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With the developing growth of the AFL as a single entity, it seems that the competitions that breed this success have been lost in the picture.
State league competitions have been suffering as a result of poor management and a helping hand from the AFL. But can something be done to rejuvenate the history and develop the future for state leagues around the country?
We saw last year the change to the face of football in the north with the inception of the NEAFL (North-East AFL) competition, which is made up of a an eastern and a northern Conference.
The east is made up of teams from the NSW/ACT regions (formally AFL Sydney), including the Greater Western Sydney side who will field their reserves side in the competition in 2012 on their move to the AFL.
The northern conference is effectively the old QAFL, with the introduction of the Gold Coast Suns reserves. The competition is played in separate conferences with the exemption of some cross-conference games; teams play for the premiership in their conference and the chance for the NEAFL Cup.
The structure of the NEAFL is something that could be used in the southern states of Australia. With more AFL demanding an alignment with a reserves side, changes need to be made to accommodate this with:
Full reserves competition
To head down this track the AFL would need to pull four sides from the NEAFL; ensure that Victorian clubs had a structured roster to accommodate; and that the sides in both WA and SA got all players from clubs across the state.
The competition would almost run as a curtain-raiser to the AFL competition. The only issue with this concept is that is does not allow for commercially stability in that it doesn’t become very viewer friendly.
AFL Victoria revamp
Align the 10 AFL clubs with a reserves side, introducing a 10-team competition that would ultimately become the second tier competition with reserves players from all Melbourne clubs. However, AFL Vic is structured to regionalise the Victorian football landscape, whereby TAC Cup teams are almost directly aligned with VFL sides.
WAFL and SANFL joint competition
Much like the NEAFL concept, the four AFL clubs would align themselves to a respective state club that would then become the reserves side for that AFL club, or create a reserves side as a new club in the competition. Have a 20-team league with two conferences of 10 teams.
Teams are still playing for their respective cups, but this also means that AFL listed players are playing with their own club at state level. In terms of the colts competitions in both of these leagues, make the under 18s aligned in a structure much like VFL and TAC Cup where players play for that club but can only play at the under 18s level.
There are plenty of options sure to have been explored over many years, and the NEAFL is just the tip of the iceberg. The changes don’t have to be drastic, after all the NEAFL is effectively a name change, with the eastern conference still playing for the AFL Sydney premiership and the northern conference still the QAFL.
The new face leads to better publicity and more opportunities to promote the game in the northern states. The AFL, along with its member affiliates, must think carefully as crowds across all state leagues have dropped; they are becoming the sacrificial lamb of the football world.
Support needs to be given to leagues in order to continue to develop clubs and promote fairness across all of the second and third tier AFL leagues.
The AFL has a duty to uphold these competitions to increase the amount of people playing, watching and administrating our game and also to continue to grow the talent pool from every state in Australia.