end it was not possible to change the date. He said referees weren't sure they would be available Sunday and that the league executive had "significant difficulties" with late Friday night games.

"But the real problem was that we were going to lose as many players as Moncton was going lose if we moved the game (to Sunday)," Wisniewski said.

"We took as many steps as we could take. Nobody likes to see these things happen but sometimes they do and it's nobody's fault except to say that you get to the end of November and there's a lot of things going on and sometimes they crash into each other."

Comeau said he recognized that as the No. 2 team Fredericton was entitled to schedule the game at its convenience, but added "it should have been figured out how to get (the game) done instead of how not to."

O'Brien said that, as commissioner, he wasn't going to force one team to accommodate another.

"It's a circumstance that happens when you have a brand new league and we'll deal with this type of situation when we have our league meeting," O'Brien said. "The biggest things for me is that we learn from what has happened this year and try to make a schedule next year that adapts to situations a little more than the one this year might have."