Making a league can be a daunting prospect. You look at nations currently at the top of the standings, and you see long, sweeping histories, arch-rivalries, silverware. Maybe that seems unachievable - but the only thing separating those leagues from yours is time and effort. Whether you want to be the home of all the world's greatest stars, just want your league to quietly tick over in the background as somewhere to source your international players from, or something in between, this guide is designed to help you get there.
This guide will approach things from an at least mostly realistic standpoint, with at least some amount of interaction with the outside world. Maybe your nation is sufficiently medically advanced that injuries are cured on the spot, or your players are metahumans with long lives who never need to retire. The guide will assume certain things about your league are true, but even if they do not apply, hopefully some aspects of it will still prove useful.
I'll be releasing stages bit-by-bit; we'll be starting with Structure.
The first thing to think about is; what form will your league take? This depends on your nation's size, culture and wealth, as well as your level of ambition.
How many clubs of note can your nation sustain? How many relevant leagues are you willing to score, and how many sides in each one? Larger, more populated, richer countries that are better at football can sustain more professional sides.
How many leagues you scorinate most likely depends on whether or not you have promotion or relegation. If there's no pro/rel, you probably only have the one league of any relevance - that's no shade on you, it's just there's going to be limited interest in the tiers below. Assuming you do have promotion and relegation, you'll want to score at least two leagues, but I'd advise no more than four at first. Don't worry, though - you're only expected to RP significant detail into your top league, and RP for your second tier is a bonus. Especially early on, don't sweat it.
Larger/richer countries can also sustain more clubs in each league. A country with a small population (or one that doesn't care much about football) isn't going to have more than 10-12 sides in their top flight, because there isn't the interest (and most likely finance) to sustain more. A bigger country, meanwhile, might well have 16-20 cities (or regions within cities) that can draw appreciable fanbases and deserve stadiums. From an OOC perspective, a smaller league has fewer matches and is easier to RP. Anywhere from 8-24 is realistic; my personal advice would be between 10 and 20.
Keep in mind as well that beneath the leagues you scorinate will be immeasurable small, grassroots sides. It would be impossible and unproductive to score every match of football that happens in your nation.
Something you want to take into account is your Cup. Not that you have to have a Cup, but most leagues do, in order to give lower-league sides a shot at beating larger ones. For convenience's sake, it helps to structure it so that it cleanly divides into eight quarterfinalists, four semifinalists, two finalists and, of course, a champion. If the structure you come off with does not, consider a staggered entry - this is probably ideal, if generally more annoying to count up - in which stronger sides skip the early stages. If your nation has a colony or something (but not a UICA puppet itself!), their sides could also be entered to bulk up the numbers, like France's main Cup IRL.
For example; Nephara, a large country with many giant leagues, has a staggered entry; the two Conferences (2x20) and Third Division (24) enter in the first round, the First and Second Division sides (2x24) enter in the second, and the Premiership sides (24) enter in the third. More simply, Brenecia has four professional/semi-professional leagues of 16 that all enter in the first round.
As far as rankings go, it's much easier to just rank every club within a league the same. Maybe having a slight difference for the best sides in the top tier, but you do still want to spread the glory around. It's the Cup, after all, where dreams are allegedly made of.
In Nephara, Premiership teams are given a rating of 100, First Division 75, 2Div 50, 3Div 25 and Conference 0. There are generally a couple upsets a round, but by the quarterfinals, there's never more than two sides out of eight outside the top flight, but rarely are there none. A First Division side has made it to the final once out of over 20 editions, but one usually goes get fairly far. In the Brenecian Cup (which isn't staggered) the A-League's roughly top-half clubs have a ranking of 100, its weaker clubs 90, B-League sides get 60, C- 30, D- 0. The Nepharim system is more even than the Brenecian pyramid - First Division sides are very credible opposition, B-League sides generally (but not always!) wilt before top-flight ones.
CLUBS vs. FRANCHISES
These are not synonyms, nor is it just a case of regional dialect. Whether your league runs with clubs or franchises reflects the culture of sport in your country.
A club system (or an open league) is a brutal meritocracy with a pyramid structure. The strongest survive, the weakest few (almost always one to four) get relegated. Regulation tends to be lax, and the sides with the biggest fanbases and budgets are free to dominate. They tend to come from the big cities, as a result. Clubs are formed organically from communities. Most football leagues IRL and on NS are club systems.
A pyramid system works when every league is connected. At the end of the season, the bottom 1-4 sides are 'relegated', and replaced with the best sides from the league below. This means that things change and remain exciting, and that success is rewarded and failure punished. To win the top league in the country is the ultimate honour, and given enough time to earn enough promotions, theoretically any side could win it.
A franchise system (or a closed league) is a planned, structural league. A franchise cannot be relegated; it has a license to stay in the league it's in, and will only be stripped of it on financial grounds. Sides tend to be evenly spaced from population centres around the country, avoiding oversaturation to try and have as large an overall catchment as possible. Franchises are made by board-rooms who feel like the league needs to expand into a new market, and creates an identity around that. Almost all North American leagues IRL of any sport are franchise systems.
Franchised systems also have lower tiers, but they're generally less popular than club-system equivalents. A side from the second tier can never make it to the first tier, at least not from their results on the pitch alone. The weakest sides often get compensated with things like draft picks to make them more competitive, and avoid having one team be terrible for its entire history - unlike under an open system, where a bad team will simply drop down as low as they have to until they reach a level they can compete at.
If there is no promotion/relegation system, then it's almost necessary to have a finals series/playoffs to keep things interesting, drawn from your best teams (generally around the top half of the league, often staggered in a way that favours the best ones). This way, if one team dominates the league and has it sewn up ten matches in advance, there's still something to fight over. If you have a finals series, the team that wins the league will generally not be considered the 'champions' - that's the playoff winners - but given another title, like 'premiers'. There's still prestige and a trophy in that, and they will probably have your second-highest UICA slot, with your highest going to your finals champions.
Now, these are very simplified explanations, and you can pick and mix parts as you want. The Australian A-League in RL started off as a franchised league to ensure financial and political stability, but many of its sides are clubs that predate the league, there is no draft, and promotion/relegation is likely to be added within the next 20 years, as soon as the infrastructure can be built. Similarly, many club leagues across Europe 'split' their leagues near the end-point, inspired by finals. It's your show; run it the way you want.
This is another simplification, but clubs and players are either amateur, semi-professional or professional.
Amateur players are not paid, train once or twice a week and if they can't make it, the worst that happens is they get dropped from the team. This reflects their performances. Any amateur side would realistically get hammered by most any full-time side they face, especially in UICA where they face the best the rest of the world has to offer.
Semi-professional or part-time players do make money from football, but not enough for it to be a full-time career; they generally have another job, or study. Often, there are semi-professional players who could step up to the professional game, but just make more in their current arrangement. Semi-professionals can go toe-to-toe with professional players, on a good day, but it's still a huge step up in quality. But compared to ordinary people (like most amateurs), they are untouchable on the pitch.
Professionals make a full-time wage from football, though all but the best will still need to find another career after football. They train hard and often, and are expected to devote themselves to maximising performance. Your best league is probably professional. Your second league probably should be as well, either initially or after a couple of seasons; the step up in quality between professional and semi-professional football is massive.
Are you someone who likes having examples? Good news! I'll try and pimp out an abandoned puppet's league, and take you through the thought process, step-by-step. Our example will be the Ceyne Isles - in the interests of full disclosure, the nation was a collaborative work between myself and the now-retired Anglatia. I've had his blessing to take over.
The Ceyne Isles are a relic of when Nephara was really good at subjugating nearby islands. As a result, they have a lot of the post-colonial hangups, though at least the Nepharim have been fairly remorseful over it. They sought, and received, independence, and with it also sought stimulus from Anglatian businesses. It didn't end well. Ceynes survived a lot of talk about a brave new world and all they got was this stupid star on their flag.
A lot of the population lives on the coast, with Falston the main mainland city of the western isle (and the overall capital) and Roschester the largest in the east. Culturally, they share Nepharim respect for hard graft and a strong sense of self. The temperature is too damn hot.
Important things to consider:
+ Smallish population (probably not many clubs)
+ Football only relevant sport (but not THAT small)
+ Pretty poor (not very good initially, not a high ceiling)
+ Hot (a lot of night games, league probably won't go through summer)
+ NW Esportivan, ties with Nephara (many foreign players will come in from Nephara/Brenecia)
+ Two major cities, population fairly dispersed (probably not more than 2-3 sides in Falston/Roschester, not more than 1 anywhere else)
+ Nepharim influences (league will be open system, league style likely to be physical and athletic)
The Askari Union is a small and insignificant country on an island somewhere. It is communist, and reflects this in its structure, using a closed system with a salary cap. The Legaskari is a single professional league which started out with ten clubs, before expanding to twelve a couple of years into its existence. Then, underperforming Gaillard had its license removed, and it was replaced by Sainati Bohemien. The top six compete in the finals at the end of the season.
Brenecia is a smallish, somewhat poor Esportivan nation struggling in the post-industrial era, but football is its primary sport and a national obsession. It sustains 48 sides of relevance - four leagues of sixteen sides. The top two are professional, the others semi-professional. It uses an open club system, and most of its best sides tend to be in the northern hub of North Hall or the southern hub of Rozelle.
Nephara is a large developed country in the footballing hotbed of Southeast Rushmore. Football is by far the most important sport in the country. Nephara has four (expanded from three) professional leagues of 24 sides, which makes for a gruelling 46-match season, and regional, semi-professional Conferences, West and East (it's a large country) of 20 apiece. There are also semi-professional and amateur state leagues beneath that, but they aren't scorinated and their sides don't participate in the Cup, because I don't want to go insane of financial and logistical reasons.