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TOKYO — Newly appointed commissioner Kyle Rhodus wasted little time in trying to fix problems plaguing the U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League.

Rhodus was picked by the league’s coaches Saturday at the league’s winter meeting to replace Joseph Howell, who resigned after last season.

Rhodus, the third commissioner in less than a year for the 4-year-old league, said he hopes to stem the tide of duty- and transportation-related cancellations and postponements, including the 2001 and ’03 league championships.

“It’s been a joke,” he said. “It has been a mess the last couple of years, all the talk of cancellations, whose fault they were, etc.”

The Yokosuka Naval Base athletic director addressed those problems by splitting the USFJ-AFL’s teams into northern and southern conferences. They’ll play independent regular seasons, scheduling interconference games when possible, followed by two-tiered playoffs at season’s end.

“We pretty much have it ironed out,” said Rhodus, 30, a Florida Keys native who’s in his second year of overseeing the Navy’s largest overseas athletic department, with a budget of $3 million.

Under Rhodus’ plan, the northern conference will include Yokota, Atsugi, Misawa and four-time defending league champion Yokosuka.

Northern conference teams will “play two games each, home and away, against each other,” Rhodus said. “All these teams can travel by road where they need to go.

“Then, we’ll try to get one home and one away game against a southern team during the season. These won’t affect the standings but will be played because the [northern] guys want to go to Okinawa and the guys on Okinawa want to come up here and play.”

Or course that plan depends on the future of Okinawa’s three league entries: Kadena, Futenma and Courtney-Hansen. Rhodus said he plans to contact them soon.

Asked about reports that Marine Corps Community Services on Okinawa is planning to form its own league, Courtney-Hansen coach Tony Bowman said, “Nothing is set in stone.”

MCCS Semper Fit sports director Steve Rowland could not be reached for comment.

Rhodus said he hopes the southern conference teams would remain but “even if they start their league at a different time, they’ll still crown a champion, and we’re hoping they can play our champion at some point. It would really be nice to have a northern and southern league at the same time.”

Tentatively, the league will open with a June 19 jamboree at Yokosuka, including all four northern teams “and any southern teams that want to come up,” Rhodus said. He’s working on a standard operating procedure for all teams and referees. Part of that allows teams a “second chance” to make up a postponed game “only for major, major issues,” he said. “If they can’t make it up, it goes down as a loss.”

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He served 10½ years in the Air Force, the last 4½ assigned to Stripes in Tokyo, and was then hired by Stripes on Oct. 25, 1985. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages Pacific Storm Tracker.
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