Tasmania's AFL push reaches a fork in the road: what happens now?

When Colin Carter's report on Tasmania's bid for an AFL team was published last Friday, it sparked familiar discussion, emotion and angst from both sides of 'The Great Tassie Team' debate.

Some viewed the report's unequivocal backing of Tasmania's ability to sustain standalone AFL and AFLW teams as a huge tick of approval - in effect, a changing of the landscape from 'if' to 'when' when it came to a club based on the Island State.

Others, however, including Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein, viewed the lack of any timeline, and the AFL's lukewarm response to the standalone bid, as another example of AFL boss Gillon McLachlan and Co. "kicking the can down the road" - a phrase repeated ad nauseum by Gutwein through this lengthy, prickly process.

For those footy fans living under a rock for the past few days, the Carter report outlined three options for a Tasmanian team:

Option 1: Tasmania is granted a 19th AFL licence and goes it alone
Option 2: The relocation to Tasmania by an existing team
Option 3: A 'joint venture' between Tasmania and a Victorian club that wants to gain "strong support in two markets."

After the report's release, McLachlan said the league was leaning towards a relocation or joint venture, with the AFL to make an official recommendation on its preferred option to the existing 18 clubs in due course.

Soon after, and predictably, Gutwein said his government was strongly opposed to a joint venture, and would not renew North Melbourne and Hawthorn's lucrative sponsorship deals for AFL games in the state until the league gave a timeline for a team.

That we arrived at Groundhog Day (again) should be of no surprise: Tasmania's government, of course, wants the best option for the state; the AFL can only push what it believes is best for the competition as a whole. Meanwhile, the Roos and Hawks are desperate to find out if the rivers of financial gold flowing from across the Bass Strait will continue or be severed through no fault of their own.

Indeed, the waters are as muddy as ever when it comes to a possible team in Australia's smallest state. So, what happens now?

Club decision-makers and boards will digest the report in time, but it's highly unlikely any would immediately entertain a relocation or joint venture -- the pain of Fitzroy fans is still fresh -- despite McLachlan telling media that Tasmania represented a "50-100 year opportunity" for a Victorian club. There are no firm timeframes for the AFL or its clubs in terms of making a call either way.

Those who are the most invested in the debate -- Tasmanians, including Gutwein and his government -- would also be wise to take stock, despite their growing impatience. The fact a Tassie team, in some form, is within touching distance should only be considered a good thing. Yes, it's not the golden ticket they were seeking, but it's further down the track they've ever been after decades of lobbying.

But instead of a clear roadmap forward -- a simple yes or no answer to their request for a 19th license -- Gutwein has come to a fork in the road.

Will he continue down the all-or-nothing path, which may result in him effectively closing the state's borders (and coffers) to North Melbourne and Hawthorn, as he has threatened? That path will have immense, long-lasting ramifications for the sport in the state, with grassroots football in worrying decline and other sports, namely basketball and soccer, making huge inroads.

Or will he begrudgingly consider other options if they're on the table?

In the short-term, a joint venture or relocated team in Tassie would almost certainly be met with some unease and apathy - anyone with knowledge of Tasmania's football landscape understands a true standalone team is the only one which would garner crucial, state-wide support. There would be minimal rusted-on supporters of existing teams who would emotionally and financially invest in a 'drop-in' club - a Tasmanian team yes, but the 'Tassie Kangaroos' or 'Tasmanian Saints'? Unlikely.

But what about the next generation, and the one after that? It could be argued that, with a clear pathway to both the AFL and AFLW competitions, more AFL investment at grassroots level and greater community presence, the majority of Tasmanian kids would buy into any elite-level club - standalone or not, perhaps much to the chagrin of their parents. But this isn't about the current generation - it's about the generations to come. As Carter pointed out in one of his many media appearances on Friday afternoon: "This is a 100-year decision".

There are still so many balls in the air. Will a Victorian club seriously ponder a relocation or joint venture? And if so, will Gutwein assess that option on its merits if it's presented?

It's a difficult balancing act for a premier who has played hardball with the biggest sport in the land, and progressed the Tasmanian case further than any before him. The path Gutwein chooses will have massive ramifications for his state and the sport of Australian football.