AFLW committee backs conference system again in 2020

THE NAB AFL Women's Competition Committee will recommend the controversial conference system be used once again in 2020.

Conferences were introduced for the 2019 season, with Geelong qualifying for finals as one of Conference B's representatives, despite having fewer wins than Conference A sides North Melbourne and Melbourne, which both missed the preliminary finals. 

The two pools were split by their 2018 ladder positions, with teams that finished first, third, fifth and seventh placed in Conference A, and the second, fourth, sixth and eighth in Conference B. Expansion clubs North Melbourne and Geelong were split between the two. 

A recommendation to the AFL does not mean conferences are locked in for 2020; the AFL Executive will decide whether to accept the recommendation and if it does, the AFL Commission will then have the final call.

"There was an agreement with every member of the Competition Committee [of] overwhelming support of conferences," the AFL's head of women's football, Nicole Livingstone, said on Monday.

"We need to figure out from a machinations point of view how we set those conferences and what the timing of the competition is for next year. That recommendation will go to AFL Executive and then the AFL Commission for ratification for the 2020 season." 

Livingstone said there was a number of reasons behind the Competition Committee members' support of the conference structure.

"[Reasons included] the exciting nature of them; the fact there were clubs that were still alive [late in the season], (and) the window of time (for a season) we have right now as we look to progress the AFLW."   

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Livingstone said the unevenness of this year's conference system had been discussed. 

"There was a recognition that women's football is unpredictable and all it takes is a couple of injuries (to change things)," she said.

"Player movement was discussed as well, and the need to not only look at the clubs now, but to look at the clubs (and how the conferences are shaped) when player movement has been finalised. [It was] clearly something that was probably amiss in 2019, looking at the player movement [before finalising conferences]. 

"Equally, if you had have told me (Fremantle midfielder) Kiara Bowers would have had to wait for two years to make her debut and then had the impact that she did or that Maddy Prespakis – we knew she was good – but to make the All Australian team in her first year as a draftee was pretty amazing. There are still a lot of unknowns." 

Two working groups have been formed from the Competition Committee, which will meet again in July. 

They will work on the "timing and setting of conference structures", as well as a potential entry point for Essendon, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and Sydney.