The Black Diamond AFL makes no apologies for trying to end the dominance of Newcastle City and Terrigal-Avoca.
But the league’s equalisation policy, which includes moving to an 11-team first grade next year, may have some teething problems, if history is any guide.
The BDAFL’s top grade has been a six-team affair for the past three years, and those seasons have been among the closest in the competition’s 18-year history.
Indeed, the league itself formed in 2000 as a merger of the Newcastle and Central Coast competitions as a means to address the unevenness of both. The merger has been mostly successful, and the competition has now grown to include three senior men’s grades and a women’s league. But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.
Blowout scores were a regular occurrence when the top division had more sides.
In the nine-team competition in 2011, Gosford won only once and were on the receiving end of some fearful shellackings, including 40.31 (271) to 0.2 (2) against Cardiff and 50.31 (331) to 2.0 (12) against City.
Lake Macquarie had fared little better the previous season in an eight-team league.
Compare that with this season, when last-placed Warners Bay have won only once but have not conceded more than 100 points since round one.
A mere 100-point concession would have been cause for celebration for Gosford or Lake Macquarie at the start of the decade.
Likewise, Warners Bay’s percentage, a calculation of points scored divided by points conceded, is a relatively healthy 71% this year.
History suggests a strong correlation between the number of teams in the competition and the last-placed side’s points percentage.
It has been 71%, 49% and 52% in the past three six-team competitions.
In the seven-team leagues of 2013 and 2014 the last-placed sides had points percentages of 38% and 41%.
Lake Macquarie’s percentage was 25% when they finished last in the eight-team 2010 competition.
Gosford’s in 2011 (nine teams) was just 22% before they folded midway through the season.
Oddly, Gosford had a far better percentage (62) when they finished last and won four games in 2006 in an 11-team top division, but this looks like an anomaly.
The BDAFL moved this year to rein in City and Terrigal, who have won the past nine grand finals, by introducing strict limits on who they could recruit.
Something needs to be done to even up the comp or there's just going to be another 10 years of what we've just had.Gosford coach Deon Crowden in 2011
City struggled early in the season but have won five straight and last month became the first team to knock off the Panthers. The two could well meet in this year’s grand final yet again.
The league is poised to allow five more teams into the top division next year and cut the number of men’s grades from three to two.
Its long-term strategy may well include a player-points system along the lines of those introduced in local soccer, league and union.
The Black Diamond version could involve a sliding scale which penalises teams who finished higher the previous season.
This would remove the need to penalise City and Terrigal specifically, which was an unusual policy and bound to be contentious.
Still, City have dug their heels in over the changes.
They didn’t like the recruitment rules and fear they could lose a men’s side and one of their two women’s teams under the proposed new competition structure for 2018, although the league says they could run two sides in reserve grade.
They feel – understandably – like they are being punished for working hard to build their club over many years and that the league should instead help improve the other clubs’ facilities and junior development.
“The BDAFL talk about having competitive football, but we feel condensing it into two divisions won’t promote that,” Blues coach Mitchell Knight said.
“That was why the three-tier competition was brought in in the first place, because there were one-sided results.”
It appears the league will encourage the Blues’ second women’s side and any surplus male players to help form a proposed new inner-city club.
Terrigal president Chris Aitken said allowing more second-tier clubs into the top league would help those teams recruit players. He said they would struggle initially but would have to commit to a long-term improvement.
It is all a complicated situation for the BDAFL.
The dominance of two clubs is clearly at odds with the league’s efforts to keep growing the game.
Yet it has its work cut out convincing City that what is not good for the club may eventually be good for the league and the sport in general in Newcastle.
In mid-2011, just before his team pulled up stumps, Gosford coach Deon Crowden warned that the league had to address the unevenness of the competition. The Tigers, whose committee had shrunk to just two, had lost seven first-graders to Sydney clubs and five to BDAFL rivals before the season began.
“They wanted to play where they could be competitive and have some fun,” Crowden said at the time.
“I don't hold it against the clubs for their success, but something needs to be done to even up the comp or there's just going to be another 10 years of what we've just had.”
The stats suggest the BDAFL went some way to achieving that aim by cutting the league to six teams.
Making an 11-team competition viable will take time and some nimble thinking.