The Association of Australian Football Clubs is close to finalising their criteria for a planned second division of football for both men and women in Australia.
The AAFC is set to release their conditions for entry into a potential 12-16 team competition called The Championship in the coming months, with a view of eventually introducing promotion/relegation from The Championship into either the A-League or the W-League in the future.
AAFC chairman Rabieh Krayem said that the organisation has been working with the FFA, and he is confident that their proposal for a national second division, which would kick off late 2019 at the earliest, will be heard and welcomed.
“The concept we’ve got is for a national second tier competition to sit between the NPL and the A-League to give more opportunities for young males and females to play at a higher level. We believe in a national second tier competition with every state having representation,” he said.
“We’ve engaged the FFA, the state federations, the PFA, and the A-League clubs, and we feel like they’ll very much be on board. They will all be part of the working group that will come up with our final model, because without their support it’ll be hard to get anything off the ground. We need to be on the same page, and we’ve been encouraged in the last few months by how we’ve worked together. The key has been engagement and consultation, and we will continue that process over the coming months.”
Krayem said that one substantial positive from a national second division would be an increase in opportunities and more pathways for young footballers to play professionally.
Currently, young players are restricted to just nine Australian teams in the national top division of domestic football. With expansion to the A-League and an addition of a second tier competition, that number of teams could be set to grow to between twenty and thirty in the coming years.
“The Championship is a concept for both women and men’s football. At the moment there’s a big gap between the NPL and the W-League or the A-League. There’s a lot of good young Australian players who end up packing up and going overseas to explore other opportunities because in Australia, the chances are so limited. What The Championship does is create opportunities for potentially over 300 males or females to play at a higher level, so that they can get closer to their football goals either overseas or domestically,” said Krayem.
“The lack of opportunities has certainly impacted the A-League and the national team. This will go a long way towards allowing more young Australian players to showcase their talent and play at a higher level. What this will do is put a lot more players on the shopfront for Australian and overseas clubs, which is great for both the male and female players.”
Krayem expects that bids for spots in the competition may come from existing NPL clubs, or that they may come from new franchises. He said that support from existing state league NPL clubs has been strong.
“It’s open to anybody who wants to apply. One of the key things from our criteria is that you must be able to demonstrate a close link to community football. Anybody who can meet the criteria will be considered,” he said.
“The most pleasing aspect has been the amount of clubs that have shown interest. There’s no doubt there’s a lot of interest from both NPL clubs and players about a national second tier competition. There’s a lot of positivity and encouragement around it so far. We hope that by June we will have come up with our final model, and in the second six months of the year we’ll be hoping to consider the bids that come in after we’ve released our criteria.”
Football Federation Australia have recently announced plans to expand the A-League from 10 to 12 sides, but made no announcements about a potential second division or promotion/relegation at that time. Continued cooperation with the FFA would be necessary going forward to ensure that a partnership can be made between the A-League and The Championship.
In regards to a broadcast deal, Krayem said the AAFC are considering a number of avenues to explore for The Championship.
“One of the biggest things we’ve found is that there is whole lot of processes for streaming games online now, and that’s something we’re excited about. It’s definitely a potential option for broadcasting The Championship,” he said.
Aside from their plans for The Championship, the AAFC also represents the financial interests of a wide variety of NPL clubs, and has also advocated for much delayed reform to the FFA Congress.
“Our main goal here at the AAFC is the establishment of a second tier competition, but we are also involved with ensuring the financial viability of NPL clubs. Part of that involves looking at how to lower the cost of playing for players who are in the NPL. We want to ensure financial success without having to charge kids more to play the game,” Krayem said.
Krayem said that the aim of The Championship will be for clubs to be entirely professionally run, with a salary cap of $1,000,000 having been tentatively set for each club.
“These will be professionally run and organised clubs. The final model and the final structure is currently being worked on. We’re hoping to create a system that allows players to really focus on their football and make the most of their opportunities,” he said.
AAFC chairman Rabieh Krayem has previously worked in the A-League system before, having been chairman of the North Queensland Fury for five years as they transitioned out of the A-League and into NPL Queensland as the Northern Fury.
Throughout the history of Australian football, promotion and relegation has been largely absent at the highest level of competition. The system was not implemented in the A-League after its inception in 2005, and the now defunct NSL did not use the system during their final years of operation. State NPL leagues do currently operate with promotion and relegation between divisions.
The MLS, the top football league in the United States, is one of the small handful of successful leagues that operates without a system of promotion or relegation. If the FFA were to accept the AAFC’s proposal and work with them towards the goal of a second division, it would see Australian football move away from this American model towards the more traditional European models seen in England, Spain, Germany, and all across the globe.