Promotion and Relegation: Developing a second-tier for the A-League

On Thursday, Vince Rugari’s article for The Roar discussing the new Australian Premier League seemed to touch a few nerves when it came to promotion/relegation debate. Some are keen to see some of the old NSL clubs join the HAL, others claim that these team do not have the required support or facilities to have this happen.

One thing is for certain though. The AFC demands that all of its professional leagues have a promotion and relegation system in place. So, sometime over the next ten to twenty years, the excuse that our fledgling league is still finding its feet will no longer fly amongst the AFC delegates – we need to start planning now.

Let’s face it – If any A-League team were to be relegated from the competition at the end of this season, it would certainly face financial ruin. With the Fury and Gold Coast debacles still fresh in everyone’s memory, another club going belly up is exactly what Australian football does not need at the moment.

So how does the APL find an even balance between providing a healthy competition to feed the A-League whilst still being financially responsible?

First of all, let’s rule out a nationwide second-tier. The HAL is having enough difficulties establishing itself as a professional league. A competition existing underneath this – trying to operate on even thinner budgets, with potentially zero TV dollars coming in – is simply not going to happen.

Second, any system that is set in place needs to be weighted heavily in favour of any HAL team fighting against relegation. Any A-League club should be able to beat a state-league club over two legs, especially when they have the benefit of playing at home second. The idea is to have relegation only a real possibility for a very poor team – in the first 7 seasons of the HAL only the woeful Gold Coast from last year realistically could have been beaten by a state-league club.

Here’s how I see it working. Currently there are 9 member federations of the FFA, and ideally each should have an equal claim to providing a challenger to play-off for a spot in the A-League. So in the weeks leading up to the HAL Finals series there is a competition that pools these teams against each other. Where it would be held could be subject to a tender process. Rather than selling games to Bathurst or Launceston in a bid to bring football to the regional centres, let them host these playoffs.

This “Challenger Cup” has a duel role – exposing the second-tier teams to a national audience, and allowing an extra few games to be added to the TV schedule (hello impending TV rights deal!). Eventually, through the FFA Cup, state teams can be seeded into groups (similar to how the UEFA club coefficients work). But for now let’s assume it would look something like this –

Challenger Cup
To be played over the final 2 weeks of the HAL Regular Season – March 23-31

Pool A

  • Capital Football Winner
  • FFSA Winner
  • Football NSW Winner

Pool B

  • Football NT Winner
  • Football Federation Victoria Winner
  • Football West Winner

Pool C

  • Football Federation Tasmania Winner
  • Football Federation Queensland Winner
  • Northern NSW Football Winner

Final Pool
Finals Week 1 – April 05-07

  • Pool A Winner
  • Pool B Winner
  • Pool C Winner

Relegation Playoff 1
Finals Week 2 – April 12-14
Challenger Cup Winner vs. HAL 10th Place

Relegation Playoff 2
Finals Week 3 – April 20-21
HAL 10th Place vs. Challenger Cup Winner


  1. In each pool game, teams would only play each other once.
  2. Each pool game needs a result – If scores are even at the end of the game, extra time and then penalties will be used to separate the teams.
  3. In the case of a three way tie at the end of the pool games, goals scored will be used to separate the teams.
  4. If the teams can still not be separated, the highest seed will go through.

Admittedly, there are some flaws in this system. What happens if a club succeed in getting promotion but cannot fund its existence in the A-League? What if it’s facilities are not up to A-League standard? All worthwhile questions. But one thing is clear – we need to find a resolution to the second-tier issue. So let me know your thoughts? Am I on the right track?

1 Comment

  1. Well, relegation is without a doubt a critical aspect of actually improving the quality of football played in Australia. It’s a silly argument to continually say you’re finding your feet, when really, the lack of penalty for coming last is what keeps teams complacent and prevents the competition from bettering itself.

    Though, considering what a detriment relegation would be to any A-leauge team, the goal should be to introduce relegation in a rather manner that’s stacked to allow the A-Leauge team to stay. At least, this is the what I would suggest initially, until relegation and promotion becomes a standard theme.

    Stacking the cards against a challenger (a team entering the A-leauge) would hopefully achieve two things. One, it would prevent an unusual or unlucky result affecting major change to the league. Two, it would create a david vs goliath mentality for the challenging club. This, I think, is a good thing until a large structured league is formed.

    Who doesn’t, for example, like cheering for South Korea at the World Cup? But also, wouldn’t you be upset if South Korea won 1-0 on a penalty against Spain? (Maybe… haha).

    So what would work as a solution? Well, perhaps one of the following. Run two leagues in parallel either of the following results at the end:
    Last place in A-leauge plays a best of 5 series against winner of B-Leauge.


    Top 4 teams from B-Leauge + Last place form A-Leauge go into round robin pool with top place being promoted.

    Any system that allows promotion and relegation through consistency. And while I am aware that coming first or last in a normal league setting is already a test of consistency… while the difference in skill of the two leagues is uncertain, it’s better to have a secondary test of consistency.

    Long story short though, relegation is needed.

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