The National Youth League (NYL) could be on the brink of folding with three teams set to pull out next season in a bid to cut costs, and two more believed to be considering their options.
Perth Glory, Brisbane Roar and Central Coast Mariners have put Football Federation Australia (FFA) on notice of their intention to withdraw from the 10-team competition, with Adelaide United and Newcastle Jets believed to pondering whether to follow suit.
Glory owner Tony Sage claimed his club will save as much as $450,000 in travel and accommodation costs by withdrawing while continuing to play its development team in the Western Australia Premier League.
The Mariners, meanwhile, plan to hand the running of its youth team to Central Coast Football as part of its newly inked alliance, while Brisbane will field a team in the local state competition instead of the NYL.
It’s understood that FFA at least partially subsidises the cost of travel and disputes that the clubs foot the bulk of the bill, although a spokesman from the governing body declined to clarify its position on the impending pull-outs from the competition formed in 2008 when contacted by The World Game, saying there is "no comment" to make.
Though it is part of each club's licence agreement to have a fully functioning youth team - encompassing players aged 16 to 21 - in what was designed as a pathway to the A-League, Sage declared: “It’s not as if we are walking away.
"We are just looking at ending flying teenagers around the country at huge cost to everybody.
"It was pre-ordained that once the National Premier Leagues structure was in place the NYL would all disappear and everybody expects that.
"Every club now has a team competing in the NPL, except Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers.
"Our kids have already had two years in NPL and have been playing all year round and finished third in NYL last season.
“I can see the NYL probably turning into an end-of-season tournament where all the clubs get together to compete each year.
"For us the cost is about $450,000 a year. In my discussions with the other owners Adelaide pays around $220,000 and Brisbane about $300,000."
Sage plans to inform FFA of his decision at a 9 April meeting with club owners in Sydney.
He is convinced the west Australian talent factory which has produced the likes of Stan Lazaridis, Richard Garcia, Rhys Williams, Chis Herd and Trent Sainsbury won’t be adversely affected.
“When I bought the licence I didn't know I had to fund a women’s and an NYL team … it was imposed on all the cubs," he said.
"If you didn’t do it your licence would be taken away. That’s how harsh it was. Running those teams is where a lot of our losses come from."
Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) CEO Adam Vivian said that any change to Australia’s elite development pathways should be made in consultation with the players, and that could be accomplished as a part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
“Anything that’s researched and evidence based and would improve the system would have their support," he said.
“But I don’t feel we should making reactive decisions based on cost implications only. The NYL is an important second tier system.
“I know there’s been talk in regards to the operation of replacement players and the lack utilisation if the NYL.
“If there is an adjustment to the competition, I think it’s important there is a transitional period.
“There’s obviously an appetite for a second tier competition and it’s important the A-League club has a strong feeder league.
“While it is costly, there’s also been a significant amount of investment into it and it would silly walk away without having the opportunity to see whether there could be changes and adaptations, rather than simply binning something that's been around since 2008."
Vivian added that the NYL was formed as a stop-gap competition, declaring: "Maybe the time is right for a change.
"We are three or four months from the current CBA expiring, so in terms of having these discussions the time may be right."