It seems that it is inevitable that the AFL will bring in a standalone reserves competition.
While this is good news for most AFL fans, being gifted the opportunity to see their team go about their business twice in the one weekend, it’s terrible news for the state competitions and below.
It’s understandable that the AFL would want to bring in a reserves competition, but the overall effect it could have on state competitions all the way down to local competitions could be devastating.
Currently, the VFL is hanging on by a thread. In fact, you could easily argue that the only thing keeping the VFL afloat is the affiliation between it and AFL clubs. With a number of clubs now opting to create their own reserves teams to play in the VFL, the breaks in affiliation is giving VFL clubs no choice but to either shut up shop or merge.
Of the current Victorian AFL teams, Collingwood, Geelong and Carlton each have representation at VFL level, with standalone teams for Essendon, St Kilda, Richmond and possibly Melbourne on the way.
It has been noted that Hawthorn is one of the only clubs happy with its VFL affiliation, maintaining a successful relationship with Box Hill. North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs both don’t currently have the funds to consider standalone options.
Although the SANFL and WAFL both draw strong crowd numbers, with each club gathering support from fans of all teams, both competitions will struggle without the AFL link. The thousands of people that show up to SANFL and WAFL games will be more likely to go and watch their AFL team’s reserve side play.
It may not lead to the SANFL and WAFL closing down completely due to such a strong supporter base, but it would certainly be a few long strides backwards for crowd attendance and competition interest.
Financially, state competitions would be forced to shut down, offering only the best VFL players positions in an AFL reserves competition. The history that has been built by each club would mean next to nothing.
The idea of bringing in a reserves competition for the AFL is exciting, thrilling and even rejuvenating in a sense, but there needs to be caution taken when approaching this sensitive situation. Clubs are proud of their heritage, and simply taking that away from them could burn a lot of unnecessary bridges.
It seems as though if the AFL does go ahead and eventually create a reserves competition, the relative closeness between the second-tier competition and below will be distanced, effectively rubbing out plenty of hard work that has been put into celebrating the grassroots aspect of Australian Rules.
As far as solutions go, one party isn’t going to be happy at the end of the day. However, unfortunately for state competitions, the AFL holds all the cards.