AFL Central West moving to two tiers, lower player numbers and shortened games possible

What shape will season 2020 take for the Cowra Blues senior men's side?
What shape will season 2020 take for the Cowra Blues senior men's side?

The AFL Central West has proposed a radical new two-tiered senior men's structure for 2020, with potentially less players on the field and shortened quarters hoped to help beef up participation in the sport.

The AFL Central West will aim to be back to two men's tiers in 2020, but may potentially only have 16 players a side in the top tier and as few as 12 in a second tier, both potentially with shortened games.

Clubs came together with the AFLCW in October to discuss the format of the competition in 2020, with several ideas floated, but it's believed the league will find a way to implement two tiers.

The league tried to implement a second tier in 2019 but it was pushed back 12 months by clubs.

The women's competition is set to continue unchanged with an aim to regain a women's side from Dubbo.

None of the ideas were locked in at the October meeting, with player numbers registering or expressing interest by early 2020 to determine the exact format and rules specification.

Australian Community Media has obtained a copy of the Central West 2019 Priorities - State of Community and Football document which was distributed to clubs and shown through their October meeting.

The document said March 1 will be the date the AFLCW reviews registration numbers, and if the number of registered players meets 80 per cent of the bodies required for another tier the league will forge ahead with the changes.

SPLIT: How the proposed two-tier system might work.

SPLIT: How the proposed two-tier system might work.

However, the league will also explore lowering on-field player numbers and shortening games if registrations don't reach the amount required.

First grade sides may drop from 18-a-side and six on the bench down to 16-a-side and three on the bench if numbers require it, according to the document, with sources who attended the meeting saying the league was willing to go as low as 12-a-side in reserve grade - not just the minimum requirement of the previous second tier.

Field modifications may be made to accommodate lower numbers.

Shortened matches were also explored, with bringing quarters down from 25 to 22 or 20 minutes floated to "improve sustainability, competitive balance and assist with the introduction of the reserve competition", according to the document.

It's believed the six current clubs will play in a first grade competition, with Orange, Dubbo and the two Bathurst clubs each providing a reserve grade side for a four team competition.

Those reserve grade sides would only play when the senior side played against one of the other clubs with teams in both tiers, meaning sides might play in two out of three weeks and have a bye if their first grade side played a club without reserves.

Reducing player numbers in senior men's from 18 to 16 will improve sustainability, competitive balance and assist with the introduction of the reserves competition.

The AFL Central West's report

It's unclear if the Bathurst Bushrangers - who have played with two senior men's sides for years - would aim to have two first grade sides and a reserve grade side or one of each.

Under the model some clubs' reserve grade sides might only play one game every three weeks, and some rounds would only have one reserves game.

Each reserve grade side would play nine games a season under the proposal.

AFL Central West general manager Casey White declined to comment on the proposal, saying the league would issue a statement in the coming fortnight.

Numbers have been strong in Australian Rules' touch football equivalent AFL9s and the league and clubs are hoping to recruit from that pool - as well as increasing recruiting across the board - but it remains to be seen how effective it will be.

The league said in its priorities document aiming to ramp up its recruitment strategies in 2020, working with CSU across the region and giving each club individual assistance in the recruiting and retention of players, while also targeting schools for increased junior numbers.

Outside adding another tier, the league is exploring an option to "improve competitive balance" and reduce travel time by changing the amount of matches clubs would play against other sides.

For example, Orange might play the Giants and Bushrangers four times each, with three games against Parkes and two against each of Cowra and Dubbo, while Dubbo would play four matches against Parkes and Cowra, three against the Bushrangers and two against Orange and the Giants.

The AFLCW has proposed reducing the travel time for Dubbo, Parkes and Cowra, handing each of those sides an extra home game over the season to bring them to eight home and seven away fixtures.

The Blues would play four away games in Bathurst and one each in Parkes, Orange and Dubbo, while Parkes would play away twice against Cowra and Orange.

Dubbo's first-grade side would play two games in Parkes and Orange, while the reserves would play four away games, two of which would be in Orange.