Is longer always better? The W-League size debate

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While our A-League boys are still lacing-up their boots, our W-League players are already in the ice baths.

As it stands, the current W-League season runs for 14 rounds plus finals. Compare this to the A-League – with almost double the amount of playing time at 27 weeks – and you can see there is a major discrepancy.

While the A-League is only now beginning to head into the business end of the season, the W-League has been done and dusted for almost a month. Round one of the W-League was at the end of October with the Grand Final being played mid-February. Not only did the A-League start a week earlier than the women but they go for almost three months after the girls are all packed up.

Most people are of the opinion that for the women’s game to grow in Australia, we need a longer W-League season. But there’s a few massive points for why the season shouldn’t be extended, too.

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Below are the top three reasons for why it’s time we take the plunge and extend the length of the W-League; and below that are three further counter-arguments about why it’s best to keep things as they are for now.

Reasons for a longer W-League season:

  1. More exposure: it’s extremely difficult for women’s football in Australia to gain more exposure with such a short season. At a time in history where female football is rising in participation rates and fan numbers, it is crucial to develop our own league in Australia to continue this exponential growth. For Australia, our aim should be to have an established league which can rival the best female competitions in the world. We want our Matildas to be able to compete with countries like America on the world-stage and it all starts with our own league at home.
  2. Additional teams: with a longer season comes the possibility of more teams joining the league, and therefore more players nation-wide. More teams equals a larger pool of talented female players competing at a professional level. Over the next couple of seasons we’ll see the addition of two clubs: Western Melbourne Group and Macarthur South West Sydney join the A-League. Maybe it’s time to add more teams to the W-League and extend the playing group for our women too.
  3. Giving home grown players a better chance: with a longer season comes the loss of many international players (more about that below). This may sound like a bad thing but it could also be viewed as a positive. With less internationals in our W-League line-ups, we’ll have a lot more home-grown Aussie girls filling the pitch. These girls will get more exposure to professional football, and in the long term will be better players who will actually be able to represent Australia. Last year, Newcastle Jets coach Craig Deans spoke out saying the season should be both longer and more professional. He said he was confident that he’d be able to retain his American internationals but wouldn’t be too worried if they didn’t come back either. If the season was longer, we might also be able to keep our players who have already had international exposure for the Matildas and we could even manage to keep some internationals here for the long haul too.
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Although this all sounds pretty good, there are a few obstacles standing in the way of an immediate lengthening of the season.

Reasons against a longer W-League season:

  1. American internationals: the W-League attracts a number of American players because its short season neatly fits inside of the NWSL’s off-season. American players, and even Australians who play in the NWSL competition, play for their respective clubs in the United States before coming back to Australia for summer. But imagine if the W-League season was extended to 27 weeks; all of a sudden, a huge amount of internationals are no longer available to play. This lowers the quality of the league, which has the possibility of lowering interest in women’s football in Australia. Less interest equals less money, less money less players, and so on. Is it really worth extending the W-League when such a seemingly fatal blow will almost have us starting from scratch?
  2. Money: a longer W-League season will mean that the FFA and clubs are forking out more money to provide for the competition. Paying players/coaches/trainers and hiring grounds is just the tip of the iceberg; there’s a lot of time, organisation and money that go into these things. The women’s game is at a stage where it’s still growing and it’s just not sustainable for such a large amount of money to be thrown into it without the guarantee of a return investment. Unfortunately, sport is a business and although it sounds great to make the W-League season longer, it has to work financially for the stakeholders involved. At this point, money may well be a problem that is holding back a W-League extension.
  3. Timing: some people will argue that although the W-League should eventually be equal to the men’s competition, the timing to change it isn’t right at the moment. Although it’s true the women’s game is growing at a rapid rate, there is still a high risk of losing all of our progress if we move too fast – just look at the pro leagues that folded in the USA before the NWSL was ready. We could lose momentum in Australian women’s football, even go backwards, if we jump the gun too quickly. Maybe it’s best if we wait until the W-League is stronger and more established before we attempt to extend it, keeping in mind the risks of losing money and international players in a still relatively young competition. The W-League has only been around for the last ten years, with plenty more progress to go. Slow and steady.
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A number of people in the sport have called for longer seasons to improve the status of the women’s game and eventually the length of the W-League will have to become longer. The FFA will have no choice but to bite the bullet and extend the season to compete with other leagues world-wide. But for now, we’ll all just have to enjoy three short months of W-League action a season.

Feature image credit: Ngau Kai Yan

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Lani Johnson
Bachelor of journalism student from the University of Sydney covering Sydney FC. Passionate about writing and football.