The USAFL National Championships is a tournament for Australian rules football in the United States.
Since 1997, the National Championships have been a large event featuring teams from the United States and Canada in four men’s divisions and a women’s division. The competition is organized and run by the United States Australian Football League.
The first championships were held in Cincinnati in 1997, and they were won by the host Cincinnati Dockers. The Queen City would host the first three Nationals, with the 1998 edition welcoming 10 teams. A second division was created for the 1999 Nationals, with eight teams in the upper Division 1 and six in the lower Division 2 competition. Sixteen teams competed in one division in 2000. Divisional play returned for the 2001 championships, and a third division was added for 2002. A fourth division, mainly for reserves clubs and for first year teams, was added in 2007. A second women’s division was added for 2015, and a dedicated men’s reserves division has been included since 2017.
The 2015 edition saw the largest turnout in the history of the carnival; 45 teams representing 36 clubs across North America took part. That record was bested in 2017 when 53 teams took to the field.
The Denver Bulldogs have been the most successful side at Nationals. Since 2000, the Bulldogs have appeared in ten Division 1 Grand Finals, winning eight, including four straight from 2002-2005. The Austin Crows have won the second most titles, picking up their fourth in 2018. The New York Magpies, San Diego Lions and Boston Demons are the only other multiple D1 winners, each having won twice.
Canadian clubs were first invited to the USAFL Championships in 2006. The first Canadian champions were the Vancouver Cougars in 2008. The Calgary Kangaroos have won four Division 2 premierships while the AFL Quebec Saints have won two.
In 2005, the first USAFL Women’s championships were held and were won by the Atlanta Lady Kookaburras. The Lady Kookas took home the first three premierships until 2008, when their 19-game winning streak came to an end at the hands of the Calgary Kookaburras. The Denver Lady Bulldogs then won six consecutive titles from 2010-15, winning 20 consecutive games in the process until losing to the Minnesota Freeze. Their string of premierships ended at the hands of the San Francisco Iron Maidens, who have since gone onto a three-peat of their own from 2016-18. A second women’s division was added in 2015, featuring combined sides of teams what were unable to bring whole sides to Nationals.
Since 2003, the men’s Divisions One, Two, and Three have contained eight teams split into two groups of four teams. Each team plays the other three teams in their group once, playing one game on Saturday morning, another on Saturday afternoon, and a third on Sunday morning. The winners of each group advance to their division’s grand final, which is held on Sunday afternoon. Division 4 has had several formats depending on the number of teams involved. A fifth division was added in 2017 exclusively for “reserves,” which are second teams of clubs with teams in higher divisions. In 2017, all five divisions contained eight teams split into two groups of four teams.
The women’s competition was divided into two divisions for the 2015 tournament. Division 1 contained five full teams, while Division 2 had four “combined” sides representing anywhere from two to five clubs each. Because of time and umpiring constraints, both women’s divisions were played as a straight round-robin format with the team finishing with the most competition points being declared the champion. Percentage (points scored/points allowed) is used to break ties. The 2016 Women’s Division 1 competition retained the same format. In 2017, women’s Division 1 contained eight teams split into two groups of four teams, whereas Division 2 included five teams playing a straight round-robin format.
The top three men’s divisions and women’s Division 1 are played as 18-a-side. All teams in Divisions One and men’s Division Two must be single entity squads; they may not combine with other teams. Men’s Division Three is played as 16-a-side if both teams agree. Division Four is played 14-a-side or 16-a-side, and women’s Division two is played 14- or 16-a-side. As of 2017, in all divisions each team is permitted to dress a maximum of 24 players.
All Divisions are subject to the “50-50 Rule”, which require at least half of the players on the field at any one time to be “nationals” of the country that their team represents. Players of other origin are considered “non-nationals.” Prior to 2009, the players were designated “Australian” and “non-Australian”, with at least half of the players on the field needing to be “non-Australian.”
In addition to premiership medals, awards are also given to outstanding players in each division. The Paul Roos Medal, named after the former AFL player and coach and former US Revolution coach, is awarded to each division’s Best and Fairest. The Coopers Medal goes to the most consistent player in each division, while the Geoff Cann Medal goes to each of the Grand Final MVP’s. The umpires of the Grand Final in each division are each awarded the Hayden Kennedy medal.
The USAFL had previously attempted to keep Nationals in the Midwestern part of the United States in order to keep travel costs down for teams on the East and West coasts, and for all teams to be able to bring as many players as they can. At the league’s 2015 annual general meeting, USAFL president Denis Ryan stated that he wanted to have the three regions, East, Central, and West, alternate hosting duties.
Note: Dallas 3.4 (22) defeated New York 3.2 (20). On October 30, 2012, the USAFL vacated the Division I National Championship after it was discovered that Dallas used a player who was active with Central Districts of the SANFL and joined the team without satisfying league requirements.
*In 2016, the Bulldogs finished second in a round robin where no Grand Final was played.