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The pros and cons of promotion and relegation in Australian football

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Rodger King new author
Roar Rookie
7th July, 2021

For many within the football family, the concept of a full pyramid is essential for our sport to be considered a success and worthy of their support.

The current format has been debated ad infinitum, with some older heads feeling locked out of the the game at the professional level.

The Australian Association of Football Clubs (AAFC) have made approaches to Football Australia (FA) and meetings have been had to determine how a National Second Division (NSD) could be implemented.

With that, of course, came the obvious discussion about the possibility of the winner of the NSD gaining access to the A-League.

Eventually, promotion and relegation to and from the A-League will be based on agreement with the current owners of A-League licenses.

For the sake of this discussion, let us all agree on a couple of important conditions.

Firstly, that the NSD does get up and running by 2023; secondly, it becomes an established part of the football culture in Australia, both financially sound and an exciting football contest and thirdly, it is as popular as the founders of the concept have hoped for.


Now, we move forward to a point in time where the NSD has become well established, is sound and the clubs have become as important to the footballing family as the A-League clubs are.

At a point in time – I’ve selected 2030, but it could be any point in time – an agreement is reached with the APL as to how the winner of the NSD is promoted and, equally as important, how the last placed club in the A-League is relegated.

I can hear everyone now, saying it is straight forward: one up, one down or, two up and two down. Everyone may be right and it is that straight forward.

But I think there will be more to it than that. There should be a play-off between the winner of the NSD and the last placed team in the A-League, simply to ensure we have the strongest teams at the highest level.

For the sake of this discussion, let us assume that the NSD is not a closed shop like the A-League currently is.

This is where it gets tricky for the state federations and their member clubs.

Generic football

(Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)


Here is my proposal for a 14-team competition, made up of the following club sides from each state: three clubs from NSW, Victoria and Queensland, one each from South Australia, West Australia, Tasmania, the ACT and NT.

Promotion to the NSD
The current system the FA and their member states use is a fair and reasonable competition (Australian Championship) to find a worthy club of sufficient playing quality to be considered an entry position to the NSD.

Once that club meets certain criteria and financial conditions, they then play off against the bottom placed NSD side to ensure we have and maintain the better clubs at the higher levels.

For this argument, let us assume it is a WA team that wins the opportunity to progress into the NSD.

Relegation from the NSD
After losing their play off-match against the Australian Championship team, the NSD team drops back into the highest level of their state competition. This is where it starts to get complicated.

Let’s assume the relegated team is from South Australia. Football SA is faced with a problem for their Premier League 1.

They now have to fit back into their top league both a promoted side from their second tier plus the relegated club from the NSD.

Do they play with an uneven number of teams, hence introducing a bye, or do they expand their PL1 by an additional club?


It doesn’t matter what states we chose, the same problem will occur each year. Unless, of course, the promoted club and relegated club are from the same state, or the NSD team wins the play-off game.

Most followers of our game know that under FIFA articles we must implement a system of P-R and that when we joined the Asian Confederation we were given exemptions for the A-League to run as a closed shop.

As each season goes by, we are getting closer to achieving a system that suits the Australian sporting public’s acceptance of a major footballing code not shutting out others from rising to the top.

Unlike both the AFL and NRL, the A-League isn’t the pinnacle of our code, far from it, which makes it that much easier for us to be as fluid with our system as we like.

The downside to an open P-R system is that some clubs at state level have grandiose ambitions but no substance to back it up.

It should be hard to rise to the top, both financially and playing wise. All clubs are able to dream to reach the A-League, and we should have a system in place that facilitates those dreams.

But we should all remember that some dreams are just that, dreams.