A pre-finals settlement between Essendon and the AFL remained on the table on Tuesday night, despite the Bombers seeking and receiving an adjournment from the AFL Commission hearing on Monday.
The 2013 finals series could still go ahead without the Bombers, despite the club's defiant stance it would fight any punishment from the AFL.
Fairfax Media can reveal the AFL Commission held secret talks in Melbourne on Monday as it sought to clarify key elements of the Essendon charges and the club's situation.
Paul Little: Saga could drag into September and beyond. Photo: Ken Irwin
It is also understood Essendon chairman Paul Little has remained in talks with AFL executive Gillon McLachlan over the past two days, with Little taking a measured approach to the club's predicament.
The stumbling block remains the club's refusal to accept that it oversaw a program that allowed illegal drugs to be administered to its players. Essendon remains adamant it will not accept any sanction that linked the club to drug cheating. The stripping of points, according to the Bombers, would be tantamount to suggestions of doping.
The AFL refused to comment on Monday's unscheduled Commission meeting, but Fairfax Media believes several meetings relating to the Essendon scandal have been held as the saga has unfolded.
Essendon's supplement crisis
As its on-field fortunes rose early in 2013, Essendon's off-field reputation was besmirched by drawn-out and confusing investigations into the club's sport science practices. Photo: Penny Stephens
Coach James Hird, who also faces serious charges under the conduct unbecoming rules, appears determined to extend his battle to clear his name. But a divergence of legal paths between the club and the four individuals charged - Hird, assistant coach Mark Thompson, club doctor Bruce Reid and football manager Danny Corcoran - has emerged as a genuine prospect, with Little prioritising the club's sanctions ahead of his key staffers. Hird remains unwilling to negotiate with the AFL.
In a separate development, Kevin Sheedy has confirmed he was in Melbourne last week and ''spoke to Essendon people''. He added he expected to meet chairman Paul Little ''at some stage''.
Little said before addressing players and their families on Tuesday night that the matter could potentially now drag beyond September. ''I think our legal team have sought an adjournment today from next Monday. We believe that we haven't been given the information that we required in relation to who will appear to support the charges. There are some procedural issues that are still outstanding for us, so we requested an adjournment."
Regarding the finals deadline, he added: ''I think if the AFL give us the time that we need to prepare for this, there is little chance of it being finalised before the finals."
But it is understood there are divisions within the club and also among Essendon directors over Little's desire to settle the matter with the AFL.
Fairfax Media believes some directors, led by Little, remain open to seeking a resolution with the AFL before the 2013 finals. Not playing finals this year along with a seven-figure fine and draft penalties are possible AFL sanctions.
Little and some advisers remain fearful of the protracted dispute spilling into 2014. Not only are senior Bombers concerned about the ongoing damage to Essendon's brand but also the significant strain on club finances and the potential ramifications for membership and sponsorship.
While Essendon remains united in its determination to force the AFL to identify its witnesses and further evidence before any hearing, uncertainty prevailed on Tuesday night over how to manage Hird and his lieutenants. Some directors remained concerned Hird and his senior staffers could become collateral damage as the result of a resolution with the AFL.
Little understands the Bombers are likely to receive some softening of penalties should his team bring the case to a close before the end of next week