FFA's expansion silence undermines the Mariners

The Mariners remain committed to Gosford but the FFA's silence on A-League expansion is undermining Central Coast

Central Coast Mariners have again been forced to defend their commitment to their base in Gosford but speculation is unlikely to subside until Football Federation Australia (FFA) start the A-League expansion process.

The Mariners released a statement on Monday, reaffirming their commitment to NSW's Central Coast.

The club's CEO Bruce Stalder pinpointed the continuing development of their mult-million dollar training base in Tuggerah - the Central Coast Mariners Centre of Excellence - as evidence of that commitment.

"Work on the third stage of our Centre of Excellence will commence next month, and this includes the development of a public gym, retail outlets, a child care centre, plus an office block not only for our administration, but several local businesses and business people," Stalder said.

"If anyone needs further evidence of our commitment to the region and our plans to stay put and grow on the Central Coast, I invite them to contact the club and we will personally take them on a tour of the site."

But the A-League's smallest club is unlikely to get any peace as long as Australia's top tier remains a 10-team league.

The FFA do not plan to expand the A-League at least until the broadcast deal is up for renewal in 2017 but in order to ensure it is a success and give existing clubs some breathing room to continue to grow, they should be looking at starting the expansion process by the end of this year.

This week the Mariners have been linked with a move to Wollongong.

Last year it was the northern suburbs of Sydney, as well as reports of a bid from former National Soccer League club South Melbourne to purchase the Central Coast licence to gain promotion to the A-League.

Central Coast remain an easy target due to the perception they are a cash-strapped club, barely holding on, based in the smallest city of any A-League side.

Whether that is true is irrelevant.

The A-League's success over the past few seasons, plus the excitement around the inaugural FFA Cup, has seen state league clubs Adelaide City and Wollongong's South Coast Wolves reiterate their ambitions to join the big boys.

If the 2017-18 A-League season is seen as the ideal time to move to 12 teams, the FFA can't afford to wait much longer before starting the tender process.

Expansion in the A-League has generally been hit-and-miss.

Western Sydney Wanderers are the exception rather than the rule.

Melbourne Heart struggled to fully convince before being bought by the City Football Group, while Gold Coast United, North Queensland Fury and the still-born Sydney Rovers all failed.

A lack of proper preparation from the latter three bids was a significant factor in their eventual failure and the FFA should be doing all it can to avoid a similar situation in the future.

In Major League Soccer (MLS), expansion bids are given up to three years from the time they are accepted to their first competitive fixture.

New York City FC will join the MLS for the 2015 campaign, almost two years after being announced as the competition's 20th team, while Atlanta was named as the base for the league's 22nd side in April but are set to start playing in 2017.

The FFA will realistically need to give prospective bidders at least six months to organise themselves, while the governing body should allow at least another half-year to make a decision.

If new clubs are to have two years to prepare before the 2017-18 A-League campaign, then the FFA should be looking to start the bidding process by the end of this year.

A-League chief Damien de Bohun avoided discussing expansion openly last week, effectively reiterating the FFA's stance that they are do not consider it a priority.

But the FFA would do well to consider the words of fictional White House press secretary CJ Cregg from the television series 'The West Wing': "No news is very, very bad news.  If we're not running offense, we're running defense."

The governing body's continued avoidance of the expansion debate frustrates prospective bidders and forces them to look at other avenues to the A-League, with the Mariners widely considered the preferred back-door entrance.