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The fixture is in

Illustration: Mick Connolly

Illustration: Mick Connolly

MELBOURNE and Adelaide are facing punishments for misdeeds that, in AFL jargon, ''compromise the integrity of the competition''. We think one was trying not to win, while the other was trying not to lose someone - a vastly overpaid player.

So, they did what they - stupidly - thought had to be done. These clandestine dealings didn't remain in the vault, since, as Benjamin Franklin sagely noted, three people may keep a secret, ''if two of them are dead''.

Melbourne is accused of seeking to exploit one of the AFL's two ''pillars'' - the draft; the Crows of messing with both draft/trading rules and the other great edifice that is supposed to ensure equality, the salary cap.

In the middle of these scandalous events, the AFL released what used to be called ''the draw'', but, tellingly, these days is referred to as ''the fixture''. Melbourne and Adelaide, funnily enough, were handed fixtures that were favourable from an on-field viewpoint. In Melbourne's case, the schedule wasn't so financially helpful, though it retained that Queen's Birthday cash cow against Collingwood.

The fixture seems to have stealthily become the proverbial ''third pillar'' of an equalised competition on the field, while at the same time being the source of great inequality off it. Over time, everyone has been conditioned to the notion that it's OK for bad teams to have easier draws than top sides. Why?

There is not another major competition in the world that handicaps the better teams to the extent that the AFL does. It doesn't happen to Manchester United, nor to the New York Yankees. (The NFL does this to a much lesser extent).

The AFL and the clubs need to step back, look at the fixture and place on-field fairness first.

I understand that with 18 teams and 22 games, there are bound to be unequal outcomes, but why is the marketing cart so obviously 10 lengths ahead of the ''integrity of the competition'' horse?

Consider first the AFL's ''welfare division'' of last season's bottom third, where the hapless Demons reside with the two expansion teams, the Bulldogs, Brisbane and Port Adelaide. These clubs won't play on the coveted Friday night time slot next year. Only the Lions have a Friday night game, against Collingwood, because Channel Seven has paid for games that will give it high ratings. These teams won't, so they don't play Fridays.

The Dees, Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney all play one another twice, an arrangement that will help all of them win more games than they otherwise would, but which makes it harder to make money.

The Suns, indeed, play only teams in the bottom six twice; the Lions have the Suns, Dogs and Dees twice each, Port has GWS and Gold Coast twice. The poor Dogs have been dudded, relatively speaking, since they've been given only Melbourne twice and have return games against tough teams Adelaide, West Coast and Richmond, yet they aren't getting much box office compensation.

Meanwhile, at the business end of the ladder, Hawthorn has been dealt a fixture that the club's marketing department will be slapping its thighs about, but Alastair Clarkson will not.

The same goes for Collingwood, which, in a football sense, is hoist on its own blockbuster petard. The Hawks play five finalists twice. Once again, they will have to be awfully good to make the top four and have an awful season not to make a pile.

North Melbourne's fixture was so favourable last year, football-wise, that it really had to make the eight. This year, the Roos will need to improve significantly to hold their ground, given they have four finalists twice, including three from the top four. But, as the eighth team, they've graduated from the welfare slots to have the opportunity to make money, with three Friday nights and home games against the better drawing half dozen Victorian teams, bar Essendon.

If we are talking about fairness, we must be fair too. The AFL, to a large degree, shapes the fixture according to what the clubs want, and the clubs want to make money. Chief executives who present flow charts to sponsors have to show membership, audience reach and media exposure - all of which are augmented by a fixture that pits their team against high drawing/top teams.

The league has never pretended that the fixture isn't compromised, either. Andrew Demetriou's consistent line has been that, despite all the anomalies and travesties, the best four teams somehow, mysteriously, find themselves in their rightful spots in the top four.

Demetriou's statement is one of hope, rather than fact. On the whole, it's true that the very best teams usually find a way. But we may be entering ''even'' times - without a Geelong-style super team - and it cannot be said that the fixture doesn't influence the outcome of the premiership.

This year, precious little separated first from sixth or seventh. Sydney lost three of its last four home-and-away games, yet won the flag. Geelong beat the Swans in round 22, but had no double chance and went out of the finals in week one.

Teams who make the top four beating those below them, once the finals are under way, is a self-fulfilling outcome. Collingwood had the advantages of home field and two extra days break against West Coast, which, with a touch more luck, was good enough to make a grand final. A more taxing home-and-away fixture can exhaust a team. Increasingly, the fresher and fitter side is prevailing at the end of an enervating season.

How can these compromises to integrity be reduced? Readers like the idea of conferences (I don't), or, more feasibly, of dividing the previous year's ladder into thirds and allocating the five return games into 2-2-1 splits. This certainly has merit, though it would perpetuate the idea that the bottom six have an easier draw than the top and middle six. It might work next year, but every so often a team will underperform, due to injuries/coaching problems (see Adelaide 2011), then receive a soft draw that compromises the ladder's pointy end.

The fixture ought to at least try to be the set-weights Derby, not the Cup, where the best horse carries the most weight.

115 comments so far

  • There is only one way the AFL competition can get integrity...each team plays each other once, period. Then Finals, extended if need be. Reverse the home/away the following year. That’s all it takes. The AFL is living beyond its means. While Andrew Demetriou still hands Carlton/Collingwood and Essendon the majority of ‘prime time’ slots so they can capitalise on their exposure and increase their bank balances, others suffer...and have done for 15 years. It’s no coincidence that despite ALL this money ‘in’ the AFL, Clubs are still for the second or third times going back to their members for’s just wrong. Especially given the cash going into AFL funded schemes such as Israel Folau. Thankfully at last the AFL has changed its funding model to compensate for ‘non-exposure’. It’s just 10 years too late. But the fixture can actually be made good, play 17 rounds

    Date and time
    November 04, 2012, 2:09AM
    • Ok, but then you look at who has the most favourable home ground draw. ie if your a melbourne based side and you have most of your home games against interstate sides, travel very infrequently that is a massive win.(or say its a Perth/Syd based side and you get the luxury of playing all the tougher Vic sides at home with easier road trips)

      The only true way of a having a fair comp is every team plays each other twice, H & A.

      Wont happen whilst the AFL is adding sides and propping up ailing sides willy nilly though. oh and wasting time with a preseason comp hardly anyone watches.

      I think you would only comfortably get a competition with H&A played each with the rigours of AFL footy with perhaps a comp with only 12-14 sides max and ideally two byes a year.

      Date and time
      November 05, 2012, 9:03AM
  • !7 week season, each team plays each other once. Then take the top eight teams play them in a round robin format 7 weeks - call it a Super 8. Then take the top 3 teams after the round robin, put the top team straight thru to the grand final, teams 2 + 3 play off in the prelim. 26 weeks total.

    paul Scott
    Date and time
    November 04, 2012, 2:32AM
    • Ultimately what is needed is a proper home and away series. Start the season earlier.
      Too many teams from Melbourne, yes its time to drop some clubs back to the VFL
      Go back to final 5, final 8 is just there as a cash cow.
      The talent pool of players is spread to thin.
      The draw and who gets too play on what days, needs to be fairly shared around.
      Otherwise its always going to be unfair to some teams, take some short term pain for long term gain.

      Date and time
      November 04, 2012, 3:27AM
      • "Manchester United doesn't play fewer games against the bottom sides, nor do the New England Patriots or the New York Yankees."

        That's true for Manchester and the Yankees, but false for the Patriots. Two of the 16 games in the season are determined by how well a team did the previous year, and are against teams with similar records. It's not as extreme as the AFL, but you do have an easier draw the following year if you do badly.

        Brian W
        Michigan, USA
        Date and time
        November 04, 2012, 5:48AM
        • Hi Brian, yes you're right. We've modified the story to reflect the situation in the NFL with the Patriots.

          Date and time
          November 04, 2012, 4:08PM
      • I don't know why so many people are against conferences. 3 conferences of 6 teams. Play your conference twice, play 1 conference away, 1 at home (swap the following year). Easy. Structured. Top 2 from conferences get into finals, plus two wildcards with best win/loss.

        Date and time
        November 04, 2012, 6:06AM
        • Darth, you are the voice of common sense. This is something I have advocated for some years now, but would refer to the three groups as divisions. Conferences can conjure up thoughts that we would have a system like the NFL where it is not possible to play a team in your own conference in the Super Bowl.

          Yes, if we must have 18 teams in the competition, then have three divisions. You play each team in your own division home and away - 10 games and play each team in the other divisions home or away - alternating home and away each year - 12 games. Therefore a total of 22 games each year.

          The cynic in me thinks that the AFL would probably have one whole division of interstate teams and demonstrate again that they don't understand how to promote the national competition.

          Date and time
          November 05, 2012, 3:38PM
      • Finally, an article, without bias, which shows just how much the AFL manipulates the draw /

        Surely the lower placed teams will ony get better by playing stronger opposition - leanr from the best, rather than playing another struggling team.

        It's time to forget the local derbies and the must haves (2 Collingwood V Carlton every year, etc)

        I have 2 different draw / fixture options -

        Option 1 - split the teams into 3 groups based on the previous years ladder positions
        Group A = 1, 4, 7, 10, 13, 16
        Group B = 2, 5, 8, 11, 14, 17
        Group C = 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18
        Teams in a group play each other twice a season (10 matches) and play teams in the other 2 groups once (12 matches)

        Option 2 - a 3 year fixture - each team plays the other 17 teams 4 times = 68 matches
        Year 1 = 23 rounds; year 2 = 22 rounds; year 3 = 23 rounds

        Date and time
        November 04, 2012, 7:04AM
        • All this talk of team having more favorable draws than others etc is total rubbish. If you want to win a flag you need to be able to beat anyone anywhere at any time, full stop. Good teams find a way to do that, great teams find a way to do it consistantly. We are in a national competition ( apart from poor old Tassie of course) so stop your winging about the draw and become a team that can do what it takes to win that cup.

          Roj Blake
          Date and time
          November 04, 2012, 7:09AM

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          AFL 2016

          Round 1
          Thu, 24 MarTimes shown AEDT
          RIC vs CAR 19:20MCG
          Sat, 26 MarTimes shown AEDT
          MEL vs GWS 13:40MCG
          GCF vs ESS 16:35MS
          NTH vs ADE 19:25ES
          SYD vs COL 19:25ANZ
          Sun, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
          WBU vs FRE 13:10ES
          PTA vs STK 15:20Adelaide Oval
          WCE vs BRI 19:40Domain Stadium
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          GEE vs HAW 15:20MCG
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          Fri, 01 AprTimes shown AEDT
          COL vs RIC 19:50MCG
          Sat, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
          ADE vs PTA 13:45Adelaide Oval
          ESS vs MEL 14:10MCG
          BRI vs NTH 16:35G
          STK vs WBU 19:25ES
          FRE vs GCF 19:40Domain Stadium
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          GWS vs GEE 13:10SO
          HAW vs WCE 15:20MCG
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          Fri, 08 AprTimes shown AEST
          PTA vs ESS 19:50Adelaide Oval
          Sat, 09 AprTimes shown AEST
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          RIC vs ADE 14:10ES
          SYD vs GWS 16:35SCG
          GCF vs CAR 19:25MS
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          WBU vs HAW 15:20ES
          GEE vs BRI 16:40SS
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          Round 4
          Fri, 15 AprTimes shown AEST
          WCE vs RIC 20:10Domain Stadium
          Sat, 16 AprTimes shown AEST
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          HAW vs STK 14:10AS
          BRI vs GCF 16:35G
          CAR vs WBU 19:25ES
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          GWS vs PTA 13:10SO
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          NTH vs FRE 16:40ES
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          Fri, 22 AprTimes shown AEST
          HAW vs ADE 19:50MCG
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          SYD vs WCE 13:40SCG
          GCF vs NTH 16:35MS
          WBU vs BRI 19:25ES
          PTA vs GEE 19:40Adelaide Oval
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          FRE vs CAR 16:10Domain Stadium
          MEL vs RIC 19:10MCG
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          COL vs ESS 15:20MCG
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          Round 6
          Fri, 29 AprTimes shown AEST
          NTH vs WBU 19:50ES
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          MEL vs STK 13:45ES
          ADE vs FRE 14:10Adelaide Oval
          GWS vs HAW 16:35Spotless Stadium
          RIC vs PTA 19:25MCG
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          BRI vs SYD 13:10G
          CAR vs ESS 15:20MCG
          WCE vs COL 16:40Domain Stadium
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          Round 7
          Fri, 06 MayTimes shown AEST
          RIC vs HAW 19:50MCG
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          COL vs CAR 13:45MCG
          GEE vs WCE 14:10SS
          SYD vs ESS 16:35ANZ
          GCF vs MEL 17:10MS
          WBU vs ADE 19:40ES
          FRE vs GWS 20:10Domain Stadium
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          Fri, 13 MayTimes shown AEST
          ADE vs GEE 19:50Adelaide Oval
          Sat, 14 MayTimes shown AEST
          ESS vs NTH 13:45ES
          HAW vs FRE 14:10AS
          GWS vs GCF 16:35Spotless Stadium
          BRI vs COL 19:25G
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          MEL vs WBU 15:20MCG
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          Fri, 20 MayTimes shown AEST
          HAW vs SYD 19:50MCG
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          COL vs GEE 13:45MCG
          GCF vs ADE 14:10MS
          PTA vs WCE 16:35Adelaide Oval
          NTH vs CAR 19:25ES
          FRE vs RIC 19:40Domain Stadium
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          MEL vs BRI 13:10MCG
          GWS vs WBU 15:20Spotless Stadium
          STK vs ESS 16:40ES
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          Round 10
          Fri, 27 MayTimes shown AEST
          SYD vs NTH 19:50SCG
          Sat, 28 MayTimes shown AEST
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          MEL vs PTA 14:10TIO Traeger Park
          STK vs FRE 16:35ES
          ESS vs RIC 19:25MCG
          ADE vs GWS 19:40Adelaide Oval
          Sun, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
          CAR vs GEE 13:10ES
          COL vs WBU 15:20MCG
          WCE vs GCF 16:40Domain Stadium
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          Round 11
          Fri, 03 JunTimes shown AEST
          NTH vs RIC 19:50BA
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          HAW vs MEL 13:45MCG
          CAR vs BRI 14:10ES
          GEE vs GWS 16:35SS
          GCF vs SYD 19:25MS
          FRE vs ESS 19:40Domain Stadium
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          WBU vs WCE 15:20ES
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          GEE vs NTH 19:25ES
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          RIC vs GCF 15:20MCG
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          Fri, 17 JunTimes shown AEST
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          FRE vs PTA 16:35Domain Stadium
          WBU vs GEE 19:25ES
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          Thu, 23 JunTimes shown AEST
          ADE vs NTH 19:50Adelaide Oval
          Fri, 24 JunTimes shown AEST
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          RIC vs BRI 13:40MCG
          GWS vs CAR 16:35Spotless Stadium
          STK vs GEE 19:25ES
          Sun, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
          HAW vs GCF 15:20AS
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          Round 15
          Thu, 30 JunTimes shown AEST
          WCE vs ESS 20:10Domain Stadium
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          PTA vs RIC 19:50Adelaide Oval
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          GCF vs STK 13:40MS
          SYD vs WBU 16:35SCG
          CAR vs COL 19:25MCG
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          MEL vs ADE 15:20MCG
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          Round 16
          Thu, 07 JulTimes shown AEST
          PTA vs HAW 19:50Adelaide Oval
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          GEE vs SYD 19:50SS
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          GWS vs COL 13:40Spotless Stadium
          GCF vs BRI 16:35MS
          WBU vs RIC 19:25ES
          MEL vs FRE 19:40TIO
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          CAR vs ADE 13:10MCG
          WCE vs NTH 15:20Domain Stadium
          ESS vs STK 16:40ES
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          Round 17
          Thu, 14 JulTimes shown AEST
          SYD vs HAW 19:20SCG
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          FRE vs GEE 20:10Domain Stadium
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          RIC vs ESS 13:40MCG
          NTH vs PTA 16:35ES
          WBU vs GCF 19:25CAZ
          ADE vs COL 19:40Adelaide Oval
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          CAR vs WCE 13:10MCG
          STK vs MEL 15:20ES
          BRI vs GWS 16:40G
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          Round 18
          Fri, 22 JulTimes shown AEST
          COL vs NTH 19:50ES
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          SYD vs CAR 13:45ANZ
          GCF vs FRE 14:10MS
          WCE vs MEL 16:35Domain Stadium
          WBU vs STK 19:25ES
          GEE vs ADE 19:25SS
          Sun, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
          ESS vs BRI 13:10ES
          HAW vs RIC 15:20MCG
          PTA vs GWS 16:40Adelaide Oval
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          Fri, 29 JulTimes shown AEST
          GEE vs WBU 19:50SS
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          GWS vs RIC 13:45SO
          HAW vs CAR 14:10AS
          COL vs WCE 16:35MCG
          BRI vs PTA 19:25G
          NTH vs STK 19:25ES
          Sun, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
          MEL vs GCF 13:10MCG
          FRE vs SYD 15:20Domain Stadium
          ADE vs ESS 16:40Adelaide Oval
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          Fri, 05 AugTimes shown AEST
          RIC vs COL 19:50MCG
          Sat, 06 AugTimes shown AEST
          SYD vs PTA 13:45SCG
          MEL vs HAW 14:10MCG
          GCF vs GWS 16:35MS
          WBU vs NTH 19:25ES
          ADE vs BRI 19:40Adelaide Oval
          Sun, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
          CAR vs STK 13:10MCG
          GEE vs ESS 15:20ES
          FRE vs WCE 16:40Domain Stadium
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          Round 21
          Fri, 12 AugTimes shown AEST
          WBU vs COL 19:50ES
          Sat, 13 AugTimes shown AEST
          BRI vs CAR 13:45G
          HAW vs NTH 14:10MCG
          GWS vs WCE 16:35Spotless Stadium
          STK vs SYD 19:25ES
          PTA vs MEL 19:40Adelaide Oval
          Sun, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
          ESS vs GCF 13:10ES
          RIC vs GEE 15:20MCG
          FRE vs ADE 16:40Domain Stadium
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          Round 22
          Fri, 19 AugTimes shown AEST
          WCE vs HAW 20:10Domain Stadium
          Sat, 20 AugTimes shown AEST
          NTH vs SYD 13:45BA
          RIC vs STK 14:10MCG
          GWS vs FRE 16:35Spotless Stadium
          COL vs GCF 19:25ES
          PTA vs ADE 19:40Adelaide Oval
          Sun, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
          CAR vs MEL 13:10MCG
          BRI vs GEE 15:20G
          ESS vs WBU 16:40ES
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          Round 23
          Sat, 27 AugTimes shown AEST
          HAW vs COL 12:00MCG
          STK vs BRI 12:00ES
          ESS vs CAR 12:00MCG
          GCF vs PTA 12:00MS
          SYD vs RIC 12:00SCG
          NTH vs GWS 12:00ES
          GEE vs MEL 12:00SS
          ADE vs WCE 12:30Adelaide Oval
          FRE vs WBU 14:00Domain Stadium
          View All Fixtures
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