Consultation is never simple, but you could not accuse Football Victoria of passing the buck in that respect.

It took an online survey with well over 3,500 responses, 28 interviews with Football Victoria staff, club administrators, players, parents, coaches and referees and five forums to produce 29 recommendations for the restructuring of the National Premier Leagues Victoria competitions.

In the midst of one of the most intense lobbying efforts by a footballing body in recent memory (which has enabled significant funding for local football infrastructure) and a corporate rebranding, it's been a busy year for Victoria's governing body.

A brand new junior competition structure featuring an 11-game grading period, and a revamped senior competition and league structure Football Victoria hopes will alleviate the costs of participation for kids and their parents, are amongst the highlights of the recommendations.

Football Victoria Executive Manager of Football Operations Will Hastie said the consultative process was long but believes the recommendations will bring significant benefits to all stakeholders.

“Changes in football are always polarising,” Hastie told Football Today. 

“But there was a clear consensus that the current system isn’t working as well as it can for Victorian footballers. There was a clear consensus that there have been many positive aspects of the junior NPL standards in Victorian football and that we didn’t want to ‘throw out’ the advancements in coaching, technical ability, facilities, refereeing and the football program for change sake. 

“To that end, there was the consensus that these changes had to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary to build on the good work already completed.”

The issues brought to Football Victoria's attention as a part of the process were numerous.

Chief among them was reducing the cost of participation, a more clearly defined pathway, allowing the best players to compete against the best, and reducing player movement between clubs to allow for more stable development environments and more.

The changes which, if adopted, will kick off for the 2020 season, mean that NPL clubs can now field more than one junior team per age group, with one of those teams competing in a new-look, graded junior competition, and the subsequent teams competing in local community club competitions against a mix of NPL and community clubs.

“The 11-game geography based qualification phase of the competition provides eligible clubs with a minimum of 11 gala days through the qualification phase before being re-graded into a new ‘like ability’ league structure where another 22 competitive games will be played,” Hastie explained. 

“This provides a club with both the ability to develop strong ‘football cultures’ within the club environment and enables their young players to play in more competitive football fixtures through the season.”

Much of the discussion throughout the consultation process pitted the recommended system against the previous 'Super League' style competition which pre-dated the NPL system and used to operate in the Victorian junior system.

In the old Super League system, junior teams would compete for the right to qualify for the Super League over the course of a year. Once in the Super League, teams would look to avoid relegation to a lower league the following season.

Hastie said Football Victoria opted against the model because it involved the promotion of a team over the club as a whole.

“The determining factor in this decision was a fundamental principle of ‘club development’ over ‘individual team development’,” he said.

“There was a strong view amongst stakeholders that an investment was required to be made in the facility, football program, coaching and technical direction of a minimum of four junior teams (U13, U14, U15, U16) at a club rather than reward a structure where an individual club team may rise up through the pathway.”

Hastie said he also expects the allowance of NPL clubs to now field more than one team in each age group, with subsequent teams competing in the community competitions, to have a positive impact on the sport.

“The core principles of these changes have been published in our report, however, enabling ‘clubs to be clubs again’ is something we’ve strived to achieve with these changes,” he said.

“It must also be noted that there is a process where dependant upon meeting mandatory criteria around facilities, youth development, competitiveness with additional weighting criteria around geography and compliance, up to 13 current community clubs will be provided access to the NPL tier of the competition without having to give up their other teams that compete in metropolitan competitions. 

“We sought to ‘rebalance’ the football system all be it from a very ‘unbalanced’ position.”

In the Men's competition, a third tier will be added to the competition, removing the East and West divide which is currently in place in the NPL2 league and a shorter season of 22 games instead of 28 games.

“The purpose for this is many-fold, one is to address  weaknesses in the current disparity of the strength of competitions between the 2 NPL2 conferences at Senior level and another is to enable FV to relax the governing standards of this tier of the competition and through this remove a significant cost impost on these clubs,” he said.

“We see significant cost savings in this tier of competition which we would like to see invested in junior programs. “

The new National Premier Leagues structure should help clubs pass on significant savings to parents, according to Brunswick City FC Technical Director Riccardo Marchiolli.

“The savings clubs will make with six fewer weeks of senior player payments will make a huge difference to the club's operating experiences,” Marchioli said.

“And with clubs now allowed to have multiple teams per age group instead of one, the costs can be spread over a greater number of players which should allow clubs to charge less for registration than they do at the moment.”

The report form Football Victoria can be found here.

Categories: Analysis | Local

npl, football victoria, football development

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