Welcome to The Debate, where the Mercury sport team discuss the big issues in Illawarra, national and international sport.
This week, Mercury football writer CAMERON MEE and sports editor TIM BARROW discuss the official establishment of The Championship, a national A-League second division which could include National Premier League champions Wollongong Wolves.
Barrow: It looks shiny enough and sounds like a giant leap to involve 30 clubs nation-wide, including the Wolves, in the movement to a second tier.
Is The Championship a golden ticket for the Wolves on their A-League quest, or more about appeasing clubs and fanbases, given there is no outlined road map to promotion and relegation yet?
Mee: It's probably a bit of column A and a bit of column B. A lot needs to happen for the Wolves to climb straight into the A-League, a licence needs to become available, the club requires significant financial investment and the development of new facilities.
The barriers to enter the second division will likely be much lower.
There is no doubt that The Championship will appease clubs and fanbases that have been clamouring for this competition for years.
There is still a lot to be worked out, very few details about this league have actually been confirmed.
One aspect, however, that almost everyone wants is promotion and relegation.
It likely won't come in the first couple of years of The Championship but it should happen.
Once promotion and relegation is introduced, the Wolves will have a clear path to the top flight.
The plan is for a national second division to be up and running in 2022.
At this point in time, we have very little information about what it will look like, who is funding it and what teams will be involved. How concerned should we be about this lack of detail?
Barrow: It it is devoid of substance. In this Covid-19 climate, there has to be a full strategic plan mapped out to make the national second division viable and then thrive. Football in Australia has a history of squandering opportunities.
The golden generation, which included Wolves coach Luke Wilkshire, provided the base for sustained success in Asia and qualifying for World Cups for the Socceroos, but the A-League has failed to capitalise on it. Part of the problem has been the lack of organic supporter growth following clubs established just to cater for population catchment areas. It lacks authenticity and meaning.
The second division offers a bridge to the supporter bases, real passionate football people, to engage at a new level with the clubs their regions and families have supported for years, perhaps generations.
The move from summer back to winter will help engage those people too, the A-League has for too long had an identity crisis chasing casual fans against the entertainment-driven Big Bash cricket and NBL, at the expense of looking after their own backyard.
These 30 clubs included in The Championship blueprint - and their fan bases - deserve a reasonably, tangible timeline so they can walk the path to be part of it.
Given the Wolves missed out on A-League the expansion licence, how close are they to the top of the list for The Championship?
Mee: This is where the situation starts to get complicated. Without clear criteria outlining what is needed to gain entry into the second division, it's difficult to know how close the Wolves are to the top of the list.
Working in their favour is the desire for this competition to have a national footprint. That will mean a presence beyond the capital cities, with Wollongong perfectly suited to meet that metric. Additionally, there is a significant amount of goodwill for the Wolves among the broader football community. There remains support for the club after their heroics in winning the 2000 and 2001 National Soccer League grand finals.
That has translated to a desire for Wollongong to have a presence in an Australian football competition. Also working for the Wolves is the fact they have a stadium built and ready to go in WIN Stadium.
Finally is their recent results on the field.
As Wilkshire will tell you, by virtue of their win in last year's National Premier Leagues finals series, the Wolves are the best club in Australia outside the A-League.
Working against Wollongong's favour is the lack of financial muscle that some of the traditional powers boast.
Teams like Marconi, also on the list of 30, are attached to licensed clubs that have provided rivers of gold for the football departments for years.
Even at the NSW NPL level, those clubs operate on a far bigger budget than the Wolves. COVID-19 has thrown many of those budgets into flux, but it is expected licensed club revenue will rebound.
Barrow: Unless the Central Coast fall over and the Wolves - who were not ready to join the A-League, which allowed the Mariners to be part of the inaugural season - take their place, this is potentially their last great hope.
If Wollongong and all the history of the back-to-back grand final wins and fairytale comebacks against Perth, cannot make the second division, then what hope do they have?
They have the stadium, the community support now they've established themselves as a successful organisation and NPL force, and Southern Expansion is dead, buried and cremated.
And I know for a fact they were encouraged that the Wolves would gain entry into the second division when they were told their A-League bid wasn't successful.
Mee: You're right, this seems to be a case of 'if not now, when?'
With almost everything aligning perfectly for the Wolves, if they can't gain entry into the national second division now, they could be destined to a long-term stay in the state league.
That makes now a crucial time for the club to continue working behind the scenes to ensure that once details are confirmed, Wollongong is at the top of the list of candidates to enter The Championship.