THE AFL has two great pillars of equality. One is the salary cap, the other is the draft system.
Tippett's defection part of a 'secret deal'
Adelaide Crows confesses to the AFL that it forged a secret arrangement to send Kurt Tippett to the club of his choice when it last re-signed him.
Get caught chipping away at either and you could be in big trouble.
Adelaide has persistently denied there was a clause in Kurt Tippett's last contract, signed at the end of 2009 when Gold Coast was hovering, to trade him cheaply to the club of his choice when the deal expired.
That much seems true. But it is for coming to such an understanding outside of the 24-year-old's official paperwork that has landed the club in much, much hotter water.
It is to Adelaide's credit that it went to the AFL late last week with written confirmation that it had promised to get Tippett to where he wanted to go if it was unable to convince him to stay in Adelaide beyond 2012.
The Tippett camp has a copy of that note, too. While no club was stipulated, the Crows had believed that if the Queenslander went anywhere, he would go to one of his home clubs. He chose Sydney instead.
This is different to, say, Koby Stevens nominating the Western Bulldogs as his club of choice after leaving West Coast. Those clubs must now work a fair deal. Tippett's price was apparently decided, agreed upon and - most tellingly - not disclosed to the AFL, three years ago.
The Crows knew that trading their star forward for Sydney's second-round pick would never have been approved by the AFL, where watchdog Ken Wood must sign off on each trade deal. Eyebrows around the league were raised even at speculation last week that the club was considering swapping Tippett for the premier's first-round pick, No. 23, and fringe forward Jesse White.
But as both Melbourne in 1999 and Carlton in 2002 found out, after fessing up to salary-cap breaches, coming clean might earn you a softer penalty but you won't be completely spared.
The Blues, serial offenders, were almost destroyed by the punishment handed to them: stripped of picks one and two (Brendon Goddard and Daniel Wells) in the 2002 draft, they were also disqualified from the 2003 pre-season draft, the first two rounds of the 2003 national draft and fined a total of $930,000. It took them years to recover.
The Adelaide/Tippett situation is, clearly, different to that faced by those clubs. But the AFL won't like that it came to a secret agreement, independent to Tippett's official contract. The league won't like that the Crows have effectively thumbed their nose at the AFL's rules.
There are potential ramifications for Tippett, too, whose role in this deal will now become heavily scrutinised. At worst, he could be deregistered if he is found to have subverted the rules. At best, his path to Sydney might just have become a whole lot tougher.
More crucially, the league will now be asking many more questions of Adelaide. What else, if anything, had it agreed to do for Tippett, to get him to re-sign three years ago? What has or had it agreed to do for other players? Losing Tippett could be the least of its problems.