Promotion and relegation are two big words and they combine for one massive concept that would change the face of Australian soccer.
Currently — as tackled in the first two parts of this A-League state of the union column — the competition is stale and only going backwards.
Let’s move forward — no longer should ‘‘franchises’’ be gifted a spot in the nation’s top professional division, instead having to earn the right to play in it.
I present to you today my proposed tiered structure of Australian soccer.
The most crucial step in all of this is the establishment of a national second tier competition, which very creatively, I’ve named The Championship.
Much like the Association of Australian Football Clubs’ plan, teams will be drawn from the various state-based NPL competitions for the inaugural season.
But while the AAFC wants bids for teams to enter the competition, it must — I repeat, must — be based on on-field performance rather than an ability to meet off-field metrics and get a good bottom-line return.
For too long in this country, the sport has been about ‘‘franchises’’ and the creation of new clubs based on financial merit.
The inaugural season of the Championship would take 18 teams; the three highest-ranked teams from Victoria, NSW, South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia, with one each from Tasmania, Northern NSW and the ACT — based on the relative sizes of the competition.
From here, promotion and relegation to and from the A-League is straightforward, with the opportunity for two clubs to move between the two tiers each season.
The benefits of this barely need to be stated they are that bountiful.
The excitement of Championship teams chasing the top-tier dream will be off the charts and there will be few boring A-League games as teams fight for their survival.
Historically poor performing A-League teams won’t be gifted a gig in the nation’s best league.
Would it hurt or, even, fatally wound some teams? Well, yes.
But should a team lose the financial advantages of the A-League, it will have to adapt and find a way to survive.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, clubs will live on and start from the ground again.
But remember, while this seems like a big change, this is not revolutionary.
Almost all football leagues around the globe feature movement between leagues — no sport is as much a meritocracy as football.
While looking at this from the A-League perspective, I feel it makes more sense to examine how a local club — like the Goulburn Valley Suns — would progress from the depths of the National Premier League to the top tier.
Starting in the NPL2 — where promotion to and from functions without a hitch — the Suns would still need to finish in the top two and win their way to the top tier of Victorian football.
Next, in the NPL, they would need to win the title — a glorious moment in itself — before squaring off with the nation’s other champions in a knockout promotion playoff.
With eight champions in the mix and three teams to move up, one round of knockout matches will find a final four, with two more one-off fixtures to find the three promoted teams.
From here, the increased exposure of the Championship and A-League will help turn local clubs into financially secure powers.
Imagine if the GV Suns played in a nationally broadcast competition and the attention that would bring to the great town of Shepparton.
Many will say the Championship should have equal representation of states, but this is not some manufactured, idealistic competition like Football Federation Australia is asking us to stomach in the A-League — this is survival of the fittest.
We will need the state-based competitions to be reasonably flexible as teams drift in and out of them.
Some years a NPL competition might have one, two or even three teams coming into them from the Championship with none going up, but this is an easy hurdle to overcome.
We will also need to move the NPL season to a summer fixture — something overdue already to avoid clashing with the saturation of Australian Rules.
The AAFC wants promotion and relegation by 2024, but if the loaf of bread that is the A-League is stale now, how mouldy will it be by then?
I say we skip the 2020 NPL winter season and kick off the A-League, Championship and NPL seasons in October, 2020, allowing an appropriate amount of time to get logistics sorted.
The current expansion plans can still go ahead, with two or four teams taken into the competition.
Existing commercial arrangements or licence arrangements? Just sort them out, FFA.
Teams are currently locked into the A-League until 2034, but if you want to be part of an actually interesting competition, deals can be negotiated to facilitate this change.
The introduction of promotion and relegation would be a line-in-the-sand moment for Australian football; there are many more technical issues that will need exploration, but the fundamentals of this column could save the game.