Pointing toward the future by borrowing a page from the past.

That’s the tack that the U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League is taking as it prepares for its 10th season, with commissioner Robert Cole announcing that the league will double in size, from three to six teams. The 2009 season is set to open May 9.

Charter members Yokota Warriors, Yokosuka Seahawks and defending champion Misawa Jets comprise the Northern Division. The Kadena Dragons and Foster Bulldogs — remnants of the defunct Okinawa Football League — and the new Torii Wolf Pack will form the Southern Division, Cole said.

He announced the expansion in an e-mail to league coaches on March 27 and confirmed it to Stars and Stripes on Wednesday.

"This has the potential to be something really good," said Cole, formerly Yokosuka’s head coach, who took over as commissioner when Kyle Rhodus stepped down in January.

The league featured six teams when it formed in the spring of 2000 out of the remnants of the old USFJ league. Kadena, at the time known as the Okinawa Giants, was a charter member.

Expansion brought the number of teams to seven in 2003, but it also brought a huge headache — 32 games were either canceled or postponed due to duty commitments, weather and transportation problems, including the 2001 and 2003 championship games.

Rhodus assumed the helm for the 2004 season and trimmed the league to four teams — Yokota, Atsugi, Yokosuka and Misawa. Kadena helped form the OFL, which lasted two seasons. Only six games hit the chopping block under Rhodus’ reign.

Cole said a possible solution was hammered out during the league’s preseason meetings in February. It was suggested that each team make one interdivision trip per season, playing three games in a 10-day to two-week span and return.

"You never know how things will play out," Cole said. "This is a trial thing, but we’re hoping we’re onto something pretty good."

The regular season opens May 9 with Yokosuka at Kadena, Yokota at Misawa and Foster at Torii.

The USFJ-AFL’s playoff structure also will expand, Cole said, and will be played in August. The No. 3 seeds play the No. 2 seeds within their divisions. The winners then visit the regular-season division winners.

The league’s championship Torii Bowl likely will be contested at the site of the team with the better season record, Cole said.

"I’m kind of excited about it," Yokota coach Herb Fletcher said. "Both sides get more games. A true inter-area league with a true championship game. It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out."

Cole said he was planning to start a league Web site, which would include information on the teams, league standings and results and statistics from each game.

Cole also indicated there may be hope that the Atsugi Falcons, who suspended operations late in the 2007 season and didn’t play at all last year, might revive in time for the 2010 season.

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

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