Something needs to be done about Capital Football's under-23s competition, but premier league coaches say using it to decide promotion and relegation isn't the solution.
Capital Football are considering using NPL1 and NPL2 clubs' combined competition points for both their first grade and under-23s to decide who gets relegated and promoted between the two divisions.
It goes against leagues around the world where it's solely decided by first-grade results.
Capital Football sent a questionnaire to clubs asking how it should be implemented and what loading the under-23s should be given - equal footing with first grade or a lesser percentage.
If they brought it in this year and gave the 23s equal loading then Canberra Olympic would have been relegated instead of Tuggeranong United - despite finishing 11 points above them (albeit with the season ended with four games remaining) - and ANU would have been promoted instead of the O'Connor Knights.
Football NSW used the club championship-type system for their premier leagues in 2019, but ditched it to return to the traditional method using first grade's results.
It's unclear whether Capital Football would also use the under-23s to decide who was crowned minor premiers - which would've seen fourth-placed Monaro earn the title despite finishing 11 points adrift of the Cooma Tigers.
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Capital Football's also considering introducing promotion and relegation between women's premier league and the state leagues.
The Canberra Times spoke to four coaches from this year's NPL1 teams with most of them against the proposal.
It appears the Tigers could be the reason why the rule's being considered.
They were the best team in first grade, but finished last in the under-23s with just one win - from a controversial forfeit when COVID-19 regulations prevented Tuggeranong players and coaches from travelling into NSW just days before Canberra went into lockdown - and forfeited two games due to a lack of numbers.
Monaro coach Frank Cachia said the proposal could affect the integrity of the competition.
Club's struggling in first grade could stack their under-23s - where four over-aged players were allowed - in order to avoid relegation.
Cachia hoped Capital Football would consult with clubs properly before making any decision.
He also said it could make it harder for young players to get a game if the under-23s moved away from being a development stepping stone.
"My biggest issue would be clubs potentially stacking an under-23s team to avoid relegation, " Cachia said.
"It could potentially affect the integrity of the comp. That's the one thing that worries me."
Ulisses Da Silva, who coached West Canberra Wanderers this year, said the under-23s was a "Clayton's" competition in 2021.
But he still thought first grade should be solely used to determine promotion and relegation, but something change was needed in the under-23s - pointing to the disparity between Cooma's results.
"First grade needs to be first grade and you live and die by your first-grade result, but something needs to happen with that under-23 competition and have some meaning behind it because it didn't work this year," Da Silva said.
Tuggeranong coach Mitch Stevens was aware they would've stayed up if the system had been brought in for '21, provided 23s were given equal weighting with first grade.
He said logically there shouldn't be equal weighting, with first grade naturally more important than under-23s, but then pointed to the National Youth Leagues where each age group counted equally towards promotion and relegation at the junior level.
A win in under-12s meant the same as one in under-18s.
Stevens felt maybe a solution was to incorporate the under-23s in those youth leagues.
"That first grade needs to be the elite competition and you hate the idea a team could be relegated because their reserves are no good," he said.
"Equally the Tigers are the best first-grade side, but they can't even field a 23s team on some weekends - that's not acceptable either."
Canberra Croatia coach Dean Ugrinic said he couldn't comment too much because he didn't know what Capital Football's reasoning was behind considering the change.
But he said there was no compensation for the clubs who used their under-23s to develop players for their first grade.
He also said using first-grade results was "best practice".
Capital Football chief executive Phil Brown said he would provide the board with a recommendation once the clubs provided their feedback.
"It is in the NPL Competitions Review outcome that the promotion and relegation between [NPL1 and NPL2] for men will 'consider' under-23 as well as first grade," he said.
"We are engaging with the community and clubs about the method to then provide a recommendation to the board."