Russian League of American Football Begins 2016 Season This Weekend

American football kicks off the 2016 season this weekend in Russia as the reigning champions, the St. Petersburg Griffins play host to the Jaroslavl Rebels.

New Russian League

After an intensive offseason that put an end to a long-standing feud between the Federation of American Football of Russia (FAFR) and Eastern League of American Football (ELAF), a competitive structure of the competition has once again been revamped in order to accommodate the challenges of this growing sport in the world’s largest country.

The basic organizational framework remains the same and seeks to combine teams by region and by their competitive level. So the new League of American Football (LAF) will once again feature a Premier Division of the top teams regardless of their geographical location, as well as five regional ones that will see the rest of the teams compete in within their area. The top teams of the Premier Division will be seeded in the playoffs and only start at a later stage, while the winners of the regional ones will have to climb a much longer playoff ladder.

Premier Division

This year’s top group, made up of eight teams,  will naturally feature the current top team and reigning champions, the St. Petersburg Griffins as well as their rivals and perennial champions Moscow Patriots. The latter had a very busy off season, bringing in a lot of new talent and revamping their coaching staff, so both of these teams appear to be among the top contenders for the title once again.

Patriots and Griffins in 2015 Finals

Joining them will be the Podolsk Knights who made it to the semi-final last year, as well as Moscow United, who participated in the Premier Division but didn’t make it to the playoffs, finishing third behind the Griffins and the Patriots.

United battling the Knights in 2015 preseason

The group will also add two teams that founded ELAF back in 2011 and played in that competition until last year: the Moscow Bruins and the Minsk Litwins from Belarus. Both remain somewhat of dark horses to the FAFR teams and it is difficult to evaluate their chances this year.

The classic ELAF rivalry between the Bruins and the Litwins

Rounding things up will be another semifinalist of 2015 in the Moscow Spartans, as well as Yaroslavl Rebels, who didn’t manage to win a game in Premier Division last year but managed to keep their position within this group.

The Spartans running the ball against the Knights

In total, the Division will feature eight squads, with the top two teams only entering the playoffs at the semi-final stage, with the 3rd and 4th place ones starting in the quarterfinals.

Division North

This division will be highlighted by the St. Petersburg North Legion, who were once a major intra-city rival of the Griffins but have now left the Premier Division after a lackluster 2015 campaign. Joining them will be the third team from the city in MUT, who used to represent one of the local universities and will participate in a senior national competition for the first time.

MUT on the offense against the North Legion

The other two teams of the division will be the young Moscow Dragons, that mostly consist of the juniors who just came of age during their last season, as well as the Rhinos from an industrial northern city of Cherepovets.

The division will send its winner to the playoffs starting at the quarterfinal stage.

The Rhinos ball carrier swarmed by the Bruins

Division Volga

This division will be the smallest but one of the most experienced ones. It will feature Raiders 52 from the country’s third-largest city of Nizhny Novgorod. Joining them will be two teams that had to miss last season but will now have their sights set on the playoff berth in the Samara Stormbringers and Penza Phoenix.

4 Raiders 52 trying to get over a Patriots tackle

Phoenix against Stormbringers in 2014

This division will also send it’s winner to the national quarterfinals.

Division South

This division will feature two traditional powerhouses from Crimea in the Sevastopol Titans and the Simferopol Taurus who seem to be the heavy favorites in this group of five.

The Crimean rivalry in 2015

 

Steel Tigers with a ball

Competing with them will be the three mainland teams in the Volzhsky Kites, Krasnodar Bisons and the Stavropol Stones. All of them are relatively young and lacking much experience, but will surely be able to gather a lot of it during their first long competitive season.

The Stones receiver reaching for the ball against the Bisons

Volzhsky Kites entering the field in a regional Bowl

This division will send its top team to the quarterfinals and the second-placed team to the play-in round.

Division Urals

This easternmost division of the League will also feature some tough intracity rivals and appears to be among the most competitive ones as well.

It will have two teams from Yekaterinburg in the Piranhas and the last-year’s divisional champs Lightnings. The neighboring city of Chelyabinsk will also send two teams in the Tanks and Team South Urals.

Piranhas defend against the Lightnings in the rain

The Hornets against the Tanks in a preseason friendly

Joining the four will be the young Kurgan Hornets as well as the Perm Steel Tigers, an old an experienced franchise that has also skipped the national competition for two previous seasons.

 

Moscow Dragons compete a pass against the Rebels

Like Division South, the Urals will send two of its top teams to the quarterfinals and to the play-in round respectively.

The season kicks off on May 1st and will run every weekend through September. 2016 promises to be as exciting as ever for American football in Russia!

Ilya Kravtsov
After being involved in bringing American football to his hometown of St. Petersburg, Russia, Ilya would go on to play in the Japanese X-League, helping his side Tokyo Bullseyes advance all the way to the top tier of the league and become the only non-corporate team in X-1. He's currently the defensive coordinator of St. Petersburg Griffins, as well as the head coach of St. Petersburg Valkyries.
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