The BSF Executive held a conference call meeting on the evening of Thursday, April 7. Below are the highlights of discussions and decisions.
Present: Stella Ackrell (President), Mike Jennings (Treasurer), Liz Graham (Tournaments Officer), Julie Calver (Website Officer), Vicky Hall (General Officer).
Apologies: Carmel Keswick (Executive Secretary), Lesley Morisetti (Tournaments Officer), Mark Wigington (Marketing Officer), Chris Moon (BASU Representative).
Guests: Jenny Fromer and Bob Fromer (BSUK).
New BSF Website
A huge amount of work has been done over the past few weeks by the Purple Agency, spawtz.com, SportNGIN and BSUK to get the new BSF, BBF and BSUK websites ready for launch on the weekend of April 9-10. But discussions between Jason Greenberg at BSUK and BSF Website Officer Julie Calver have resulted in a decision to postpone the launch of the new BSF website for a couple of days until Tuesday, April 12.
This is to give the BSF Executive, and especially the five members with authorship access, more time to look through the site, test functionality and prepare copy for posting.
While members of the Executive with access will be able to post material directly onto the site in future, it was agreed that static copy about the BSF and its policies and practices that will go on the site initially should be reviewed and copy-edited by BSUK so as to be as professional as possible.
BSF Executive members with site access have various levels of website skills and will need training in the use of the site's content management system. Julie Calver will arrange this with BSUK and will also circulate help material available on the Internet.
BSF Tournaments Officer Liz Graham, who does have considerable website experience, had a trawl though the site and reported to the Executive that she thought it was looking good and working well, though there is much content and functionality to be added and there will no doubt be the inevitable bugs when the site goes live.
New BSF Logo
Executive members at the meeting looked through several versions of a new design for the BSF logo prepared by David Baird, and reached a consensus.
The new logo will eventually replace the old one on the new BSF website.
National Softball League Proposal
A proposal made to the BSF AGM in February to create a second-tier National Softball League (NSL2), primarily for B-grade teams, was accepted in principle but with some reservations about the concept of promotion and relegation between NSL1 and NSL2.
Since then, it has become apparent that there aren't enough B-grade teams not already in NSL1 to create a viable NSL2. As a result, some teams that would have been expected to play in NSL2 have now joined NSL1 simply to have some competition during the upcoming tournament season.
At the meeting on April 7, the BSF Executive was asked to consider a short paper circulated by Jenny Fromer which detailed how the creation of the National Softball League, designed to boost the number of teams playing at A-grade level, had achieved this objective -- but largely by decimating B-grade.
According to the paper, a healthy group of around 22 B-grade tournament teams that existed prior to the first NSL season in 2009 has now been reduced to just 4-6 teams. This has happened because a number of B-grade teams have amalgamated to form teams strong enough to compete in the NSL, and other B-grade teams can no longer play in tournaments because they lose players to NSL teams on weekends.
Nor has this situation entirely benefited the NSL, which has now swollen to 16 teams, too large for some tournaments to accommodate. Only half the NSL teams will now be able to qualify for a National Championship and it's not clear that the Platinum and Gold Nationals (which only had six teams each last year) will be viable in 2011.
Jenny's paper proposed a solution, to be agreed and communicated by the BSF now but only implemented in the 2012 season: cap NSL1 at 12 teams (which means four teams would do down at the end of this season), start NSL2 (which would also be capped at 12 teams if required) and begin promotion and relegation between NSL1 and NSL2 (numbers to be decided) in 2013. The top eight teams in NSL1 in 2012 would play the Premier Nationals; the top eight teams in NSL2 would play the Platinum Nationals.
The proposal, Jenny argued to the meeting, would create more even competition in both NSL divisions, give a higher percentage of NSL teams a chance to qualify for Nationals, help bridge a growing ability gap between the NSL and the levels below and help stop the current cherry-picking of good players from B-grade and C-grade teams to build NSL "super teams".
The paper generated a good deal of discussion, and the BSF Executive will return to the subject -- and make a decision -- in the near future.
Given the recent surge in fuel costs, the BSF has decided the raise the mileage rate for Executive members or anyone else carrying out BSF business from 20p -- which has been the rate for a number of years -- to 25p in future.
Slowpitch World Cup
International Softball Federation President Don Porter and Secretary General Low Beng Choo were in London during the week beginning April 4 to attend the 2011 SportAccord convention, and they met on April 6 with BSF President Stella Ackrell, GB Slowpitch Team Manager Sara Vertigan and Bob Fromer from BSUK
The meeting was a follow-up to a conversation between Don Porter and Bob Fromer at the ESF Congress in Antwerp in February about the possibility of reviving a Slowpitch World Cup competition, which the ISF had hosted in 2002 and 2005.
The ISF is keen to promote slowpitch, and particularly co-ed slowpitch, around the world, and has now decided to host a combined Masters (over-35) Men's Slowpitch World Cup and a Co-ed Slowpitch World Cup with no age restrictions at its headquarters complex in Plant City, Florida in late January 2012.
The Masters Tournament will be run by the International Senior Softball Association (ISSA) while the ISF will organise the co-ed tournament -- and would like the BSF to help with regard to rules, formatting, scheduling and encouraging other teams from Europe to attend. A planning meeting will be held in Plant City shortly to which a BSF representative will be invited.
While this is an entirely welcome development, and the BSF will be eager to help, the success of the project will depend on how widely ISSA and the ISF will promote the two competitions and how many countries will be willing to send teams. The ISF Slowpitch World Cups held in 2002 and 2005 attracted relatively few entries.
Open Fastpitch World Championships...?
Another topic discussed at the meeting with Don Porter was a proposal to make ISF Fastpitch World Championships for women, men and juniors open competitions (any country can enter) instead of requiring qualification, as has been the case since the late 1990s.
The basis of the proposal is to reduce costs for countries by eliminating qualifying tournaments -- though in Europe, European Championships double up as World Championship qualifiers.
According to Don Porter, the ISF Board of Directors is divided on the idea, and so it will be brought to the ISF Congress in October 2011 for discussion and decision.
Another discussion topic at the Congress, in light of the ISF's decision to explore a joint Olympic reinstatement bid with baseball for 2020, will be whether there need to be changes to the rules and/or scoring system of women's fastpitch softball to make the game less pitcher-dominated and create more action.
Combat Slowpitch Clinics
Details of the UK tour by three high-level slowpitch coaches from Combat Sports during the week beginning May 9 have more or less been finalised.
The tour is being made possible with support from Combat Sports through an agreement between the ESF and the American Amateur Softball Association (ASA), and through a financial contribution from the BSF through its International Influence Strategy grant, secured from the Sport and Recreation Alliance by BSUK.
The three coaches will deliver clinics for the Manchester Softball League on Monday evening, May 9, the East Midlands Softball League on May 10, the Greater London Softball Mixed League on May 12 and the Windsor & Maidenhead League on May 13. The clinicians will also deliver afternoon clinics to youth players in Nottingham on May 10 and Coventry on May 11, work with GB youth fastpitch players on the evening of May 11 and deliver a series of modular clinics throughout both days of the Diamond Series 1 tournament at Farnham Park on May 14-15.
Teams entering the Diamond Series tournament will be able to sign up for clinic sessions during game breaks once the schedule for the tournament has been announced.
Logistical support for the tour -- primarily help with transport -- will be provided by BSUK.
GB softball and baseball teams have enjoyed the use of indoor and outdoor training facilities at the former US Air Force Base at Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire since the late 1980s, and more recently, Upper Heyford has been the home of the Softball and Baseball Academies.
The advantage of using the site has always been virtually unlimited access and low costs relative to the prices charged by equivalent commercially-run sports centres, both elements vital to our unfunded national team programmes.
But both the gymnasium building and the diamonds at Upper Heyford have deteriorated over the years, with the user sports unable to afford the expenditure that could keep this process in check and the owners of the facilities unwilling to spend while the future of the site has remained in doubt.
Now the point has been reached where the facilities may no longer be safe to use, and where they do not meet the requirements of either national teams or Academies.
Accordingly, at a conference call on April 4 involving representatives from the BSF, BBF and BSUK, a decision has been made to end the use of Upper Heyford once some final sessions booked for April have been fulfilled. A decision to wind up the not-for-profit limited company formed to run the site on behalf of the user sports -- National Sports Training Centre Heyford Ltd -- will probably follow.
The key problem now for both Federations and BSUK, which runs the Academies, will be to find indoor facilities with sufficient access and affordable costs that can be used by national teams and Academies from next autumn.
Development Grant to Benefit Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research
The BSF Executive has agreed to a proposal by Mike Jennings to award a £250 development grant to purchase a starter kit for a slowpitch league start-up programme in the South West of England in which BSUK is supporting Wickes DIY Stores to create softball leagues to raise money for the Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research charity.
BSUK began working with Wickes last year, and the programme was very successful, with six leagues in the South and South West of England producing teams for a Finals tournament held at Hampshire's Rose Bowl cricket ground in Southampton.
The programme will be repeated in 2011, and the Starter Kit to be purchased through a BSF grant will be used to extend the Wickes programme to Taunton, where there is no local softball infrastructure.
Mike Jennings will also work with Wickes and BSUK on behalf of BASU to create a standardised set of rules for the Wickes Leagues and to supply umpires for their local and national Finals events.
"Give a Glove, Bring a Bat"
The BSF has agreed to a further proposal by Mike Jennings that can help provide softball playing equipment for newly-forming softball teams and leagues through a campaign titled "Give a Glove, Bring a Bat".
The BSF will ask all tournament organisers during the coming season to put a flyer in their Tournament Packs requesting teams to bring old bats and gloves that are no longer required to tournaments as a donation. The equipment will be collected, repaired if necessary and sorted into Starter Packs by the BSF and used for general development support.
Slowpitch Pitching DVD
Both the ESF and the ISF are very interested in having a high-quality instructional DVD on slowpitch pitching to distribute to people who are interested in learning this central slowpitch skill, and former GB Slowpitch Head Coach Mark Saunders and BSUK Coach-Tutor David Lee are willing to produce the programme.
The BSF will consider funding the project once costs are known, but preliminary indications are that the programme can be made quite cheaply.
ANY OTHER BUSINESS
A number of items were raised as Any Other Business.
BSF Bursaries. This year, the BSF has budgeted to spend up to £3000 on bursaries for GB players -- fastpitch and slowpitch, youth and adult -- who are selected for official competitions but will struggle to take up their place because of the trip costs. Bursary applications have now been received from 13 GB Fastpitch players (there is a later deadline for GB Slowpitch applications due to later selection), and the GB Management Committee, meeting on March 31, made preliminary decisions on awards. But because some applications were received after that meeting, the GBMC met again by conference call on April 8 and finalised its fastpitch awards with some funds held back to accommodate the later slowpitch deadline.
European Slowpitch Cup Trophy. The ESF's European Slowpitch Cup competition, which will have its fifth edition this year, does not have a perpetual trophy to be circulated among the winning teams. The BSF will consider donating such a trophy to the ESF once costs have been explored.
Joint Baseball/Softball Congress. A meeting between representatives from the ESF and its baseball counterpart, CEB, was held at the CEB Congress in March, and agreement was reached on a number of joint initiatives that could benefit both sports. One of the items agreed was to re-institute joint CEB-ESF Congresses from 2012. The ESF Congress in Antwerp in February voted to hold its 2012 meeting in Malta, and it will be interesting to see where the joint Congress that now appears to be on the cards will be held.
Question about ESF Formats. The BSF is consulting with a number of other federations about a suggested improvement to the format that has been announced for the ESF Cadette (Under-16) Girls' Championship to be held in Belgium in August. The format is taken from the ESF Tournament Regulations, and is applied when entry, as in this case, consists of 11 teams. But the format doesn't appear (to the BSF) to make much sense. From initial round-robin groups of six and five teams, only two teams from each group go forward. These four teams then play a round-robin against each other to determine a rank order, then play each other again in the Page Playoff. Meanwhile, the seven other teams simply play off for places 5-11. The BSF believes it would be better for three teams to go forward from the first round-robins, with the second round-robin cutting this to four teams that advance to the Page Playoff. The ESF has used this format in the past, most recently at the Women's Fastpitch Championships in Valencia in 2009.
Development Conference. At its next conference call meeting on May 5, the BSF Executive will receive information from BSUK Joint CEO and Head of Development John Boyd about a proposed major "Development Conference" to be staged by BSUK in London next year, with top coaches coming from the United States and elsewhere to deliver clinics and sessions to coaches and players from the UK and Europe. The idea was originally conceived as a baseball project, but BSUK is looking for a view from the BSF about whether it would like softball to be included and, if so, whether slowpitch and fastpitch should both be covered. The project, which will require major sponsorship, is still very much in a preliminary stage.
Leave of Absence. BSF Executive Secretary Carmel Keswick is temporarily stepping back from her role with the BSF Executive for health reasons.
The next BSF conference call meeting will be held on Thursday, May 5.
Anyone who would like to submit an item for consideration at the meeting should contact BSF General Officer Vicky Hall (firstname.lastname@example.org).