AFL boss Gillon McLachlan has rejected suggestions that a proposed plan to reduce the number of games in next year's AFLW season would turn it into a "gimmicky tournament".
The League has received criticism from a host of leading women's players after it was reported the AFLW's home and away campaign would be shortened to six matches per side in 2019, despite the competition expanding to 10 teams.
Speaking on Friday, McLachlan stressed the AFL was yet to make a final decision on the format of next year's AFLW season, but was weighing up a number of crucial factors as it planned for the competition's long-term future.
He said the League was keen to continue starting the women's season the weekend after the Australian Open tennis tournament, and that it was set to introduce a two-week finals series.
However, the AFL's proposal could mean reducing the number of games each team plays, a plan McLachlan does not believe will harm the integrity of the competition.
"If it was – and there's no decision that's been made – then there's prelim finals and finals and there would be eight games over two months," McLachlan told 3AW.
"The World Cup goes for four weeks. I don't think anyone's calling that Mickey Mouse.
"It's balancing all of those issues up. In an ideal world, everyone would play each other once. I understand that, but I've outlined as clearly as I can all the things that everyone is working through to try and get to the right outcome."
Melbourne's AFLW captain Daisy Pearce delivered the most stinging criticism of the AFL's proposal, questioning the competition's legitimacy should the season be reduced.
"It doesn't sit well with me or a lot of the players," Pearce told SEN Breakfast.
"I get there is a commercial reality that they want to keep this competition within the little free space, eight-week timeslot where there is no sport. I think that was the reason for it in the first two years while it was in its infancy and getting going.
"But I thought when those two new teams came in … I was rubbing my hands together thinking 'we are going to get a legitimate competition here, we will play everyone once and head into a finals series, you beauty'. It seems not to be the case.
"The reason it annoys me is that this is presented as the female elite professional offering by the AFL, it has been lauded as that. Finally there is an elite women's competition.
"But with the AFL presenting it as that, it comes with a level of expectation that everyone within the sport … we wear that expectation that this is going to be a professional, elite competition. In reality, this is a gimmicky tournament."