More than entertainment
Many people doubted my ideas for promotion and relegation in Australia - well, here's my proposal.
With just five points from nine games Gold Coast United are seven points away from a top-six spot. If they continue at this rate - which I hope they don-t - they will be completely out of finals contention by January.
Hopefully they can start getting results to keep things alive; if not, it-s over. It will be like a holiday for the players all the way until the first round next season. As I discussed in my previous column, the relegation system though would change this and would make a world of difference.
Of course voices are loud about how it can be done? Who will a relegated team be replaced by? What about potential financial difficulties for relegated teams? Here is my list of potential teams to enter a second division: Western Sydney, Canberra, Wollongong, Tasmania and Geelong.
Our regular Hyundai A-League season runs from October to March, which compared with many other football nations is an extremely short season, resulting in huge issues for our young national teams when they play games out of season.
The home draw for our U23s v UAE a few months back could very well turn out to be the missing points that cost us participation at the London Olympic Games.
Similarly, our Young Socceroos were sent home early in the group stages of the Under-20 World Cup, demolished by Spain in the last game.
There are many reasons for these poor results but the fact that our off-season is so long creates problems in how we keep our boys ticking over at a competitive level and not wilt away.
It-s not just the missing match practice, it-s a mental thing. Preparation for training or a friendly is different; the mind is more relaxed, it-s not a pressure situation - the mind is not on edge, but it has to be to perform on a high level. It-s vital we cater for the needs of our young national teams - the need to keep ticking over and playing official competitive games, not endless friendlies and training camps (which all cost money).
This is where a second division consisting of five teams plus a "relegated" A-league team comes into play. The league could run from April/May-August no A-League players, with the exception being each team would have openings for a number of Young Socceroos and U23s in each squad to keep our boys ticking over at a competitive level-as well as, of course, the home-grown talent in each state.
What happens to the last placed A-League team in March? In school terms it-s called "detention". The student at school has been below-average, needs to stay behind and put in extra hours. Even a scenario where the last two placed teams play off against each other would be a possibility.
The "relegated" A-league team would go straight into the second division -they weren-t able to survive in the top-tier - but instead of banishing them completely, they've been given a lifeline to get back immediately.
It won't be easy though. The second division teams are all ready and raring to go, waiting to sink their teeth into opponents - they want A-League top-tier football as well. It's a race to the A-League.
What about the system for second division? Twenty games, the top team enters a grand final, while second and third contest a playoff. The second and third-placed playoff winner then meets the top team in the grand final - the game that determines who has won the race to the A-League.
This is Australia, we want the thrills and spills of finals football - plus we want to keep all six teams- chances alive for as long as possible, to try and avoid having games where there-s nothing to play for.
When Swansea played against Reading in such a game in the English Championship last May, 86,500 people flocked to Wembley Stadium. Both sets of fans captivated by it all - and not just the teams- fans - the whole country. And many other countries in the world, including us in Australia.
There was something serious to play for; it was compelling stuff and those with a real thirst for entertainment (including myself) thrived on witnessing such an event.
Many will ask, "Why Western Sydney in the second division? That-s our footballing heartland". I would love to see them in the A-League, but the Western Sydney bidders couldn-t get their finances together to start up a team, so let them start in the lower tier where budget, expenses, and the wage structure would be much less than A-League levels, giving them a chance to build as a club.
One issue with this model would be what to do with our friends across the Tasman if they finish in a relegation spot? Looks like we-d have to give them a free pass (regrettably) but that-s one that just can-t be avoided. A team from New Zealand playing second division in Australia?. It's far from ideal.
Of course, a favourable new TV deal would be key to putting a relegation system in place and getting a second league off the ground. A solution and pre-requisite for a second tier would have to be free-to-air TV.
Depending on what happens with the new TV deal - irrespective of who gets the rights - some kind of deal would have to be struck to enable free-to-air, giving a wider audience the chance to watch it, similar to the W-League now. It would be a great appetiser for the A-League, creating massive interest and hugely beneficial to the A-League TV rights holder.
Maintaining success and keeping the league alive is, of course, a priority. But evolving and looking to improve should be as well. Adding additional excitement is one of those factors . Sure, I have a real thirst for entertainment, but that is what sport should always be - entertainment.
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