CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A six-team Okinawa interservice football league is in the works, Marine Corps Community Services officials said.
Steve Rowland, director of Semper Fit athletic and sports programs for MCCS Okinawa, said plans call for four Marine teams, an Air Force team and a Japanese university team to begin play in late September.
Though the Marines run tackle football programs at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Camp Lejeune, N.C., Okinawa hasn’t had a command-sponsored interservice football league since MCCS pulled the plug on the island’s league after the 1989 season.
“The timing was right,” Rowland said about the startup of the new league, adding that “there was an interest” among Marine Corps Base commanding officers and people within MCCS. “That’s how things change.”
There was also an interest “among the troops” that was brought to command, said Camp Courtney deputy commander Lt. Col. Anthony Bowman, who coached the Courtney-Hansen team in the U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League last year and will coach the Titans again in the new league.
“It’s definitely something whose time has arrived. There’s definitely some talent on the island,” said Bowman, who also will be the proposed league’s coach and player liaison to Marine Corps Base administration.
Bowman said he fielded 200 phone calls and talked with people on the street who knew he was involved with football about the prospects of a new league forming on the island.
The two Marine teams in the USFJ-AFL last year, Courtney-Hansen and Futenma, “proved that there was a ground-based interest,” Bowman said.
“We’re grateful for the opportunity that USFJ-AFL gave us,” he said. “That served as a launching pad for this year’s league. It’s been 15 years. It’s about time that football on-island came around again.”
The hard part, Rowland said, was getting enough equipment to suit up four teams, Rowland said.
That effort began late last year. About 80 percent of needed equipment has arrived, most of it helmets, pads, jerseys, pants and spikes. MCCS is still waiting for blocking-sled pads and other practice necessities.
Equipment ran “between $250,000 and $275,000,” Rowland said, but justifying the expense was not a problem. “I have very understanding bosses,” he added.
Player registration began Thursday and continues until Aug. 20, Rowland said. Coach registration opened Thursday and continues until the end of the month.
Team tryouts are scheduled for Sept. 1-12. Tentatively, MCCS plans the season to run from Sept. 25 to Nov. 14, with playoffs on Thanksgiving weekend and the league championship Dec. 4.
Despite waiting for the rest of the equipment, “I’m comfortable we’ll be able to start in September,” Rowland said.
Joining Courtney-Hansen in the league, Rowland said, will be teams from Camp Kinser and Camp Schwab. Futenma Air Station and Camp Foster will combine forces to form a third team.
That may change, depending on operations tempo and the numbers available at Schwab, Rowland and Bowman said. Futenma and Foster could field their own teams if Schwab isn’t able.
The planned fifth and sixth teams would be in the league as invited guests, Rowland said — Ryukyu University and the Kadena Dragons, another USFJ-AFL holdover.
Neither will receive funding from MCCS, Rowland said. Kadena Services does not plan to provide support for the Dragons, said Dawn Pierce, acting sports and fitness center director for Kadena Air Base.
Field availability isn’t a problem. MCCS maintains fields at Futenma as well as Camps Schwab, Foster and Courtney, the latter two which have lights.
“We have plenty of places to play,” Rowland said.
Unlike the USFJ-AFL, which uses NCAA rules, Okinawa League games would be governed by National Federation High School rules, which are used by the Marines’ stateside tackle programs, Rowland said.
As to whether the Okinawa champion would square off against the USFJ-AFL winner, Rowland and USFJ-AFL Commissioner Kyle Rhodus said the fact that the two leagues run at different times of year and use different rules might make that impossible.
The USFJ-AFL season runs from June to mid-August, with the league title game slated for Sept. 4 — three months before Okinawa’s.
“In the future, if the two leagues run simultaneously, I think it’s a possibility, but until then, I don’t see it happening,” said Rhodus.