COUNTRY footy’s version of equalisation is coming – it’s only a matter of how it looks.
While the AFL has the salary cap and national draft among its measures to try to share the success between clubs, in country footy, it’s open slather.
There will always be teams at the top and bottom of the ladder, but in an ideal world, wouldn’t it be great if club supporters could turn up on a Saturday believing their side was a genuine chance every week, and for their last premiership to not be a distant memory.
But one of the biggest obstacles to that is the ever-increasing influence of money in country football and the disparity between the haves and the have-nots.
Whereas country footy was once all about who had the best locals, now it has been overtaken by who has the biggest budget – not that the biggest spenders automatically equate to premiership success as there’s still so much to be said for culture and recruiting players with the right on and off field qualities.
It’s been long said that money is ruining country footy, and with the player payments bar continuing to grow each year, so too is the pressure on clubs run by volunteers to raise the funds to firstly, keep afloat, and then to be competitive.
While the topic of money in country footy and speculating how much this club or that club pays is usually one reserved for the pub and not discussed openly, it has been placed in the spotlight with an AFL Victoria Country working party looking into the issue of escalating local player payments.
It’s a long overdue investigation, with measures to try to curb spending and ease the strain on clubs to be put in place on a trial basis next year, before being officially introduced in 2016.
With a local footy salary cap having been tried before and scrapped after being near impossible to police, the most talked-about equalisation option is the player points system that aims to turn the focus of clubs back onto stocking their side with locals and rewarding loyalty.
How the system will look in central Victoria will be shaped over the coming months, with the potential to be four different structures across the Bendigo, Heathcote District, Loddon Valley and North Central leagues to accommodate their varying demographics and geographics, which is particularly pivotal for those smaller communities where the young players to build a side around are no longer there like they used to be.
My hometown Stanhope, where there is now just 30-odd kids at the primary school compared to 130 when I was there 25 years ago, is an example of that.
Could the points allocation across the teams be weighted towards finishing positions from the previous year in a way of helping lower clubs climb the ladder, or geared towards assisting the clubs in smaller populations, with both options in play down Gippsland way?
Offering an advantage to clubs that finish lower on the ladder with more points to fill their side with the following season has a similar feel to the AFL draft order being based on ladder positions, while the population option is an interesting proposition, with nuances such as when looking at Bridgewater and Inglewood as examples.
Bridgewater has won as many LVFL flags as Inglewood has games the past three years.
But due to the Mean Machine’s 2011 Census population of 363 compared to the Blues’ 1058, Bridgewater could be eligible to have more points to spend under a population-based system.
Plenty of discussion is bound to ensue in the coming months, but whatever form the structure takes in the region, at least spending in country footy is finally being addressed before it gets out of hand any more.