A new senior competition structure is the centrepiece of the AFL Riverina Competitions Review, handed down to clubs on Sunday.
David Burgess ended months of speculation about the future plans for AFL Riverina's senior competitions when he handed down his 22-page report to clubs at forums in Leeton and Wagga on Sunday.
The report unveiled a 'multi-tiered' senior competition structure for the future that is designed to 'provide clubs of all size, strength, ambition and capability to participate at their level'.
The concept, to be implemented in 2021 if approved, will see competitions tiers of Premier, Platinum, Community and Platinum 18s.
The Premier competition has first grade, reserves and under 18s and will be for the strongest clubs that are able to meet the criteria, which is yet to be developed.
The remaining clubs will be able to enter teams in the Platinum, Community and Platinum 18s competitions.
AFL Riverina chairman Michael Irons believes this model will ensure the sustainability of all clubs across AFL Riverina.
"It supports the changing population and demographic changes and caters for variations in club sizes and competitive ambitions," Irons said.
"Clubs have the opportunity to assess what level they want to play at to ensure they are still a presence in their community."
One feature of the model is to allow the capacity for the bigger clubs to expand the number of senior or under 18 teams they field.
It is also designed to cater for clubs who may only be able to field one team in the future.
Irons said there may be little change in the short term, but it provides flexibility for the future.
"In the short term there may not be much change at all but it gives our competitions the flexibility going forward that enables smaller clubs to retain a local football and netball connection whilst providing opportunities in the larger centres for the growth of clubs with additional teams or new clubs," he said.
In simplified terms, most current Riverina League clubs are expected to fall in the new Premier competition.
Farrer clubs will then likely fill their three grades of teams through Platinum, Community and Platinum 18s.
Similar type models are already in place in Sydney, Canberra, South Coast and regional Victoria.
The other notable recommendation is to change the junior age groups back to two-year divisions with under 12s, 14s and 16s. The entry to senior clubs would then be at under 18s.
If approved, this would come into effect in 2021.
Clubs have two weeks to provide written feedback on the review before AFL NSW-ACT's executive and the AFL Riverina board have their final say on whether to endorse the recommendations.
Burgess says in the review that the case for change was strong with over half the clubs acknowledging there will be a smaller number of clubs in five years.
ACT and Southern NSW AFL regional manager Steven Mahar said the review has been 'an extremely valuable and insightful process.'
"There is a clear case for change, and we hope that all stakeholders will embrace these recommendations," Mahar said.
AFL Riverina Competitions Review
1. Implement under 16s junior competition and change senior club entry point to under 18s to maximise transition and retention
2. Reduce on-field player numbers across all junior and youth football competitions to generate scale and enhance player experience
3. Revise WDJFNL junior football competitions age group structure to manage differences in club participation numbers to ensure sustainability
4. SWJFNL junior football age group structure to align with under 18s and maximise player retention and transition
5. Revise senior football competition structures into a club based tiered model to ensure club growth and sustainability, and enhance competition balance and player retention
6. Develop criteria for club participation and club minimum standards to provide a framework for aspirational clubs, enhance standards and drive club development and improvement
7. Enable club joint ventures to manage the impacts of changing populations and demographically trends to enhance player retention and club sustainability
8. Establish new clubs in areas with population growth and low penetration rates
9. Encourage same day competition to enhance game day experience where possible
10. Adjust game timings to facilitate same day competition opportunities and new competition structures
11. Continued focus on equalisation methods to enhance club sustainability and competitive balance
12. Fully integrate female football competitions within AFL Riverina and its clubs
13. Enhance the recruitment and retention of umpires through the creation of a regional training base in MIA
14. Ensure netball remains integrated in the AFL Riverina football competition structures to safeguard community club culture