Australian Football League reserves affiliations
The Australian Football League stages the highest-level senior Australian rules football competition in the country. However, since the late 1980s, when the former Victorian Football League expanded interstate to become the modern Australian Football League, there has not been a league-wide reserves competition; and, since 2000, there has been no dedicated reserves competition of any kind. As a result, AFL-listed players who are not selected in their senior teams are made eligible to play in one of the second-tier state leagues: the Victorian Football League, South Australian National Football League, West Australian Football League, or North East Australian Football League. The system used to accommodate AFL-listed players within these leagues varies considerably from state to state.
In the 2019 season, the eighteen Australian Football League clubs have the following reserves arrangements.
Dedicated Reserves Competition (1919–1999)
During the 20th century, up to the 1980s, the Victorian Football League was based solely in the state of Victoria, and operated three grades of competition: seniors, reserves (established in 1919), and under-19s (established in 1946). Local players were primarily recruited via the league's metropolitan and country zoning rules, and the clubs had full ability to develop its players through its junior and reserves teams. This same basic structure was used consistently across all of Australia's major state leagues (VFL, SANFL, WAFL and TANFL).
Two factors in the late 1980s and early 1990s led to the end of this traditional arrangement in Victoria:
- Firstly, the Victorian Football League expanded interstate to become the Australian Football League, and some of the clubs from interstate were unwilling to participate in the minor grades.
- Secondly, the AFL Draft (first held in 1986) was gradually replacing zoning as the primary means of recruitment to the national league, so the developmental continuity between the under-19, reserves and senior grades had lost its purpose.
As a result, the AFL relinquished direct control of the Victorian reserves and junior grades at the end of 1991. The under-19s grade and the twelve participating AFL clubs' under-19s teams were shut down and replaced by the TAC Cup, with six new, independent and zone-based under-18s clubs.
The change to the reserves league was mostly administrative: it became known as (and was governed by) the Victorian State Football League, but it was otherwise identical to the former VFL/AFL reserves and is considered a direct continuation.
The VFL/AFL reserves and the VSFL were contested by all twelve Victorian clubs. The Sydney Swans continued to participate after South Melbourne relocated in 1982, and the Brisbane Bears participated for five years, but none of the South Australian or Western Australian clubs were ever involved.
Combination with the VFL (since 2000)
Following the 1999 season, the VSFL merged into Victoria's second-tier senior football league, the Victorian Football League (known until 1995 as the Victorian Football Association, and with a history dating back to 1877). Such a merger had first been proposed as early as 1980, and a formal attempt to enact the merger for the 1995 season was defeated after strong opposition from the clubs. Since the merger, the VFL has served as both a distinct second-tier senior competition and a reserves competition for AFL clubs.
Since the merger, there have been three types of club participating in the VFL:
- VFL/AFL club affiliations—in these cases, an AFL club enters into an agreement with a single VFL club (or, in some former cases, two VFL clubs). Any players listed at the AFL club are permitted to play with the VFL club on weekends when not selected for an AFL game. The VFL club maintains its own, separate playing list, and its weekly team is composed of a mixture of VFL-listed and AFL-listed players. The exact nature of the organisational relationship between the VFL and AFL club varies on a case-by-case basis, with some VFL sides enjoying reasonable autonomy, and others being heavily influenced by their AFL-affiliates. These clubs generally field teams in both the VFL seniors and the VFL reserves, and AFL-listed players may be selected for either, although most will play seniors.
- Stand-alone AFL reserves teams—in these cases, the AFL club fields its own team in the VFL. Naturally, the AFL club has complete autonomy over the operation of its VFL team. Because the AFL list is not large enough to field two complete teams, the club must also maintain a separate list of "top-up players", who are eligible only for VFL games. The licence fee for an AFL club fielding a stand-alone reserves team is much higher than the cost of entering into an affiliation. None of the AFL clubs with a stand-alone team in the VFL seniors is involved in the VFL reserves.
- Stand-alone VFL senior teams—in these cases, the VFL club has no affiliation with any AFL club. It takes complete responsibility for maintaining its own list of players from outside the AFL. As for affiliated VFL clubs, these clubs generally compete in both the VFL seniors and VFL reserves, although there is no requirement for them to field a reserves team.
Currently, there are no limitations on how many AFL-listed players may play in a VFL team on any given weekend—except during finals, when only players who have played a certain number of VFL games during the season are eligible. There was previously a rule known as the 12–10 Rule, which stated that in a match between an affiliated VFL team and a stand-alone VFL senior team, the affiliated team could play of at most twelve AFL-listed players, with the other ten to be VFL-listed players; and, where the AFL club had more than twelve reserve players available, the extras would play in the VFL reserves. The rule was abolished in 2011.
Historical VFL/AFL affiliations by AFL club
For all clubs in this list, the club fielded a reserves team in the VFL/AFL reserves up to 1991, and then in the VSFL from 1992 until 1999; additionally, the Fitzroy Football Club fielded a reserves team in these competitions until the club merged with the Brisbane Bears at the end of 1996. This listing shows all reserves affiliations and arrangements since 2000.
- 2000–2002 – fielded a stand-alone reserves team in the VFL
- 2003–present – affiliated with the Northern Bullants/Blues
- 2000 – fielded a stand-alone reserves team in the VFL
- 2001–2007 – affiliated with the Williamstown Football Club
- 2008–present – again fielded a stand-alone reserves team
- 2000–2002 – fielded a stand-alone reserves team in the VFL
- 2003–2012 – affiliated with the Bendigo Football Club
- The team changed its name from Bendigo Diggers to Bendigo Bombers when the affiliation was established in 2003. The team then changed its name the Bendigo Gold from 2012 onwards.
- 2000–present – fielded a stand-alone reserves team in the VFL
- 2000–present – affiliated with the Box Hill Football Club
- Box Hill changed its nickname from Mustangs to Hawks when the affiliation was established
- 2000–2008 – affiliated with the Sandringham Football Club
- 2009–present – affiliated with the Casey Scorpions
- 2000–2002 – affiliated with the Murray Kangaroos Football Club, a new team established in joint-venture between the Kangaroos and the Ovens & Murray Football League
- 2003–2005 – affiliated with the Port Melbourne Football Club
- 2006–2007 – split-affiliation with the North Ballarat Football Club and the Tasmanian Devils Football Club
- 2008–2015 – split-affiliation with the North Ballarat Football Club and the Werribee Football Club
- 2016-2017 – full affiliation with the Werribee Football Club
- 2018–present – fielded a stand-alone reserves team in the VFL
- 2000 – fielded a stand-alone reserves team in the VFL
- 2001–2013 – affiliated with the Coburg Football Club
- Coburg changed its nickname from Lions to Tigers when the affiliation was established
- 2000 – fielded a stand-alone reserves team in the VFL
- 2001–2008 – affiliated with the Springvale/Casey Scorpions
- The Springvale Scorpions became the Casey Scorpions in 2006
- 2009–present – affiliated with the Sandringham Football Club
- 2000 – split-affiliation with the Werribee Football Club and the Williamstown Football Club
- 2001–2007 – affiliated with the Werribee Football Club
- 2008–2013 – affiliated with the Williamstown Football Club
- 2014–present – fielded a stand-alone reserves team, known as the Footscray Bulldogs, in the VFL
South Australian clubs
After Adelaide and Port Adelaide had entered the AFL in 1991 and 1997 respectively, South Australia had two AFL teams and a strong nine-team state league (the SANFL). Until 2013, the AFL clubs were affiliated with the entire SANFL, rather than with an individual club as is seen in Victoria; this meant that the reserves players from each AFL club would be dispersed throughout the SANFL, playing for different teams. This arrangement was governed by the annual "AFL–SANFL Interchange Agreement".
The method used to allocate players to the state league teams varied depending upon whether the player was from South Australia, or had come from interstate:
- Players from South Australia remained allocated to the SANFL clubs from which they were recruited. These players would originally have been allocated to their state league clubs as juniors under zoning rules.
- Players from interstate were allocated to the SANFL clubs based on a "mini-draft". Each year, the pool of players available in the mini-draft consists solely of AFL-listed players in their first pre-season with a South Australian club; the SANFL teams then draft players in reverse-finishing order from the previous season. SANFL clubs may choose players from either of the two AFL clubs.
Regardless of which method is used to allocate the player, he typically remained allocated to the same SANFL for his entire career, although there were provisions in the rules for players to be re-allocated to a different club on a case-by-case basis, to ensure that the AFL-listed players were given the appropriate opportunities to develop; e.g. an AFL club could seek a re-allocation for a developing key forward on its list, if the player's opportunities were limited by the presence of an established key forward in his allocated team.
This arrangement, or a variation of it, was the sole mechanism for distribution of reserves players in South Australia until 2013.
In August 2013, the SANFL clubs agreed to allow Adelaide to enter a stand-alone reserves team into the SANFL senior competition as a tenth team, after twenty-one years of rejecting such proposals.
Among the arrangements, Adelaide's reserves team will be branded as the Adelaide Football Club, will pay a $400,000 licence fee (which will increase for inflation) to be dispersed amongst the remaining clubs, will play all its games as the away team, and cannot wear the Adelaide Crows AFL guernsey. The team each week will consist of Adelaide Crows players who are not playing in the AFL team, one permanently contracted former Adelaide Crows player (to serve in a leadership position), and young top-up players from other SANFL clubs or suburban competitions. The arrangement will be in place for fifteen years.
The SANFL also agreed to permit the Port Adelaide Power to use the Port Adelaide Magpies team as a stand-alone reserves team, which would be subject to the same playing conditions as Adelaide's reserves team. The team will wear Port Adelaide's traditional SANFL guernsey and will play home games at Alberton Oval.
From 2015, Port Adelaide operated an academy team of father-son selections and international and interstate scholarship holders in the SANFL Reserves, and shut down its traditional junior grade teams and surrendered its SANFL recruiting zones.
Historical arrangements by club
- 1991–2013 – affiliated with the entire SANFL under the interchange agreement
- 2014–present – fielded a stand-alone reserves team in the SANFL
Western Australian clubs
Like South Australia, Western Australia has two AFL clubs (Fremantle and West Coast) and a strong nine-team state league (the West Australian Football League). Initially, the Western Australian AFL clubs were involved in a league affiliation with the WAFL, which functioned in the same way as the SANFL's league affiliation. From 1999 until 2001, both clubs established affiliations with a single WAFL club, similar to (and, in fact, pre-dating by one year) those seen in Victoria, and known locally as "host-club arrangements". After three years, the WAFL clubs voted to end these arrangements, and returned to a league affiliation for the next twelve years.
Starting in 2011, the two AFL clubs started to push hard to end the league affiliation model; their preference was to field stand-alone reserves teams in the WAFL, but this was rejected by the WAFL clubs. In October 2012, after two years of negotiations, the clubs agreed to return to host-club arrangements – West Coast with East Perth and Fremantle with Peel Thunder – to commence from the 2014 season, with some transitional arrangements beginning in 2013. The original deal lasted for a minimum of five seasons.
- 1995–1998 – established and affiliated with the entire WAFL
- 1999 – affiliated in a host-club arrangement with the South Fremantle Football Club
- 2000–2013 – after the WAFL clubs voted to end host-club arrangements, returned to an affiliation with the entire WAFL.
- 2014–pres – affiliated in a host-club arrangement with the Peel Thunder Football Club, with an agreement in place until at least 2021.
- 1987–1998 – established and affiliated with the entire WAFL
- 1999 – affiliated in a host-club arrangement with the Claremont Football Club
- 2000–2001 – affiliated in a host-club arrangement with the East Perth Football Club
- 2002–2013 – after the WAFL clubs voted to end host-club arrangements, returned to an affiliation with the entire WAFL.
- 2014–2018 – affiliated in a host-club arrangement with the East Perth Football Club.
- 2019–pres – fielded a stand-alone reserves team in the WAFL
New South Wales and Queensland clubs
In New South Wales and Queensland, all four AFL clubs field stand-alone reserves teams in the North East Australian Football League.
Historical New South Wales and Queensland affiliations
- 1987–1988 – affiliated with the entire QAFL
- 1989–1992 – fielded a reserves team in the VFL reserves/AFL reserves/VSFL competition
- 1993–1996 – returned to an affiliation with the entire QAFL
- 1997 – affiliated with the entire QAFL
- 1998–2010 – fielded a stand-alone reserves team in the QAFL. The reserves team was initially known as the Lion Cubs, became known as the Suncoast Lions from 2004.
- 2011–present – fielded a stand-alone reserves team in the NEAFL (in the Northern Conference while it existed). The team was known as simply Brisbane Lions.
- 2011–present – fielded a stand-alone reserves team in the NEAFL (in the Northern Conference while it existed).
- 2012–present – fielded a stand-alone reserves team in the NEAFL (in the Eastern Conference while it existed). The team was originally known as the University of Western Sydney (UWS) Giants, then the Western Sydney University Giants, in acknowledgment a broad partnership between the football club and the university (which changed its name in 2016); from a football perspective the UWS Giants team is entirely managed by GWS as a stand-alone team.
- Until 1981 – based in Melbourne and known as the South Melbourne Football Club, fielded a reserves team in the VFL reserves.
- 1982–1999 – the senior team relocated to Sydney, and continued to field a reserves team in the VFL reserves/AFL reserves/VSFL.
- 2000–2002 – partially affiliated with the Port Melbourne Football Club in the VFL, and also fielded a stand-alone reserves team known as the Redbacks in the Sydney AFL. In practice, Port Melbourne served as a reserves affiliation for up to six experienced players, and the Redbacks served as a development team for inexperienced players.
- 2003–2010 – fielded a stand-alone reserves team in AFL Canberra.
- 2011–present – fielded a stand-alone reserves team in the NEAFL (in the Eastern Conference while it existed).
Push towards stand-alone reserves teams in the 2000s
Starting in around 2011, there was considerable interest by many AFL clubs in abandoning league affiliations or host-club arrangements and forming stand-alone reserves teams. A large contributing factor to this interest was the perception that the developmental autonomy Geelong and Collingwood enjoyed as the only two clubs fielding stand-alone reserves teams in the VFL was responsible for the very strong senior AFL performances of those two clubs between 2007 and 2011, during which time they shared four of the five AFL premierships.
In Victoria, some VFL clubs with a strong existing identity were also interested in ending their AFL affiliations after the strong performance of stand-alone VFL side Port Melbourne in its unbeaten 2011 season.
This represented a shift from the prevailing thinking of the 1990s, when the affiliations were arranged. At that time, particularly during the early 1990s recession, many clubs' finances were tight, so operating costs drove many decisions. At that time, some Victorian AFL clubs favoured the establishment of a WAFL/SANFL style of affiliation, with reserves players scattered throughout the VFL, because it would result in minimum management costs for the AFL club. The desire for teams to re-establish stand-alone reserves teams came at a time when most clubs were in a much stronger financial position. The total licence and running costs for a stand-alone team were estimated to be $500,000 per year in 2011. Through the 2000s, the AFL preferred that its Victorian clubs retained VFL-affiliations, and offered a disincentive in the form of an inflated licence fee for fielding a stand-alone team; however, the AFL did not otherwise prevent teams from fielding stand-alone reserves teams if they are willing and able to pay the fee.
In South Australia and Western Australia, the debate became more heated than in Victoria. The league affiliation system primarily benefitted the state leagues, by helping to ensure that none of their clubs gained an undue advantage through preferential access to professional AFL-listed players, and by helping to minimise the drain of talent from the league, but this was to the detriment of player development at the AFL clubs, since reserves players end up playing for a variety of different teams, under a variety of different game-plans, and not necessarily in the positions that the AFL clubs would prefer.
As early as 1988, the West Coast Eagles' second season in the then-VFL competition, senior coach John Todd proposed that the Eagles to entered a reserves team in the VFL reserves, but the West Australian Football Commission point-blank rejected the proposal.
From 2011, Adelaide, Port Adelaide, Fremantle and West Coast actively sought to establish stand-alone reserves teams. There was considerable opposition from the SANFL and WAFL teams about including those reserves teams in the state leagues, with the clubs concerned about the impact this would have on depth of talent, league competitiveness, and gate takings, with the WAFL and SANFL both on several occasions outright rejecting any proposal which would see an AFL club's reserves team participate in those leagues.
In Western Australia, a wide range of compromise solutions was proposed, including: stand-alone reserves teams playing against WAFL clubs in a separate competition during their WAFL bye weeks, a new secondary league including reserves teams from the Western Australian and South Australian AFL clubs, and a return to host-club arrangements. In October 2012, the Western Australian clubs reached a compromise, with two WAFL clubs, Peel and East Perth, forming host club arrangements with Fremantle and West Coast.
In South Australia, Adelaide made it clear that it intended to establish a stand-alone reserves team from 2014, and threatened to field the team in the South Australian Amateur Football League or another state league if the SANFL continued to refuse to admit them. The SANFL immediately backed down and Adelaide was granted entry to the SANFL was granted in August 2013.
Port Adelaide's situation remained unresolved for longer, as it wanted to operate the Port Adelaide Magpies SANFL team as its host club in the SANFL seniors, but the South Australian football commission informed the club it would be required to shut down its junior grades and forfeit all recruiting zones, thereby severing its connection with the community, if it were to progress with this option. Port Adelaide was highly reluctant to make that sacrifice, but made a compromise deal with the SANFL, with the club being granted permission to run an academy team in the SANFL reserves.
- New South Wales Australian Football League
- North East Australian Football League
- Northern Territory Football League
- Queensland Australian Football League
- South Australian National Football League
- Tasmanian Football League
- Victorian Football League
- West Australian Football League
- National Rugby League reserves affiliations
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