Chris Connolly (left to right), Todd Viney and Cameron Schwab at Melbourne's practice match at Casey Fields on Friday. Photo: Getty Images
TANKING is a sensitive issue, particularly for Melbourne people who know how badly the club botched its attempts to gain early draft picks - and how the club botched the results.
The AFL will be seen to have gone a little soft on the club for political and legal reasons with the suggested sanctions revealed by Fairfax Media on Friday - a $500,000 fine, suspensions for Chris Connolly and Dean Bailey and no draft penalties.
But the truth remains that this will be a stain on the club.
It remains to be seen how quickly and how capably the new football regime will lift the club out of the mire but it can enter this latest new beginning having shed much of the debris that continued to haunt the club.
There is a view that chief executive Cameron Schwab would be lucky to - as he appears to have - escape an individual sanction, but this surely is his final chance to rebuild the football club as he vowed he would do a year ago. Dean Bailey, who is at Adelaide, which is a few senior officials down, will miss some weeks of football but not enough to ruin him as the Melbourne experience nearly did.
That's something this game loves so much - second chances. Almost as much as making deals. Something the stand-in football boss Gillon McLachlan has done so well he now seems an odds-on bet to take on the top job when it becomes available. And this deal must have been a tougher one to cut than any negotiation with government or media power brokers.
On Wednesday we reported that Melbourne had run its unofficial defence upon five lines. We also stated that there seemed to be no doubt in anyone's mind any more that the club worked to lose games of football in 2009.
These two issues provoked an angry response from chairman Don McLardy on the Demons' website, although McLardy did not address either of the above. He stated that Melbourne's legal team had fought the charges on different grounds and that the AFL had not communicated to Melbourne that it had been found guilty of trying to lose.
If people fell for this, they shouldn't have. McLardy was defending his club - as he should - but he knows what his board and staff have been declaring behind closed doors as it became apparent that the AFL might have something on Melbourne.
The Demons have been saying for months that if the AFL punished the club they would take the league to court. They have said that other clubs should be punished too and that the AFL unofficially sanctioned tanking with its priority pick rule. It said the AFL investigators were too aggressive.
Determined that Chris Connolly not be singled out, they pushed the line that Connolly's jocular turn of phrase (''Jimmy's just fallen out of his hospital bed'' etc.) was just that and that he never seriously threatened people with losing their jobs.
Some of the above was true. Other clubs did tank, although it is important to note they did so less blatantly and systematically than Melbourne. Certainly no other club was found to have held a meeting in which some 15 staffers were allegedly addressed on the topic.
It is also true that the AFL would have faced a challenge - and it could still not be confirmed late on Friday that Melbourne would not appeal, although the sanctions smack of expediency - had it come down hard on Melbourne. It is also true, however, that the AFL had, in its 800 pages of evidence, a good case against Melbourne. But this was a political game as much as a legal one. McLachlan has adopted the pragmatic approach.
And then there is the sympathy factor. In the case of Bailey he was a pawn in a much bigger game, an unsuccessful senior coach who claimed to have followed the party line. Having landed an excellent job as a senior assistant in Adelaide it would have been cruel to end his career given he was wasn't the instigator and was contrite. And, importantly, did not completely 'fess up to actually deliberately losing.
And to weaken Melbourne by removing draft picks would have weakened the competition. Melbourne may have tampered with the draft, but what good did it do the club? It virtually punished itself by damaging its culture and dividing the club - divisions partly brought about by what took place in 2009. You cannot sew the seed in players' minds that they are being used and encourage even so slightly a losing mentality without damaging your culture.
Melbourne has already paid a high price for such a monumental muck-up.
This should not in one sense exonerate the Demons but it has clearly mitigated their punishment, with the help of some smart legal minds.
So the tanking affair draws to a close at a time the AFL is looking at mandating integrity officers at all 18 clubs. But whatever the final resolution to be announced in the coming days, nothing will alter the fact that the football world knows now what Melbourne did that year and that everyone involved in some position of off-field influence in 2009 knew what was happening. Even if they have now convinced themselves they didn't.