The A-League is set to receive some much needed company in the coming years
Football Federation Australia have ramped up preparations for a National Second Division releasing a discussion paper as they look to work out the final details of what it will look like.
The A-League has been Australia's sole source of top-flight professional football for over a decade now with the National Premier League serving as a disconnected lower rung on the round ball pyramid Down Under.
With opportunities at a premium for young local footballers and an ultimate desire to introduce promotion and relegation to the A-League, a National Second Division is seen as a logical next step for football in Australia.
“Once established, we believe a National Second Division would provide an opportunity for football to broaden its reach to be a truly national game," FFA Director Remo Nogarotto said.
"It also has the potential to build a bridge between state-based National Premier Leagues and the A-League and W-League and heal some divisions that have held the game back.
“Over the last 15 years, football has made great progress, however, there remain strong elements within our sport that feel marginalised. For Australian football to reach its potential, all elements of the game must pull in a single direction."
Here's everything you need to know about plans for Australia's National Second Division...
When will a National Second Division begin in Australia?
The National Second Division Working Group (NSDWG) have recommended the competition begin by 2021/22 to ensure it can be financially sustainable while also providing an important pathway for Australian players.
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In the discussion paper, it's noted the seasonal timeframe for a second division remains undecided with the possibility it could be run in winter to avoid conflicting with the A-League and provide a winter football offering for round ball fans in Australia.
Once the National Second Division does begin, the NSDWG has suggested a five-year incubation period to allow clubs to establish themselves and ensure they are viable for a potential future in the A-League.
What teams will be involved?
While the identity and number of clubs for the National Second Division is yet to be decided, it's expected a number of NPL clubs as well as teams behind recent bids for a place in the A-League will be considered.
"The HAL expansion process identified a number of bids that would be interested in a future National Second Division," the working group paper said.
"The quality of the bids was mostly strong, suggesting that there could be some existing NPL clubs and new teams that could feasibly step up to the standards required to deliver a National Second Division at a higher standard than the current NPL."
The NSDWG also stresses that large geographic areas currently without professional football teams should be considered.
In terms of finances, it's recommended clubs involved in the competition have an annual budget at their disposal of $2.5 million.
With an emphasis on giving young Australian players a pathway, National Second Division sides will likely require to contain a minimum number of local youth talent while also limiting how many foreigners can be included in the squad.
The working group paper notes considerations should be made for squads to include a minimum of two U21 Australian players and no more than two foreigners.
A-League clubs are currently allowed to have five foreign players in their sides with no minimum number set for homegrown young talent.
In terms of coaches, the NSDWG also recommends the second division gives Australian coaches an opportunity to step up.
How could promotion and relegation work?
Football fans in Australia have been debating the introduction of promotion and relegation for many years with a National Second Division set to provide a pathway towards such a system.
The NSDWG notes a National Second Division shouldn't look at promotion and relegation for at least five years to allow for proper incubation of competing clubs.
Beyond that point, it's suggested the Second Division should be aligned with both the A-League and NPL.
"The objective is to synchronise promotion and relegation at year five between NPL 1 and the National Second Division and between the National Second Division and HAL (A-League) at the appropriate point during this second window," the working group paper said.
"There is little doubt, the issue of promotion and relegation is one of the most challenging issues for the introduction of a National Second Division.
"Counterbalancing a system of meritocracy are the realities of challenging economics and the existing licensing framework which HAL clubs are operating under - which has provided participants with a closed model at the highest level of club competition in this country.
"The issue, therefore is not a simple one nor is there likely to be a universal merit based model that will satisfy every stakeholder in the game."
How to watch the National Second Division?
Though still a few years away from kicking off, considerations are already being given to how the competition will be broadcast.
The working paper states a commercial discussion with current A-League broadcaster Fox Sports is required to work out their appetite for more football.
Streaming of the National Second Division is also an important consideration with the working paper noting the current model used by the NPL.
"Namely, as is currently in operation for some NPL competitions, a streamed service via social media or apps should carry all matches that are not provided on a linear broadcast," the working paper states.
"While this increases production costs, it also provides exposure.
"A National Second Division could feasibly be provided via the My Football app although this would be required to be discussed with FFA’s commercial partners. Whether every match would be required to be streamed would need to be determined based on the net benefit."