Can you imagine if James Hird and others at Essendon had taken a different approach when the peptide scandal erupted in early 2013?
What if Hird and other senior staff had not only made it clear that Stephen Dank had conned them into believing that his "sports science" regime was safe and sound? What if the coach and his team had gone on to take full responsibility for failing to apply the due diligence needed when exposing players to a new drug regime?
In conceding fault, Hird, doctor Bruce Reid and others could still have pointed to the efforts they had made to rein Dank in. But, critically, they would also acknowledge that they ultimately failed to do enough and, despite their efforts, players were still injected with possibly banned (as ASADA claims) or unsafe drugs.
Now, stay with us for a few more moments. What if this public admission by Hird included comments that his failure to not push harder to protect his players should serve as a wake up call for the rest of the AFL to pay extremely close attention to everything that goes into their players, as well as those doing the injecting.
Had Hird made such concessions early on, accompanied by an appropriate punishment accepted with grace and genuine contrition, it is a fair bet that his once stunning reputation would still be intact.
And, more importantly, Hird would have helped build the ‘no fault’ case that his players could rely on if ASADA came knocking.
If senior club officials had admitted to failing to protect players, how could it be argued that the players were responsible?
If you are open to the idea that Hird and others could, or should, have gone down this path at the earliest possible juncture, it is not unreasonable to also believe that this may have reduced the amount of time that players have been left to linger under a doping cloud.
If the club had reached an earlier agreement with the AFL to not play in the 2013 finals, players could have immediately fronted ASADA and accepted six-month bans (reduced through the no fault and co-operation provisions). And the 2014 season may not have been the train wreck for the Bombers that it is now.
Of course, Hird and the club have taken a different path, one of legal challenges and of blaming others, including the AFL and ASADA.
It is certainly Hird and the club’s right to stand up and fight what they say is an unfair process and plenty in the media have cheered them on. But the cost of doing so has been immense. And now it is being borne by the players themselves, who are those with arguably the least amount to answer for. Given that is the case, it is hard not to wonder what could have been if different decisions had been made by the senior club officials who are meant to put the players' interests before their own.
Follow Nick McKenzie on Twitter @ageinvestigates