A model for promotion and relegation in the A-League

Jordan Van De Vorst Roar Rookie

By Jordan Van De Vorst, Jordan Van De Vorst is a Roar Rookie

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    Like many of you, yesterday’s announcement by the Association of Australian Football Clubs (AAFC) came as great news to me.

    Whether their proposal comes to fruition exactly as described remains to be seen, but it surely starts to create a discussion about what the future of Australian football looks like. I think the response from both the AFC and FIFA will be crucial in how this all unfolds.

    Regarding an appropriate model for promotion and relegation specifically, I think the first step is to get more teams into the A-League via promotion only. While I hate to say it, this means putting expansion on the backburner until 2021 at the earliest.

    Adding more franchises to the A-League only to eventually allow pre-existing clubs entry into the competition makes no sense. It would be ridiculous if Craig Foster’s south expansion side were given a license only for Wollongong Wolves to then gain entry via promotion. Who would fans in the region support? The same could be said about a combination Tasmanian franchise with Hobart and/or Launceston championship teams respectively.

    Although a delay in adding more teams to the league would be a frustration to many, I think most fans would be patient if they could see a long-term vision for the league. The imminent introduction of a second division – for argument’s sake, the Championship – followed by the promotion of high-performing teams in four to five years and relegation in eight to ten years would certainly be worth the wait.

    This then leads to an appropriate model for promotion and relegation. For me, it’s about making promotion and relegation a possibility but an improbability. That is, teams facing the chop are given chances to stay up. Likewise, for teams that want a shot at the A-League, they must conclusively demonstrate they are up to standard.

    My model would there involve the bottom two teams in the A-League and the top two teams of the Championship. For example’s sake let’s say that Brisbane Roar finish second last and Central Coast Mariners finish last, as per the ladder currently, and that South Melbourne and Brisbane Strikers finish first and second in the Championship.

    (Image: Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

    Brisbane Roar and Central Coast would play off in a one-leg fixture to see who faces relegation. As Brisbane finished higher, this would be held at Suncorp Stadium. Whoever wins escapes relegation. Similarly, South Melbourne and Brisbane Strikers would contest a playoff at Lakeside Stadium for the opportunity to gain promotion.

    Assuming the higher ranked teams win both fixtures, Central Coast and South Melbourne would then play a two-leg fixture to see who gets a spot in the A-League.

    As you can see, this would make promotion to the A-League difficult to achieve as well as giving teams a fair and reasonable opportunity to avoid relegation. If an A-League team finishes in the bottom two of the league then loses a playoff game against another A-League battler and then loses a two-leg tie to a Championship team, they deserve to go down. Likewise, if a Championship team does gain promotion, it will be well earned.

    What you might therefore see if this model is adopted is very little change in the make-up of the A-League teams. Four or five changes might take ten or 15 years. A slow burn in changes to the league would mean that every team in the A-League deserves to be there.

    This model would also allow any Championship team that does achieve promotion the reasonable chance to stay up. Their goal initially would be to finish third last at a minimum and therefore achieve a berth in the following season. However, if they did finish in the bottom two, they would be given a couple of opportunities to show they still deserve to be there and that another high-performing Championship team is not more deserving.

    Once this model has been bedded in, you could then move to two-legged fixtures in both of the initial two playoffs and further down the track implement a similar model to promote and relegate two teams between the leagues. These fixtures should be played midweek during the A-League finals series.

    Promotion and relegation is a matter of when, not if, in Australian football. It needs to be a possibility for a Championship to get promoted but an improbability for an A-League team to get relegated.