It was a treat to sit back and enjoy the 1970 World Cup Final that SBS slotted into its programming last week.
With all the talk about expansion of the A-League, I thought I’d have a crack at designing a model system for our league.
I’ve come up with a system, and also a way we can transform to achieve that system.
I’m pretty happy with the system, but have agonised over the method to transform into that system, and now have some newfound respect for the different players in the current negotiations.
In this article, I’ll describe the proposed men’s system and my next article will describe the women’s system and how we can achieve the final product.
It’s not perfect, and I’m sure people will reasonably have their criticisms, but it’s my best effort.
I have designed a system where we have an influx of capital to the domestic game, a league of fully professional teams, a financially viable league, promotion and relegation, weeks off for all international breaks, but still with lower division play during those breaks, less congestion for ACL teams, football for possibly 42 weeks of the year, at least 35 competitive games for the top teams, and a professional women’s league. This can all be implemented within a few years at minimal additional cost to FFA .
The men’s system is as follows:
We have a (semi) closed 24 team league, comprised of 3 hierarchical divisions, with 8 teams in each division, for example Division 1, Division 2 and Division 3. We call it the Australian Premier League (APL).
Division 1, 2 and 3 each play two separate 14 game home and away championship tournaments per 12 month season (A 14 round Summer Championship and a 14 round Winter Championship).
There are no finals. The top of the table after 14 rounds is champion of that division for that tournament. A team can therefore win two separate championships in their division during a 12 month season.
At the end of the 12 month season, we relegate the two teams in their division with the lowest total aggregate points across the two championships. They are replaced by the teams that have won the two championships in the division below.
If one team wins both championships in the division below, the second promotion spot goes to the team in that division with the aggregate most points across the two championships.
The ACL spots are given one to each Champion of the top division, and the next ACL spot(s) to the next best aggregate across the two championships.
We start the Summer Championship of Division 1 one week later than currently (allowing for an October FIFA date the week before the season starts), and allow one weekend off in November for the FIFA Date.
The 14-week Summer Championship would end on the weekend before Australia Day. The Australia Day weekend can be set as the final for the FFA Cup.
We include a four-week break between the end of the Summer Championship and the start of the Winter Championship. We then also allow one weekend off in March for the FIFA Date and the Winter Championship would end on the first weekend in June. This means the top division gets 28 matches spread over a 34-week period.
We can however have football through for 40-42 weeks of the year, as we can start and finish the three divisions at different times. We could start the second or third division 6-8 weeks before the top division, or start and finish either of the divisions a week or two later. We can run professional football from the first weekend of September through to the first weekend of June.
In future, we can also have a league cup where you have eight groups of three (randomly grouped) where each team plays two matches and the eight group winners progress to the quarter finals, and then four winners to semis and so on.
Other important matters for the functioning of this system:
We allow squad sizes of 20-25 players per championship. A squad must include at least 16 Australians, and can have up to 4 foreigners, one of whom must be from an AFC member federation. We allow that players can be contracted for a single 14 match championship.
We get rid of the salary cap, but retain a salary floor. The salary floor is $1.12 million per season with a requirement that no player may be paid less than $28k per 14 match tournament. This equates to the current $56k minimum yearly salary in the current A-League agreement.
Clubs must also maintain an amateur youth/reserve team which plays in their local NPL structure, and a youth player may be promoted to the senior team (up to five matches per tournament), provided they receive a match payment of $2k per match.
There is a transfer window between the two championships. A final squad must be set and advised to the governing body no later than one week before the start of the upcoming championship.
This system has a lot of advantages.
It means each team has two separate chances for a trophy per season (three with the FFA Cup!).
14-round championships are short enough to maintain interest and not have one team win too early leaving lots of ‘dead’ matches at the end of the season.
Every 12 month season, we get a turnover of 25 per cent of teams in the top and bottom division and 50 per cent in the middle division. In no way can the system be described as stale.
It also means twice per season, every team has a 1 in 8 chance of winning its division, which gives teams a real chance statistically of winning a trophy and therefore should drive more investment into the lower divisions.
This system also avoids play during the majority of June, all of July and majority/all of August, which are the coldest and wettest months of the year and traditionally when the World Cup is played.
Having the four-week break between the two championships means we also can largely avoid the top division overlapping with the Asian Cup if it is played in late January, early February or in any of June through September.
The four-week break for the top division also allows for some extra media focus on the lower divisions during that time for an added boost to them.
The four-week break between each championship gives a ‘refresh’ to each division, as you’re not seen as playing the same teams four times per campaign, but rather with two separate championships, you’re playing them only twice per championship.
Smart clubs would sell only full season memberships (both tournaments) at the start of the season, and then have another sell off of half season memberships just before the start of the second championship to bring in extra revenue and sell unsold seats.
It ensures lots of content for broadcasters (336 matches in total) and maintains interest for longer through the year (40-42 weeks).
One or both of the lower divisions can play through the FIFA dates and the top divisions(s) break, so there is always some football being played every weekend, but most national team players will be in the top division and their club teams will get a break and not suffer because they are missing players.
If we have a set minimum of Australian players per squad, a minimum of 368 fully professional Australian players playing domestically at any one time (more likely it will be around 460), which should provide a good pool for the national team.
All clubs get at least 28 league matches. With ACL and FFA Cup, top clubs can get up to 39 competitive matches per season (more if they get out of the ACL group), while you would expect most Division 1 and 2 clubs would get in the order of 30-32 competitive matches. If we add a League Cup, clubs will get between two and five additional matches on top of this again.
Teams can make money from transfers and strengthen when needed, and good young players can be discovered and brought up earlier.
Club operating costs are drastically reduced with the low salary floor, but all players are professional and paid at least the same minimum rate as per the current agreement.
Well, that’s the system for the men – in the next article, I’ll describe a way we can fund it, and how we can also fund a professional women’s league partly through the expansion I’ve described above.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.