The AFL is expected to announce which and how may clubs will receive licences for AFLW teams in late July, giving those sides a year to prepare before joining the competition in 2019.
Eight of the remaining ten clubs without AFLW teams submitted bids before last Friday’s cutoff, making it more likely for the AFL to lean towards introducing four new teams rather than two.
The faster the competition can expand the better it will be for competitive equality, a major concern for any blooming league.
But which clubs the AFL should select is far from clear, and no matter the eventual decision, there will be at least four disappointed parties.
It is assumed that clubs which missed out on receiving licences the first time around – Geelong, North Melbourne, Richmond, St Kilda and West Coast – will be given first preference.
However, the simple fact that the AFL was receiving bids from other sides means non-provisional licence teams are not out of the question, particularly considering what they bring to the table.
It puts the AFL in a conflicting position, having to choose between loyalty or what’s best for business.
Geelong aside – the Cats are all-but guaranteed a spot come 2019 for their proven commitment to women’s footy growth in the Geelong region and strong showing in the VFLW – there are no candidates who come without an asterisk.
In Melbourne, any expansion at all will be difficult to implement.
With Geelong sure to receive a side and inevitably nabbing a handful of the competition’s established players, there are serious concerns about the talent depth being spread too thin.
The issue was clear for all to see in 2017 as all four Victorian teams missed out on the Grand Final, despite the state having historical dominance over the host states of the teams featuring in the season’s final game, Queensland and South Australia.
The women’s game is seeing an influx of talent that will come to the fore, but in the immediate future, it’s a concern for Vic teams.
Similarly in Western Australia, Fremantle was a clear struggler last season after losing a handful of its top players to interstate clubs through marquee contracts.
The Dockers’ performance in 2017 makes it hard to imagine a second AFLW team in WA, but expansion will surely have to include a non-Victorian team.
If not West Coast, Gold Coast is emerging as an attractive candidate.
Fundamentally, the Suns are situated well to host an AFLW team, boasting elite facilities and an influx of Queensland talent.
Where the Suns drop the ball is in fan support, posting the worst membership numbers in 2016.
That is the other important factor that makes the AFL’s decision significantly more difficult: membership numbers.
Part of making the AFLW a financial success comes down to getting as many people as possible to engage with the competition.
That comes from giving teams to clubs with the most fans.
In Victoria, you would comfortably favour North Melbourne and St Kilda for AFLW teams ahead of others if it came down to preparation and commitment to women’s football.
However, you simply cannot overlook the massive following that each of Hawthorn, Richmond and Essendon bring to the table.
Hawthorn in particular is the cause of some serious head scratching; the Hawks have the best membership numbers in the competition, but their VFLW team management has been poor and the club has no clear venue to host its team.
That includes Waverley Park, which is an exceptional training facility, but a terrible venue to watch football.
There really is no way of knowing what way the AFL will go when it announces the expansion teams next month.
What we do know is that selection will likely come down to one of three possible views: loyalty to the clubs with provisional licences, what’s financially best for the competition, or a balanced selection of clubs with plenty to offer.
If the AFL goes down the path of selecting solely provisional licence teams, Geelong and Richmond look to be front runners, with West Coast to fill the role of necessary interstate inclusion. However, if it’s two teams only, Geelong and West Coast would be the best options.
It would be a dog fight between North Melbourne and St Kilda for the last remaining spot if the AFL opts for four teams.
If we are selecting clubs on potential exposure and financial gain, any of Geelong, Richmond, West Coast, Essendon and Hawthorn could be announced.
If it’s a balanced view of the competition, it’s anyone’s guess.
Geelong and Richmond would still have to be the top candidates, but Gold Coast and Essendon also appear to be impressive options.
But ask five other people who they think will be selected and you’d be likely to get five different answers.