The Hyundai A-League is the highest level of professional football in Australia. Having its inaugural season in 2005, it replaced the previous NSL (National Soccer League) that had operated since 1977. There are currently ten teams contesting in the A-League. Nine of these teams are Australian based, the tenth being based in New Zealand. Growing in popularity of the last eight years of competition, the A-League has become worthy competitors to the existing football codes in the NRL and AFL. The Current champions are the Central Coast Mariners, defeating the Western Sydney Wanders 2-0 in the Grand Final on the 21st of April 2013.
Format of the A-League
The A-league is played throughout the Australian summer, between the months of October and April. The season is divided into two parts – the regular season and the finals round. The regular season is a round robin style tournament where each team plays each other three times and collects points as they go along. The team that finished with the highest number of points at the end of the regular season is crowned the A-League Premiers, and wins a place in the AFC Champions League.
The Finals Series is a knockout competition played between the top six teams from the regular season. From the 2012/13 season, the top two teams are automatically entered into the second round of competition, meaning that they only have to win one game to progress into the grand final game. The winner of the Grand Final match is crowned the A-League Champions. They receive a playoff spot to qualify for the AFC Champions League.
Debates over the League Format
In recent years there has been great debate over the format of the A-League. Purists of the game believe that the winners of the regular season should be crowned champions of the A-League, and a separate knockout cup style competition be played out along side of it. The argument is that it is far more difficult to win the premiership, and it seems unfair that a team that finished sixth may have the opportunity to win the final trophy. The difficulty with this proposition is that there needs to be more than 10 teams for a cup competition to be viable.
The expansion of the A-league, whilst has been attempted, has not always been successful. Teams like Gold Coast United and the North Queensland Fury have been introduced to the league and have since disbanded due to financial issues. Future aims for the league hopes to introduce a second division of the league, with promotion and relegation at the end of the season. Such visions, however, must be implemented slowly and with effective management, due to the relatively weak financial state of the league.