IT WILL be status quo for the NAB AFL Women's competition in 2018, with the AFL delaying expansion until 2019.
Geelong and St Kilda had lobbied hard to be included in the 2018 competition, but the AFL wants a year of consolidation after a successful first season.
The AFL has identified talent identification and development, and building the fan base as priorities before adding to the eight-club competition made up this year of Adelaide, Brisbane Lions, Carlton, Collingwood, Fremantle, Greater Western Sydney, Melbourne and Western Bulldogs.
The 10 remaining clubs will be invited to bid for inclusion, with priority given to Geelong, St Kilda, North Melbourne, Richmond and West Coast, which were given provisional licenses last year.
A minimum of two teams will be added in 2019, with AFL general manager football operations Simon Lethlean acknowledging some are disappointed they have to wait another 12 months.
The Saints and Cats have been the most vocal in wanting their own AFLW teams, with the latter responding to their omission from the inaugural season by fielding one in the VFLW.
"We spoke to all five of the clubs with provisional licenses this year and some were disappointed," Lethlean said.
"But I think they see the opportunity now to have themselves well organised to be considered and hopefully get a licence and have some time to prepare with good momentum going into the '19 season, rather than rushing late this year to get it done."
All applications will be considered, but Lethlean says those with provisional licences are in the box seat.
"If there are standout submissions from clubs not in that five, then we'll certainly consider on that basis," he said.
"There's probably a head start for those five clubs that have been doing the work we've asked them to do and developing talent in their region, setting up structures."
A decision on expansion for 2019 is expected by the middle of this year to give the new teams, broadcasters and the wider industry time to prepare for the third AFLW season.
"Our primary objective is to provide women and girls with an equal opportunity to play elite Australian football and to increase the female participation and interest in our game," AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan said.
"We need to further invest in both building our audience and ensuring the talent pool can expand to be ready for the addition of new teams in 2019.
"Announcing the expansion teams later this year will allow the competition to finalise its list-build rules for the new clubs before this year's draft," he said.
The decision on whether to expand the competition in 2018 forced the AFLW free agency and trade period to be delayed. It will now start on Monday, May 15.
Almost 200,000 people attended the 29 AFLW matches this year, with a cumulative free-to-air and pay-TV audience of 5.64 million.
The Crows beat the Lions in the inaugural AFLW Grand Final.
Lethlean also said the AFL was still looking at how best to structure the finals series, the length of the season, start and finish dates, and rules potentially including a version of the nine-point "supergoal" currently used in the men's pre-season competition.
However, he said the competition would stay in the late-January to early-March timeslot and entry would remain free.
Geelong was unimpressed with the AFL's decision not to expand the competition.
"Our club is obviously disappointed that there will not be a Geelong Cats team competing in the 2018 AFLW season," said CEO Brian Cook.
"We believe we made a good case for expansion and we will continue the work we are doing to grow the game and the investment in our VFL women’s team."