Promotion and relegation in Australian Association Football – how could it work?

promrelmaths1There has been plenty of discussion about the idea of promotion and relegation in the A-League in the media and social media.

In the latter, there have been  – let’s just say – quite forthright exponents of this idea, creating in some cases quite heated debate.

Is relegation and promotion realistic for football in Australia

My position is that is a good idea on principle.  It would involve more players, therefore allowing more talent to come through, it would also involve more fans as the whole football community would be tied in one system. It would inject new teams in all levels refreshing the competitions every season.

However it can’t be denied that a promotion relegation system would encounter difficulties in Australia.  It doesn’t have a large population, and football is not the main sport therefore with all the implications of how much money is available to go around.  It is also huge geographically thus having around 40 teams criss-crossing the country could be very expensive.

However perhaps we could paraphrase JF Kennedy when he decided to send humans to the moon…“We choose to introduce promotion and relegation, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”

How would teams move up or down?

One thing that I haven’t read much about is how actually the mechanics of a promotion and relegation system could actually work in Australia.  We read plenty that it would be a good idea, but how it could actually happen?

One of the main advocates of promotion and relegation in Australia, the Association of Australian Football Clubs.  In their document outlining their proposal for a second division (which they call the ‘Championship) there is a section which describe how the competition will be structured but I couldn’t discern how teams would move up or down divisions.  Much clearer is an article written by its head, Rabieh Krayem in an article written back in 2016, where he proposes:

  • A Second Division comprised of 20 NPL clubs with at least one from each state and territory and at least five of them be from regional Australia that aspire to something bigger and better as long as they meet specific criteria.
  • At the end of season 1, the top two placed teams are promoted to the A-League. No relegation takes place – just promotion.  This would expand the A-League by merit.
  • At the end of season 2, the same thing happens – but this time only the top team advances to the A-League.
  • This continues until the end of the fifth season at which time there are 16 teams in the A-League.
  • In the meantime, the Second Division would not have teams replaced until season 4 to ensure that it also has 16 teams by the end of year 5.
  • The existing NPL competition could continue as it is, as a de facto Third Division, with the two grand finalists then earning promotion to Second Division after the fifth season.
  • From season 6, full promotion and relegation can be introduced across the A-League, the B-League and the national NPL competition.

Another proposal was done back in 2014 by the famous SokkahTwitter figure ECP  In this proposal the second division would be divided in two conferences:

North Conference
5 x Sydney
2 x ACT
1 Wollongong
1 x Newcastle
2 x Brisbane
1 x North Queensland
1 x Sunshine Coast
1 x Gold Coast
NB-Possible inclusion of Northern Territory or NNSW sides if interest there

South Conference
7 x Victoria
4 x South Australia
2 x Western Australia
1 x Tasmania

Similar to the Krayem model, there would be no relegation from the A-League for at least 6 years in order to increase the size of the A-League to at least to a 16 teams from the North/South conference Champions

The bottom two teams in the North and South conferences would play off against their respective State or Territory Champions. For e.g. a Victorian side can only be replaced by Victorian champion and so on.

One thing I haven’t understood from this proposal is whether this system would reward NPL teams just because a second division bottom team comes from one state.  So let’s say the bottom second division team is South Australian.  Would only the NPL South Australia champion team has then the chance to be promoted while the others miss out?

Nevertheless the conference idea is worthwhile especially in Australia where the geographic distances are substantial.  How promotion and relegation occurs with conferences still remains problematic for me though.  Let’s say the top teams from each conference are promoted.  But the two bottom team from the division above come from an area where they would be assigned to one conference only, that would mean that one conference would receive 2 relegated teams and the other conference none.  So how the discrepancy of teams between the two conferences be resolved?

A different landscape

A major change since those proposals for promotion and relegation from Rabieh Krayem and ECP were written, is that the FFA has gone ahead with an expansion of the A-League.

This may mean that more teams are in the mix and that the idea of having a natural expansion of the A-League through promotion is not as clear cut.

However there have been considerable interest from new teams wanting to join the A-League, and considering that only 2 will be chosen, a second division with the prospect of being promoted to the A-League could be a viable alternative for some of these bids.

So what could work?

I think that the Krayem model could work, but the second division would be created by bids which were not accepted to join the A-League and any other NPL team who is interested and viable to join to reach 18 or 20 teams.

The process of promotion without relegation could proceed as suggested until the A-League reaches 16 teams.

And finally from season 6, full promotion and relegation can be introduced across the A-League, the B-League and the national NPL competition as initially suggested.  Maybe with a mix of straight promotion and relegation for bottom teams and playoffs for second or third top/bottom teams.

Of course there are factor at play, whether the teams are financially viable being a major one.  Implementing relegation and promotion in Australia won’t be easy.  But it is worth a try.  It will refresh the competition, keep the interest throughout the season and hopefully give more opportunities for more players.

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