There was a time, before Snapchat, when pre-seasons focused on recruits, new coaches, new game plans.
This year, our attention has been diverted to "de novo" hearings and whether a group of footballers can succeed, several months from today, in a German or French speaking court in Switzerland, where there has never been an AFL presence, not even for altitude camps.
The Essendon 34 were always likely to run off to court once the penalty stretched to a season. If they succeed, they will see themselves as sport's answer to "the Guildford 4", in that the quashing of a verdict won't give them their time back.
The Guildford 4, as portrayed in In the Name of the Father, spent up to 14 years in prison for an Irish Republican Army bombing before their convictions were overturned by a crusading lawyer (played by Emma Thompson).
Unlike the Guildford 4, most people won't change their minds about the 34, whatever happens. Those who think them guilty will maintain that position, as will those who consider them innocent victims, and a great many less engaged onlookers will think them technically guilty of taking a banned substance but extremely stiff to cop a season for what was largely a club stuff-up.
The 34 are really doing this for themselves and their own peace of mind.
Meanwhile, back on planet football, Essendon is signing up temporary top-ups and is ready for a battle royal with the Blues in 2016. Unlike the Dons, the Blues divested themselves of mature talent willingly, as a part of a root-and-branch rebuild.
The Bombers and Blues are short odds to finish 17th and 18th, in whichever order, based on available personnel. If Brendon Bolton coaches Carlton to six or more wins, or John Worsfold manages four or five, they will be hailed more than Worsfold was for winning the 2006 flag.
Consequently, there is minimal pressure on either Worsfold or Bolton, since the bar of expectation is so low in their first year at each club. They will lose often but they cannot lose.
No such latitude will be afforded Damien Hardwick at Richmond or Nathan Buckley at Collingwood, even though both coaches have been favoured to win contract extensions early this year.
Collingwood and Richmond have clear, obvious benchmarks for 2016. The Pies must play finals, the Tigers must win one. Buckley and Hardwick have been blessed with supportive administrations, who believe they have the right coach, but they're also at clubs with large, fervent and demanding fan bases.
The footy media, too, are certain to scrutinise Buckley and Hardwick more than, say, Alan Richardson, due to higher pass marks, their time in the job and the two-edged sword of coaching heavily supported clubs that consume so much media oxygen.
Buckley and Hardwick need results, and the AFL would be relieved if Collingwood and Richmond perform relatively well, given that the Blues and Bombers have Buckley's hope this year.
The competition does not "need" Collingwood or Richmond to win to keep the footy economy from recession. Rather, what it does not need is to have the Pies falling, and Richmond flailing, while the other "Big Four" clubs (apologies to Hawthorn - merely the best club) are mired in the basement.
Given how the 2016 fixture is devised, it is nigh impossible for the AFL to improve attendances if Collingwood and Richmond perform below par.
Naturally, neither club thinks this will happen. Both are bullish about their prospects for 2016, albeit each has worrisome foibles that might be their undoing.
Collingwood's success in winning the signature of Adam Treloar, ahead of the Tigers, was due in no small measure to Treloar's relationship with Buckley. The Collingwood coach's role in snaring Treloar, James Aish and Jeremy Howe helps his cause, but has ratcheted up expectations.
Conversely, that the Tigers didn't land Treloar impacts on Hardwick's prospects of vaulting into the top four, yet dampens the demand — slightly — that he take them to that station.
Treloar's recruitment, along with that of Aish and the development of Taylor Adams means the Collingwood midfield should be fairly formidable in 2016; Scott Pendlebury, suddenly, has a capable supporting cast, while Dane Swan can spend more time lurking with tattooed intent in the forward line.
For Collingwood, the greatest worry lies in finish - with ball in hand, and particularly, in their scoring territory. The forward set-up will still depend heavily on Travis Cloke, who had an indifferent latter half of 2015. Jamie Elliott, who has endured back and consistency problems, is among the few with innate goal sense. Tim Broomhead, with his nose for goals, might be important to a hitherto inefficient team that wins plenty of ball.
For Richmond, the queries are on depth - they rely heavily on their top six or seven - and grunt around the ball. Jacob Townsend is a cheap, speculative import brought in to lend a big body to the midfield trenches. North's squat, slow mids and Todd Goldstein sorely exposed Richmond's insufficient size in that fateful final.
Chris Yarran, whether he plays behind the ball or in the front half, will bring speed and ball use. Daniel Rioli, the club's first pick, is impressing with his skills. But Richmond's fortunes rest heavily on internal improvement, particularly from younger players in years two to five.
So, the acid is on Richmond and Collingwood, on Hardwick and Buckley, regardless of contractual positions. In a season in which two giants are pinned down, the AFL's economy would be healthier if both those clubs remained upright.
You don't have to be in a court, in Switzerland or Sydney, to be on trial.