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AFL must move urgently to solve perversity of competition draw

Date

Chief sports columnist and associate editor with The Age

View more articles from Greg Baum

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Fewer blockbusters, bigger crowds?

Fewer blockbusters, bigger crowds? Photo: Paul Rovere

Now that the new AFL dispensation is in place, a certain amount of goodwill is flowing its way, and its ears are open to entreaties, there is one matter it should deal with immediately - the perversity that is the AFL draw.

North Melbourne chairman James Brayshaw called for it to be addressed last week and Richmond coach Damien Hardwick backed him up on Tuesday. Hardwick made it about the toll of a 22-match season on the physical and mental resources of players. Given his experience with the Tigers, he might also have been thinking about the way the long season drains coaches.

Brayshaw had made it about integrity. At this level, the AFL is especially vulnerable right now. When there were 12 teams that played  each other twice, 22 games made logical sense. Now there are 18 teams, that play 12 other teams once and five twice. Their schedule is not so much a draw as what former Fitzroy president Dyson Hore-Lacy once called a "scheme of arrangement".

Until this year, the fixturing of the five doubled up games was partly random, but preserved two Collingwood-Essendon games, for instance, and the derbies. This year, the draw was seeded. But that hardly made it any less ad hoc.

In its present form, the draw looks makeshift at best, and expedient anyway, meant only to meet a contractual obligation and impossible to make fair. For a big, lucrative and self-important sporting competition, it is a continuing embarrassment.

So what to do? Thirty-four rounds would be too many, plainly. For telecast purposes, 17 would be too few. Brayshaw's proposal is for 20, consisting of 17 round-robin matches per team and three themed matches - blockbusters, derbies - that do not change from year to year. It is not perfect, but it at least has a degree of consistency and rigour. It is a modified form of conferencing. One day, it might lead to proper conferences.

The bugbear, of course, is money. Fewer matches would result in reduced TV rights income. Brayshaw argues that a little less of an already vast amount would be no skin off anyone's nose, a brave stance since he leads one of the more impecunious clubs.

There would be pushback from clubs, big and small. The big clubs, for whom every match is a money spinner, would rail against lost income. The small clubs would rail against lost fixtures against big clubs, their only money spinners. But these concerns could be remedied by a proper equalisation policy.

The players would be put in a bind. Their body, the AFLPA, argues for more money and no more games (see toll, above). The Brayshaw way, there would be fewer games, but less money. The players would have to choose what mattered most to them.

In time, the Brayshaw plan might prove to be win-win anyway. The consensus is that we are now in the jaded part of the season. The finals race is down to 10, the premiership race is to three. The rest are playing for time and perhaps draft picks. There will be St Kilda-Fremantle style upsets, but not many, which is why they are called upsets.

More is not always better. Scarcity creates its own demand. In a shorter season, the anticipation concerning each match would be proportionately greater, and in time might prove just as valuable to sponsors and advertisers. The AFL might even decide to stretch a 20-match schedule over 24 weeks. That would spare it the bother of having to manufacture timeslots into which whole matches disappear without trace, as happens now. The competition would be leaner and keener.

The AFL, like other sports, is in the middle of dealing with thorny matters of integrity. It is also extremely jealous of its reputation. Every season, the draw appears on the table, and every season it is swept off again. Addressing it now would be small but important step in safeguarding a fair competition. 

25 comments so far

  • the AFL draw is a total joke. teams such as Hawthorn have had 2 years in a row of extremely difficult draws playing all the other final 8 teams twice whilst some other clubs only play them once, totally unfair. also having a second team in QLD and a team in western Sydney was unnecessary and has only made the problem worse.

    Commenter
    C
    Date and time
    July 23, 2014, 2:48PM
    • New draw concept - and 20 week season.
      18 teams play each other once – 17 games.
      Then
      3 more games for each team (outlined below).
      Then
      A week off for teams 1st to 6th (discussed below) – but 7th and 8th positions need more to be finalised (see below).
      Eventually, the top 8 teams use the current finals format.
      So, how to determine the top 8 teams – see below:
      At the end of the 17 games – the 18 teams are separated into five groups.
      (i) The top 4 then play each other once more – to determine 1st to 4th for the finals draw;
      (ii) Teams 5th to 8th play each other once more – to determine 5th to 8th;
      however, only 5th and 6th go straight to the finals; 7th and 8th have one further game the next week.
      Teams 1st to 6th have a week off;
      Teams currently 7th and 8th play the following week – against teams described below:
      (iii) Meanwhile, teams 9th to 12th played each other once more – the top team earns a chance to play the 8th team for a finals spot;
      The next week it plays the team in 8th spot - for a finals berth.
      (iv) Meanwhile, teams 13th to 16th played each other once more – the top team earns a chance to play the 7th team for a finals spot;
      The next week it plays the team in 7th spot - for a finals berth.
      (v) The 17th and 18th teams play each other twice – the winner (% if required) gets first draft pick.
      (vi) Then 17th and 18th teams play one last unique game; each plays against an invitation team – perhaps a state team from non AFL states.

      Commenter
      Howe Synnott
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 23, 2014, 5:15PM
    • The only fair way to do the draw is to do it 18 years in advance and make sure every side plays each other 22 times in that period.

      Commenter
      Cathy Little
      Location
      Prahran
      Date and time
      July 23, 2014, 8:00PM
  • Let's do away with the term "draw" and call it what it is - a "fixture".

    Commenter
    perplexius
    Location
    Ballarat
    Date and time
    July 23, 2014, 4:19PM
    • We cant have a fair draw otherwise the Sydney Swans would have to play the top sides twice each year instead of getting the bottom sides twice each year, every year. The AFL cant have things tough for their favorite side. If we do have to have a fair draw at least give the poor Swannies an extra couple of million in their cap so they can poach some more star players.

      Commenter
      why me
      Date and time
      July 23, 2014, 4:43PM
      • This comment sums it up beautifully. Well said.

        Commenter
        HG
        Date and time
        July 23, 2014, 5:27PM
      • Yet despite their ridiculously soft draw, the Swans still managed to lose to GWS in round one. The draw is clearly done by a dodgy process.

        Commenter
        Thoreau
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        July 23, 2014, 9:54PM
      • Grow up you silly little Boy.....

        Commenter
        Paul
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        July 25, 2014, 3:39PM
    • The whole thing is a joke, The competition should have integrity. It is NOT all about money. My ideal would be 14 teams, I know lots of pain. 26 rounds. A final 4 played over 3 weeks.

      Benefits would be bigger team lists, so players can have less game time. Every team plays each other twice. No need for a final 8, which is quite ridiculous! Salary cap the same for ALL teams.

      I know this will never happen but I think it should! What other COMPETITION in the world has such inequalities?

      Commenter
      Realist
      Date and time
      July 23, 2014, 5:40PM
      • The solution is simple, each side play each other once. Seventeen rounds of football played over 22 weeks with reciprocal home and away games each year.

        Commenter
        Trashman
        Date and time
        July 23, 2014, 5:56PM

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        AFL 2015

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        Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
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        GCF vs SYD 16:35MS
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        NTH vs ESS 19:50ES
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        PTA vs ADE 15:20Adelaide Oval
        STK vs RIC 16:40ES
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        STK vs GEE 19:20ES
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        CAR vs MEL 15:20MCG
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        HAW vs BRI 14:10AS
        NTH vs WBU 16:35ES
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        GCF vs PTA 19:20MS
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        SYD vs GCF 00:00SCG
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