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The Australian sporting landscape is becoming incredibly crowded, especially with national women’s comps starting in most of the major sports.
Let’s look briefly at the major sports and the number of teams and types of comp they have.
Cricket (Sheffield Shield) – six clubs, state team configuration.
Australian football (AFL) – 18 clubs, national club team configuration.
Association football (A-League) – Ten clubs, trans-Tasman club team configuration.
Rugby league (NRL) – 16 clubs, trans-Tasman club team configuration.
Rugby union (Super Rugby) – five clubs, provincial team configuration.
Basketball (NBL) – eight clubs, trans-Tasman club team configuration.
Baseball (Claxton Shield) – seven clubs, state team configuration.
Hockey (AHL) – eight clubs, state team configuration.
Netball (NNL) – eight clubs, mix of state and national club team configuration.
Basically, there are three types of comps – state, provincial and national club. Four, if you also include New Zealand teams participation. No type of comp is better than another, it comes down to each sport deciding on which avenue is best for them.
Keep in mind though, that a state-based comp works like the Senate and a national club comp works like the House of Representatives.
That is, the state teams provide an equal number of teams across states, irrespective of population. So the big population states, NSW and Victoria, have the same number of teams as the smallest population state, Tasmania.
The national club teams provide more teams where the population is greatest. So on that basis, national club comps would make more sense.
But which is better is not a hard-and-fast rule. Cricket, despite its popularity across the country, is unlikely to ever have more than ten first-class teams anyway.
Cricket also has three formats it has to try to fit into one season, so each format is limited by the number of teams it can field due to crowded scheduling.
The exception might be the BBL, which will possibly prevail in the not-too-distant future as the only form of cricket played.
But for the present, CA might consider a provincial style Sheffield Shield by adding both ACT (Canberra) and Eastern Australia (Newcastle).
In the bygone days of long tours, Southern NSW (Canberra/Illawarra) and Northern NSW (Newcastle/Hunter) were usually part of a touring team’s itinerary, and outside the Tests and state fixtures were the next most important matches.
I like the provincial format of the Australian rugby teams. Realistically, like cricket, rugby union will unlikely ever have a comp exceeding ten teams. But an eight-team provincial comp of NSW (Sydney), Queensland (Brisbane), ACT (Canberra), Victoria (Melbourne), WA (Perth), SA (Adelaide), Eastern Australia (Newcastle) and North Queensland (Townsville or Cairns) is attainable. Tasmania (Hobart) might make nine.
Indeed, both cricket and rugby could work very well with a nine-team provincial comp.
The NBL is a salutary lesson for a comp that grew too quickly. The current number of clubs is half what it was in the heyday of the NBL during the 1990s.
Both baseball and hockey flirted with a national, club-style comp before returning to a state-based comp.
Netball has gone through several rebirths. Firstly, there was an Australia-only comp that was quite successful, before partnering New Zealand teams in a trans-Tasman comp.
Now netball has returned to an Australia-only club format.
I don’t mind New Zealand participation in Australian dominant comps, but I oppose the one-team philosophy. If you’re going to have New Zealand participation, it should be two teams. But it’s a horses for courses approach.
In rugby union, New Zealand would consider participating wth Australian teams in a provincial style comp as a last resort.
The three big footy codes comps, AFL, NRL and A-League, work very well as national club comps and I can’t see them ever regressing back to a state or provincial style comp.
However, for the smaller state-based comps, there is an opportunity to develop a top-tier comp in each major city below the state team. For example, the Sydney Shute Shield in rugby and Sydney grade cricket.
Each sport then, needs to develop the type of comp that best suits their needs. In most cases, rugby union being a glaring exception, they seem to be getting it right.
Of course, the world is changing. In the future, nines might be the only rugby league played, sevens or tens the only rugby union, T20 the only cricket and – heaven forbid – Australian football might reduce to 12 a side! All with time reductions as well.
That’s the world we live in, time poor and attention poor – probably intellect poor as well!