Battle For Players Between Australia and Europe Heating Up

The fledgling National Gridiron League of Australia has been busy. With the league slated to kick off on September 4 and 35 spots open for import players on each of the eight teams, player signings are the top priority.

There are bound to be conflicts as teams in Europe and Brazil are also busy signing players. Unfortunately, this has caused some issues for the clubs and the players. One is player contracts. A case in point is Parker Orms who has just signed with the North Coast Heat of the NGL. However, he had already signed a contract with the Albershausen Crusaders of Germany’s Division 3.

Therein lies the dilemma. 

Orms just wants to play football at the highest level he can. The former Colorado Buffaloes standout played for the Milano Rhinos in 2015 helping the team reach the Italian semifinals for the first time in 20 years.

After battling through doubts about playing football at all after college, then getting cut by the CFL’s Ottawa RedBlacks after being flown in during training camp, Orms thought his playing days were done. Then the opportunity in Italy came up. After the Italian season, Parker conducted an exhaustive search, finally landing in Germany with the Crusaders.

However, when the fully professional NGL in Australia came calling just a couple of weeks ago, offering four times the cash and the chance to play against other full-time players, including 35 imports on each team, he felt he had no choice.

The German club was not happy. In fact, they were livid. Understandably so. For them, an import is a huge investment not just in money, but in time, energy and effort. And to them, a contract is a contract.

Head coach Michael Frech wrote a nasty email to  the NGL, threatening a law suit and action from the International Federation of American Football. Again, totally understandable moves.

The NGL replied, very professionally, that the matter is between the player and the team and not between the leagues. Which is true. And besides, the NGL is not governed by IFAF.

But had Parker Orms signed with an NFL or CFL team instead, would the reaction have been the same? Probably not.

This perhaps is the dilemma faced by a new league far away from the hotbeds of American football. No one has really begun to take it seriously. Yet.

Australia - NGL - Dye & Nelson

University of Miami defensive end Dyron Dye & Iowa State defensive end Rony Nelson have both signed to play in the NGL

But to Kirk Mastromatteo, this is business as usual. Kirk is the head coach of the Gold Coast Kings in the NGL but also the league’s Director of Football Operations. Kirk, who was the offensive cordinator at Norfolk State 2005-2010, also coached successfully in Europe with Serbia’s Vukovi Belgrade and the Geneva Seahawks in Switzerland. He understands the game.

He has watched players sign for teams in the NGL and then head back to Europe anyway.

Mastromatteo is not overly upset by the problem:

“We are looking for the best possible players to get under contract. We are very selective in our system and will not take any players who are actively playing in another season. If that club releases them, we will then put them under consideration. Being a professional league, we have no affiliation or regulatory standards set forth by other associations, but we want to be fair and professional in all that we do.”

More and more players headed to Australia

But more and more players are coming to the conclusion that the higher pay and chance to play at a much higher level is enticement enough to head Down Under to play the game they love. Each team in the NGL is allowed 35 international and five national players.

That’s 280 import players, mostly American. Which means potentially more conflicts with teams in Europe. As the game grows globally, the competition for good players will continue to heat up. And contract conflicts will increase.

The solution? If this becomes a major issue, alter the league schedules in Europe. In some leagues like the Spanish, French and Italian leagues there is no problem as their seasons do not conflict with the NGL season. In other words, players can play in both as Swedish quarterback Anders Hermodsson will be doing. In fact, he will be competing with Jimmie Russell, quarterback for France’s Aix-en-Provence Argonautes in 2015. Another high profile name in Europe, running back Marcus Sims who played for the Wroclaw Panthers in Poland this past season, is also headed to Australia.

This will remain a problem for some countries like Germany, Finland and Denmark who have seasons which conflict with the NGL.

Down the road, as long as the NGL survives, the solution will be more players. And that means better recruiting methods on the part of all teams.

For now though, Parker Orms has said that as soon as he can he will reimburse the Crusaders for the money they spent for his airfare. And head down to Australia in the summer to play the game he loves.

Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.