MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 30: AFLW captains (L-R) Kara Donnellan of Fremantle, Amanda Farrugia of GWS, Steph Chiocci of Collingwood, Leah Kaslar of Brisbane, Chelsea Randall of Adelaide, Melissa Hickey of Geelong, Ellie Blackburn of Western Bulldogs, Elise O’Dea of Melbourne, Emma Kearney of North Melbourne and Brianna Davey of Carlton pose for a photo during the 2019 AFLW Season Launch at The Timber Yard, Port Melbourne on January 30, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/AFL Media/Getty Images)

The AFLW’s awkward growth has again been brought into the media spotlight over the past weeks.

With the AFL season over and an expanded AFLW bracket, the league should be looking for growth and storylines, instead the format of the season is still unknown and the players and those that represent them are at odds.

For a league that has been applauded for its existence but denigrated for its execution, a CBA pay dispute was the last thing it was asking for. Yet here we are.

Last week the AFL Players’ Association conducted a vote involving all AFLW players, asking for approval of the deal that the AFL has currently put on the table. A deal which the AFLPA boss Paul Marsh has said is a “final offer” from the AFL.

The vote resulted in 70 per cent of players approving the deal and 30 per cent rejecting the offer.

The AFLPA had set 75 per cent as the wished for approval number.

In an email to all AFLW players, Mash stated that, “the vote this week falls short of the benchmark we have set and as such we need to continue to work with players towards an outcome.”

That said, Marsh also noted that, “all members have provided us the authority to make decisions on their behalf. As such we could have entered into the CBA on players’ behalf without taking this to a vote.”

The negotiations have been marred by accusations from both sides.

Players have accused the Players’ Association of bullying tactics and pressuring its members into accepting the deal. The association has accused some players of running “an aggressive and damaging PR campaign” against the AFLPA.

An unknown group of players has taken up the services of Maurice Blackburn Lawyers to engage in worker’s rights consultations.

While 10 of the 14 clubs have accepted the deal in theory, another four have rejected it, pone club voting less than 10 per cent in favour of the deal.

None of this is a good look for the AFL. There is almost no way they come out on top in a PR war with players who are trailblazers for women’s sports in a league that has been anything but kind to them.

Still, the AFLPA has urged its members to lay down their arms and sign the deal, saying that “the ability of any collective playing group to achieve desired outcomes is in its ability to be strong and united.”

“The division of the playing group is very publicly known inside and outside the industry. Unless we unite the playing group we will find it very difficult to negotiate effectively for AFLW players.”

Last week Susan Alberti urged players not to simply take the easy route and agree to the deal.

“What am I getting in my pocket? What does the season look like going forward? Where is the certainty around the game?

“This is really a classic example of inadequate consultation and not listening to the players’ representatives.”

Ahead of the vote, she said that should a ‘no’ vote occur, it would send a “clear message that the AFLPA needs to listen to their players and they will really need to do some soul searching about they are going to better represent the AFLW players going forward.”

With an unsatisfactory vote in the books, Marsh says that the AFLPA “will continue trying to work through this process as efficiently as possible.”

With the pre-season just around the corner and no contracts available to sign, the near future for a league that must succeed is murky.