AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou, chairman Mike Fitzpatrick and operations manager Adrian Anderson speak to the media. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
IN COMPARISON to what happened to the last club to be convicted of salary cap rorts, Adelaide has been treated leniently by the AFL.
A decade ago, the AFL Commission smashed the Carlton Football Club for its systematic cheating of the salary cap. The Blues lost Brendon Goddard and Daniel Wells, plus second- and third-round picks and their first two rounds the following year; they were fined $931,000 and barred from trading back into those drafts. This vicious penalty was meted out at a time when the Blues a) had a massive debt, b) were on the bottom of the ladder and c) had a Brisbane Bears-standard playing list brimming with overpaid veterans and virtually no young talent, besides Brendan Fevola.
Today, Carlton reckons it took until 2009 or 2010 to fully recover - seven or eight years - and even then vestiges of the severe beating linger, such as sizeable debt and a stadium deal that isn't in Essendon or Collingwood's league. If not for Richard Pratt's arrival in 2007, the Blues might still be walking with a limp.
The Crows have no such worries. They have a talented young playing list, healthy balance sheet and will not be weakened much by losing pick 20 this year, or greatly their first two selections in 2013; the $300,000 fine is inconsequential. Brad Crouch, their 17-year-old recruit from last year, is rated a top-three pick. Only Kurt Tippett has suffered a penalty that really hurts - 11 games is a fair chunk of next season. But the generous contract he will get in Sydney should soothe the pain for his part in this stupid scandal.
There is a strong case to say that the Crows also should have been barred from the first round of the 2014 national draft. Unlike Carlton of 2002, they were a top-four team this year, with strong prospects. ''They're clearly going to be a force to be reckoned with,'' said AFL chairman Mike Fitzpatrick, as he handed down the penalty.
As a list manager from a rival club noted, the Crows can still acquire seasoned players as free agents - a mechanism that wasn't available to Carlton - that can help them remain in premiership contention over the next few years. In yet another contrast to the slaughtered Blues, they have been allowed to trade back into the draft's early rounds next year and can receive draft compensation for losing free agents.
They have lost Tippett, but his inflated salary - further enlarged, as it was, by the shonky third-party deals - has disappeared, opening up salary-cap space for free agents. They only have to find someone decent who's willing to live in Adelaide.
The AFL verdict exposes a weakness in a punitive system that uses the draft - that a club that finishes in the ladder's lower reaches will be hit far harder than one that is playing finals; imagine if Melbourne had lost one, or both, of its top-four draft picks this year (a fate the ''tanking'' Demons averted). One cannot say where the Crows will finish next year, but it is likely to be around the top eight.
So Adelaide has fared well, given its guilt for the twin charges of draft tampering and salary-cap evasion. While the Crows' crimes were opportunistic - ''not systematic'', as Fitzpatrick put it - modest compared with Carlton's wholesale rorts, and they gained virtually no benefit from them (keeping Tippett for three years aside), this is not the late 1990s or early 2000s.
It's an old-school crime that belongs in a different age, like robbing stage coaches.
As Adrian Anderson and Fitzpatrick made plain, the Crows have been rewarded for their cooperation with the AFL (which happened only once they were caught) and for their well-timed decision - prompted by a not-so-subtle prod from headquarters - to quit the opening two rounds of this year's national draft before the AFL Commission hearing.
On the other hand, the AFL had to offer Adelaide something in order to get its co-operation. Uncovering these type of deals is very difficult and could easily have ended in legal quagmire. The AFL and its investigators would not have found such detail without Adelaide's willingness to disclose. Anderson's stocks will be enhanced. Adelaide argued that a severe sentence would mean no other club would ever 'fess up.
Adelaide's chief executive Steven Trigg, too, has received a relatively scant sentence. An effective suspension of six months doesn't prevent him from continuing in his role if the Crows decide to keep him. A suspension of 12 months would be tantamount to the sack.
Trigg's high regard in the football community and strong relationship with Andrew Demetriou, who hailed Trigg's hitherto unblemished record, worked in his favour. That said, this investigation has broken new ground by singling out officials for punishment, instead of just hitting the club.
Previously, the executives involved in such scandal were punished only by their clubs. Often they're gone by the time rorts are uncovered. Tippett is slightly stiff in that there is little precedent for players receiving serious penalties for their part in draft or salary cap offences.
But Tippett's former club is blessed. It could have been far worse, and should have been somewhat worse.