Should Carlton v Collingwood automatically get two games per season? Photo: Getty Images
IN DEFENDING the unequal fixture that has become more problematic this year, the AFL has said that a fairer draw would mean sacrificing blockbusters, state derbies and other games that fans and clubs clearly want.
The AFL's chief operating officer, Gillon McLachlan, acknowledged there were ''softer'' and ''tougher'' draws, despite the league's attempts to give each club an equal chance to compete for the premiership, but the twice annual clashes between Carlton, Collingwood and Essendon, state derbies and Geelong-Hawthorn were matches that were strongly supported by clubs and fans.
Responding to discussion of the draw's inequities, which was prompted by Hawthorn's comments on the compromised fixture, McLachlan said the AFL might consider whether all these twice annual games should be played twice.
Hawthorn faces a tough draw in 2012. It had a comparatively blessed run in 2011. Photo: Getty Images
''If you actually ask the club, 'OK, do you not want to play Hawthorn-Geelong on Easter Monday'? I can guarantee you they will,'' said McLachlan, who is responsible for the fixture and broadcast arrangements.
''What we did this year was make the call that Greater Western Sydney was likely to win only a few games at best. So we had none of the top eight teams from last year play them twice, except for Sydney because of the derby.
''We've made some broad decisions like that but there's only so far the nuances can take you.''
North Melbourne, rarely granted prominent game times, such as Friday night footy, plays Gold Coast and GWS twice in 2012. Photo: Paul Rovere
McLachlan said the Carlton, Collingwood and Essendon games were not automatically twice a year because of the broadcaster's requirements or the MCG's contract.
''It's not locked into it [the draw], but again I say to you, first all from an AFL perspective, those big games are the core of what is great about our game, and I don't think any of the clubs, the supporters, anyone would want to give up, as an example, playing Collingwood-Essendon twice. I don't think anyone would want that not to happen.
''You can't win because you now play them once. If we'd played Geelong-Collingwood once this year after playing in the grand final [last year], we would have got a lot of flak for that.
Gillon McLachlan. Photo: Arsineh Houspian
''Geelong-Hawthorn have played unbelievable games, every game for the last five years. Imagine if we didn't play them twice?''
Asked if it was necessary for all combinations of the blockbusters to be played twice, he said: ''Maybe not and that's maybe one of the nuances we'd maybe have a look at.''
McLachlan said the AFL did not handicap the draw to make it harder for higher-placed teams, despite the decision to have no top eight teams playing GWS and Gold Coast twice.
''We have a basic philosophy that everyone should start at the start of the year with everyone basically being given an even chance of winning, and then after sort of winning the flag - i.e. no handicapping. But then when we get into it, there are swings and roundabouts, and then people have softer draws.
''Philosophy is everyone … whether you finish top or bottom, you should be given roughly the same chance in terms of what your fixture dishes up to you.
''And we know that that doesn't happen. But there is no philosophy of handicapping.''
McLachlan said it was unpredictable how teams fared and he could not recall a year in which the best two teams had not played off or when the top four was not comprised of the four best teams in that year.