Tasmania's demand for a concrete timeline towards an AFL side has been knocked back, with the league instead pledging to set up a detailed, independent review into its merits.
The island state's premier had issued an ultimatum to the league in the quest for a licence, putting negotiations with North Melbourne and Hawthorn on hold until a reply was received.
"The AFL Commission understands the importance of Tasmania to our code," league boss Gillon McLachlan wrote in a letter sent to the state government on Friday afternoon.
"(The league) appreciates the work done in your submission for a Tasmanian team, and believes it warrants a detailed review by the AFL."
The review will be undertaken by an independent consultant and should be completed by late 2021 or early 2022 when a "clearer picture" of the league's finances is known.
"This is an important review," McLachlan wrote.
"While the AFL respects your desire for a timely decision, we also need to ensure we have greater certainty around the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic."
An independent report backed by the state government released last year found a five-year plan culminating in a Tasmanian side entering the league in 2025 stacked up financially.
Premier Peter Gutwein said the state has "paid our dues" and deserves much better.
"After receiving our business case 12 months ago, it beggars belief the AFL has not been able to consider it fully over the last year," he said.
"(And) now, to add insult to injury, want to take up to another year before providing clarity on the future of a Tasmanian team."
Gutwein says he will meet with McLachlan at the earliest opportunity
North Melbourne and Hawthorn are scheduled to host four "home" matches each in Tasmania this year but the long-standing agreements are set to expire at the end of this season.
McLachlan said the AFL could directly negotiate with the two clubs in regards to the 2022 season if required.
"We support AFL matches being played in Tasmania, and to find a solution that works for Tasmania, and for football," he wrote.
The pandemic has largely exhausted the AFL and clubs' cash reserves, McLachlan said.
Hawthorn boss Jeff Kennett recently said all options were on the table for the club, including potentially relocating the Hawks to Tasmania.
Australian Associated Press