W-League expansion is something that gets lumped in the too-hard basket, but it’s something that is worth exploring at least in the hypothetical space.
As of the 2018-19 season the W-League plays a 14-round season with byes to account for the odd number of teams, with the Central Coast Mariners still yet to join the league. The championship is played as a two-week knockout finals series in late January and early February, with the season wrapped up before the end of the summer.
First cab off the rank, the season needs to be extended to a full home-and-away tournament with every team playing each other twice. The logistics of this falls into a couple of different solutions to the problem of scheduling with international windows and other international competitions. This article isn’t setting out to solve the issues, merely present options and start a conversation.
To start with, increase the size of the squad to include more international guest spots and permeant youth spots in the squad. This is to immediately address the concerns that the international players, both the Matildas and Young Matildas and the internationals, play around the world in other competitions too. Increasing the number of guest spots to plug holes in the team and have younger players on list enables teams to absorb player unavailabilities.
With the increase in squad depth, introduce midweek games during the school holidays. Play extra games during the Christmas and new year school holiday period to capitalise on spectators needing something to keep the kids amused, and playing midweek night games during summer is a way to do it. Have it for only a short spurt of time, and match teams that equally have the increased workload to keep it as fair as possible. Pair this with guest signings and you could easily have an American or English player come for a five-game, three-week deal.
Another idea, learning from women’s basketball, is to increase the gruelling away matches by having midweek games scheduled so that Adelaide and Perth are linked together. For example, Canberra would play Adelaide on Saturday and then play Perth Glory on the Wednesday night before returning back to Canberra to play on Sunday again. Similar double-ups could link the two Melbourne teams and two Sydney teams with each other, Newcastle with Brisbane and Canberra with the Sydney teams. It wouldn’t work every week, but it’s another possible idea for the mix.
A final possible idea is to open the season with a carnival format in Melbourne or Sydney. Have all teams play four games in a condensed period of two weeks and base them in one city for the period. Include an extra trophy at the end of the competition for the specific period, then have all competition points roll into the main competition. This would be a potential fix if the shortened calendar period is the only calendar window available.
There is no easy fix to the perceived problems, with Australian women’s football needing to slot into the USA and European fixtures. However, if the conversation doesn’t start, ideas won’t be generated and the league won’t progress. Women’s football being played in the summer of sport against the basketball and the cricket means it will have to innovate and adapt to survive.