THE AFL will almost certainly move today to switch Hawthorn's scheduled night preliminary final back to Saturday afternoon.
The move is expected to be ratified at an executive meeting after the issue remained unresolved last night, in what is looming as a victory for the integrity of the game against the commercial demands of the league's television broadcasters.
The dilemma is just one of several fixturing dramas which has compromised the 2012 finals series but had threatened to throw up a repeat of 2004, when the AFL forced Brisbane to play a Saturday night preliminary final at the MCG after it cut a deal with Channel Ten, which wanted the game to be played for ratings purposes at night.
That decision saw the Lions enter the grand final with some 36 hours preparation less than Port Adelaide. Last week on Fox Footy, former Brisbane player Martin Pike said the move cost the team a record fourth consecutive premiership.
While Hawthorn president Andrew Newbold said his club would accept the AFL's decision, his CEO Stuart Fox urged the league to schedule the game in the afternoon. The Hawks will play the winner of Friday night's Adelaide-Fremantle semi-final which would severely impact on the fairness of the grand final match-up should one of those teams defeat Hawthorn and be unable to return home until Sunday.
Hawthorn had earned the right to contest its play-off on Friday night but Sydney has taken that fixture due to ANZ Stadium hosting the Canterbury Bulldogs NRL final on Saturday night. The AFL has a contract with ANZ Stadium to play at least one final there and the SCG is not an option because of redevelopment seating restrictions.
Should West Coast reach the grand final, it will have been forced to contest that game after two six-day breaks, forced in part by the West Australian Football Commission's deal struck in March to host last Saturday night's Wallabies-South Africa clash at Patersons' Stadium.
That deal was reached without consulting West Coast or Fremantle, which both fund the commission to the tune of more than $5 million annually. Former Brisbane coach Leigh Matthews refused to blame the AFL's move on the Lions' 2004 loss to Port but last night told The Age: "It had a major impact. Back then we weren't even offered the option of a flight back home that night and we'd qualified to have a home preliminary final but couldn't play it at the Gabba because of a contract with the MCG.
"I just had to bite my tongue at the time because I didn't want to sow the seeds of doubt in the minds of my players but you know in your heart it's an impediment. Revenue raising is what counts and not a lot else. That's the reality and everyone gets paid very well as a result."