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A rematch of last year’s championship game opens the 2006 U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League season June 3 when Yokota travels to Misawa, where the Marauders beat the Warriors 30-21 for Misawa’s first title.

The seventh USFJ-AFL season will be one of change, commissioner Kyle Rhodus said. The league is adopting National Federation High School rules and the reigning two-time Okinawa Football League champion Kadena Dragons will play six exhibition games, two away and four at home, as a non-league entity.

Adding Kadena “offers good competition during the season,” Rhodus said.

Until the 2003 season, the league included up to three teams from Okinawa, which meant good competition but also a transportation and billeting “logistical nightmare.” Many games were postponed or cancelled. USFJ-AFL went strictly with mainland Japan teams starting in 2004, the same year the OFL formed.

Rhodus said Kadena coach Will Cupp “contacted us during the offseason and said they wanted to rejoin USFJ-AFL. ”

Cupp is deployed and was unavailable for comment. Asked if playing USFJ-AFL teams would endanger Kadena’s OFL standing, Sonny Jones of Marine Corps Community Services Semper Fit Athletics, the OFL overseer, declined immediate comment, saying it was the first he’d heard of it.

Rhodus said, “I think we found a way to work the best of both worlds for our league and the Kadena folks.”

Of Kadena, Yokota assistant coach Jonathon Pitts said, “It’s great to have them back.”

Adopting National Federation rules will foster “consistency in officiating,” Rhodus said. “Now, officials across Japan can prepare for one set of rules year-round instead of one set for USFJ-AFL and one for high school.”

National Federation rules also mandate 12-minute quarters instead of the NCAA’s 15.

“We have a lot of players well into their 30s. Four 15-minute quarters is a little too much,” Rhodus said.

Variations in blocking rules also will “protect and make the game safer,” he said.

Pitts said, “All of these guys have duty and family commitments. An important thing is keeping them safe while they’re having fun playing football.”

Getting used to the new rules, with much stricter enforcement on offensive false starts and defensive neutral-zone encroachment, will bring “growing pains,” Rhodus said, but should result in “a much better product.”

The rule change brings USFJ-AFL in line with the OFL, which also uses National Federation rules. Rhodus said he hopes it will remove one obstacle to matching USFJ-AFL and OFL champions in a “true” All-Japan interservice title game.

Asked about that possibility, MCCS Semper Fit’s Jones offered no comment.

Rhodus acknowledged many obstacles remain to having the two league champions face off — the biggest being timing. The USFJ-AFL season runs June to early September; the OFL’s from late September to December.

Rhodus said he doesn’t see both leagues being fully integrated again but “incorporating as much as we can is as good a compromise as we can make.”

New mascots: Atsugi and Yokota have changed their mascots. Atsugi drops its longtime nickname, the White Dolphins, in favor of the Falcons, and will wear the red and black colors of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. Yokota will become the Warriors, dropping their longtime Raiders nickname.

Preseason jamboree: The league’s preseason jamboree will be May 27 at Yokosuka. The four charter members will play each other in six 12-minute quarters followed by a barbeque.

The regular-season schedule runs June 3-Aug. 12, with July 15 and Aug. 19 listed as makeup days in case of postponements. All four teams qualify for the league semifinal games on Aug. 26; the league championship Torii Bowl is slated for Sept. 2.

2006 USFJ-AFL schedule

Saturday, May 27

Preseason jamboree at Yokosuka Naval Base, 3 p.m.

Regular season

Saturday, June 3

Yokota at Misawa, 2 p.m.

Yokosuka at Atsugi, 6 p.m.

Saturday, June 10

Yokota at Atsugi, 6 p.m.

Saturday, June 17

Misawa at Yokosuka, 6 p.m.

Saturday, June 24

Atsugi at Misawa, 2 p.m.

x-Kadena at Yokota, 6 p.m.

Wednesday, June 28

x-Kadena at Atsugi, 6 p.m.

Saturday, July 1

Yokota at Yokosuka, 6 p.m.

Saturday, July 8

Misawa at Yokota, 6 p.m.

x-Atsugi at Kadena, 6 p.m.

Saturday, July 22

Yokosuka at Misawa, 2 p.m.

x-Yokota at Kadena, 6 p.m.

Saturday, July 29

Atsugi at Yokosuka, 6 p.m.

x-Misawa at Kadena, 6 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 5

Misawa at Atsugi, 6 p.m.

Yokosuka at Yokota, 6 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 12

Atsugi at Yokota, 4 p.m.

x-Yokosuka at Kadena, 6 p.m.

x-non-league games

Postseason

Saturday, Aug. 26

Semifinals

Fourth-place team at regular-season champion

Third-place team at second-place team

Saturday, Sept. 2

Torii Bowl

Semifinal winners at highest-remaining seed

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