Football Australia adds national second tier to football pyramid in calendar restructure

The introduction of a national second tier has taken a significant step forward with Football Australia inserting a placeholder for the competition into the nation's domestic football calendar for 2021-22.

The new schedule will be unveiled on Friday and will see an aligned Australian football pyramid played year-round through 2021-22, beginning with the A-League season on Oct. 29 and concluding with the FFA Cup final on Oct. 28, 2022.

Football Australia will also introduce other reforms for the international breaks and to the National Premier Leagues (NPL).

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The women's season will commence with the 2021-22 W-League, before ending on Sept. 25, 2022 with a newly nationally aligned conclusion to the country's state-based National Premier League Women's (NPLW) seasons.

The men's equivalent of those games will occur on Sept. 11; the new "finals days" ensuring that NPL's season across the country will align to conclude on a uniform date -- part of Football Australia's push to greater connect the game across the country, raise the competitions' profile and, it hopes, increase their prestige and value over time.

Envisioned as running largely in parallel with these NPL competitions, the placeholder dates for the second-tier competition -- previously mooted to be called the Championship -- have been pencilled in to commence in January 2022 and conclude in May.

However, with a final model still to be settled and more consultation needed, this timeframe may shift when the federation seeks to commence a formal competition in the following years.

"The placeholder is an important first step towards the creation of [a national second tier]," said FA CEO James Johnson. "[It allows] for its ongoing development and, subject to finalisation of the model, can be adjusted within the [domestic football calendar] framework."

A Football Australia spokesperson confirmed to ESPN that the competition remained a priority to the federation, while its chairman Chris Nikou declared in May that he was "expecting [an NSD model] to come to the Football Australia board in the second half of this year, and I'd love to see a second division up for the 2023 season."

After the absence of several stars called away for international duty cast a shadow over the 2020-21 finals, the coming A-League and W-League seasons will also, for the first time, observe both men's and women's FIFA international windows and AFC tournaments -- with one small caveat.

The A- and W-Leagues will be given a special dispensation to organise games during the Jan. 24-Feb. 1 international window created by FIFA to make up for games lost due to coronavirus pandemic -- although clubs are still required to release selected players in this window.

"The [new calendar] is the framework for the whole pyramid of football," Australian Professional Leagues managing director and Sydney FC CEO Danny Townsend said.

"This announcement is demonstrative of the determination of Football Australia, APL and all other football stakeholders to achieve outcomes that serve the whole game.

"By reducing the amount of club versus country clashes next season we can build a brighter future for Australian football, with an all-around better football experience for players and for fans."

Further alignment of the tiers is set to occur through the introduction of uniform transfer windows. The men's transfer windows is set to run from July 26 to Oct. 18, 2021 and Jan. 14 to Feb. 10, 2022, and the women's windows running from Aug. 3 to Oct. 25, 2021 and March 15 to April 12, 2022.

Football Australia did note, however, that the calendar may be subject to change due to the ongoing threat of COVID-19, as well as "further opportunities and enhancements are identified ... in consultation and collaboration with stakeholders."