AFL NSW-ACT is encouraging Riverina and Farrer League clubs to take the time now for 'honest and open' discussions about their futures as the timeline ticks on a competitions restructure.
A tiered model is planned for 2023, featuring a premier league - for clubs with a full complement of grades, plus women's football - as well as a community competition offering greater flexibility.
It was a key recommendation of the independent review into AFL Riverina.
The state's regional manager for community football, Marc Geppert, said clubs know the minimum standards required for the leagues, and the nominations process will begin in March.
He is urging clubs to explore their best option.
"There's no doubt clubs will start to see where they might fit. That's what's good about the minimum standards - it allows clubs to test themselves against the criteria and see if there are gaps or deficiencies that they need to fix (to apply for a premier league spot)," Geppert said.
"We've given them enough time to try and fix that.
"But of course clubs will start to look at themselves against the criteria and start to make those decisions and work out what's best for their footy club.
"Clubs just need to be open and honest with themselves. It's not that we need to know where they're at.
"It's internally within each club, they need to be honest with themselves and their members about where they might fit."
Geppert believes the beauty of a tiered model is in providing options for the wide variety of clubs across AFL Riverina, from small communities to those in higher population centres.
Farrer League clubs East Wagga-Kooringal and North Wagga have indicated they'll explore the possibility of a premier league spot.
The Northern Jets have told The Daily Advertiser they're keeping their options open at the moment, believing they're in a healthy position right now.
Minor premiers Marrar - a club without juniors but with senior success in recent years - also haven't ruled out aiming higher.
"That's the beauty of criteria-based selection - everyone's got an equal opportunity to throw their hat in the ring," Geppert said.
"That's what it's designed to do. It's designed to offer something for the clubs with more capacity to grow, and for smaller clubs that don't have that capacity to fit in where they're comfortable."
Nominations will be assessed by a panel.
The AFL is aware clubs are coming off two COVID-affected years, the full impact of which is yet to be seen.
But Geppert said it's the right time for them to carefully consider their strengths and weaknesses.
"We're pretty close to finalising the competition names and their structures, which we'll officially launch (announce) in February of 2022," Geppert said.
"In March, the process of nominating for the leagues will occur. That's pretty early in the new year.
"We want to be in a position by August 2022 to be announcing who will be participating in what competition for the following year."
He said AFL Riverina and AFL NSW-ACT are willing to work with clubs to help them meet their objectives, and expects that there'll be some criteria that not all clubs can meet in the first season.
The belief is that the premier league expectations will raise the standards, from facilities and administration to football.
Geppert said they're more than happy to meet with any clubs to help them digest the documentation and work through their planning process for 2023.
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