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Opinion

This is how a 32-team A-League could work

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Roar Guru
12th March, 2020
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Recently, the FFA have made comments about starting an expressions-of-interest process for a national second division.

The main roadblock is whether the current clubs will be willing to vote for it if it means the possibility of being relegated.

The format that seems most likely is two leagues of 16 teams. But maybe you could have a single league with 32 teams and with either low or no risk of relegation.

For how to do this, I’ll put forward a possible format for how it might work.

The simplest way it could be done is to put all the teams into one division and play everyone else once. But that only leaves one spot for the premiers and a lot of other teams will walk away with little or nothing, and those fans could lose interest. Not to mention unbalanced fixtures.

Instead, the league could be broken into two phases. In the first phase, teams would be divided into four groups with eight teams in each. Each team would play each of the others in their group once at home and once away for 14 rounds in total.

After the group phase, a second phase will begin with teams being sorted into four divisions, which would also have eight teams in each. The finishing places from the group phase will be used to determine which teams go into each division.

Teams who placed one and two go into Division 1, teams who placed three and four go into Division 2, teams who placed five and six go into Division 3 and teams who placed seven and eight go into Division 4.

Roar and Wanderers.

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

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Since each division will have eight teams, they too can then play each other home-and-away for another 14 rounds, bringing the total number of rounds to 28.

The winners of Division 1 will be declared A-League premiers while the winners of each of the remaining divisions will be declared winners of their respective division. The top four teams in each division will then go through to the FFA Cup round of 32.

This means that teams can compete for titles in the group phase, division phase and cup phase. Even for the weaker sides there’s always something to play for at their own level.

If you want to introduce promotion-relegation then the last four teams in Division 4 could be relegated while the top four teams from the NPL finals could replace them. This would make Division 4 the group of drama where there would be a 50-50 chance of either staying up or going down.

If 32 teams are too many, then you could also do something similar with 24 instead.

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The teams could be placed into four groups of six who would play ten rounds each, home-and-away. Then the top three in each group would go into Division 1 and the last three in each group would go into Division 2, with both divisions having 12 teams. Each division would then have 22 home-and-away rounds for 32 in total. The winners of Division 1 will be declared A-League premiers while the winners of Division 2 will be declared the minor premiers, as it actually is a minor premiership.

The format with 32 teams would probably work better for the MLS rather than the A-League, but if you want 32 teams then you can do it. The 24-team option might be more realistic, though, and it would allow 12 new teams to enter from both regional and major cities.

From the regions you could add Canberra, Wollongong, Tasmania, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Townsville, Cairns and Geelong. Then from the major cities you could add Redcliffe, Fremantle, West Adelaide and Dandenong.

But of course, none of this will be necessary if the current A-League clubs are willing to have promotion-relegation between two separate leagues and to open up the football pyramid. We’ll have to wait and see.