Sydney has threatened to radically scale down its investment in developing the game in NSW should the AFL revise the bidding system in a move which could force the club to pay a higher price for prize recruits.
In a major departure from traditional policy the league – should it make changes to the bidding system for father-son selections and northern academy players – will immediately introduce those changes in time for the forthcoming national draft.
Fairfax Media understands AFL executive Andrew Dillon will make a call on possible new bidding rules by the end of this month in a move which looks certain to infuriate both Sydney clubs along with Gold Coast and Brisbane.
The Swans, already dismayed at having their cost-of-living allowance radically reduced, invest $1 million annually into their academy which runs seven centres spreading across the state from Wollongong to Coffs Harbour and employing 60 part-time coaches. Sydney chiefs remain firm in their belief that the academy bidding rules have only been questioned because of the emergence of top-five draft prospect Isaac Heeney.
Sydney boss Andrew Ireland told Fairfax Media: “If they make it so onerous. then why would you bother continuing with the investment?” The Swans pushed for eight years to run its own academy but have never had a high draft-pick player until now. The club’s academy investment is largely funded by major sponsor QBE in an agreement which runs until the end of 2016.
Ireland’s view appears to have strong support from the two expansion clubs Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney, along with the Brisbane Lions, all of whom point out that the commitment to developing the game through their academies comes at heavy additional non-costed investment through players, coaches and medical officers at their clubs. Should the Swans reduce their commitment to their academy, that would come at a heavy cost to the game’s development in its toughest market.
Recent talks by the equalisation working party have pushed heavily for a less compromised draft and that push – along with the wealthy clubs’ decision to commit to bridging the gap between the rich and poor – appears to have fast-tracked any potential changes. In the past the AFL has resisted making policy changes mid-season, particularly relating to the draft.
While the AFL insists it has been reviewing the academy and father-son bidding system for close to nine months, the prevailing view in Sydney and southern Queensland is that the move is a knee-jerk reaction by head office, provoked by heavy lobbying from Collingwood president Eddie McGuire. McGuire was strongly backed last week by Hawthorn president Andrew Newbold.
McGuire’s misgivings over Heeney was that Sydney could take the potential top-five pick with a selection from 18 to 20 should it win the flag this season. Collingwood could also gain Darcy Moore at a discounted price given he, too, is considered a top-five prospect. As the son of champion ruckman Peter Moore, he could be taken by the Magpies much later in the opening round of the draft.
The AFL appears to have ruled out forcing clubs to give up future picks, along with ruling out a specially convened panel to determine the worth of a player. However Sydney, for example, could be forced to sacrifice not only its first-round pick for Heeney put perhaps have its second-round pick pushed back in the draft.
Greater Western Sydney invests $500,000 in its academy on top of the AFL’s injection of $250,000 and could field as many as six draftable players this year. Because the Giants are reducing their list under the establishment team’s rules this year they might not be able to take any of those.
Despite this, and despite that club having no father-son prospects for decades, Giants CEO David Matthews said he feared any push to dilute the bidding system. “The father-son is there for the game’s heritage and the academies are there for its future,” he said.
An estimated 10 to 12 players are expected to come via the academies through the 2014 national draft.