AFL’s archaic grand final replay rule needs to go

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    Child in tears following the 2010 AFL grand final draw

    An Auskick participant shows his emotion after not getting to present a premiership medal, after a draw in the 2010 Toyota AFL Grand Final between the Collingwood Magpies and the St Kilda Saints at the MCG, Melbourne.

    It may be “unique” to the Australian game, but the AFL’s grand final replay rule is an archaic remnant from its VFL days that has no place in a national competition.

    And the “unique” tag seems to be one of the few justifications supporters of the rule are using, that along with the their own selfish reasons, be it another grand final barbeque or more footy on the weekend.

    But supporters of the replay rule need to consider those directly impacted by the draw: the players and clubs who were left void by the prospect of an inconclusive match and having to go through another grand final week (see Collingwood captain Nick Maxwell’s comments), and, just as importantly considering they are increasingly forgotten, the fans who attended the grand final last Saturday.

    On the latter point, think for a moment of those fans that were the lucky few to get a ticket to the match. Imagine if that is the only opportunity they have to attend a grand final and they will be deprived of experiencing the full spectrum of emotions of the day, be they good or bad.

    The argument that the replay now opens up grand final access to fans that otherwise wouldn’t have made it ignorantly forget those who went last Saturday (and may miss this Saturday ‘cause the 50-1 draw came to fruition) and the fact that those “underprivileged” fans miss out on the original grand final year after year.

    Having gone through the hassle and effort to acquire grand final tickets a few years ago, I can only imagine the frustration of not seeing a result on the day and trudging back to South Australia knowing I would have to fork out another small fortune on hotels, flights and tickets to go back and see the concluding act.

    And herein lies the major flaw with the replay rule.

    These aren’t the days of the VFL when the competition existed solely in Melbourne’s suburbs. It’s a national competition, with a fan base that now stretches across the country.

    It may be well and good for those who are a train stop or two away from the MCG, but it severely disadvantages those outside of Victoria, and if the AFL is going to truly live up to its national status, then it needs to rid itself of its VFL vestiges and Victorian-centric attitude.

    And what if a non-Victorian club was involved?

    A West Australian club, for example, would obviously be heavily disadvantaged by a grand final replay; having to either make the return trip to and from Perth or decamping in Melbourne for the week. Whether it is homesickness, travel fatigue or the financial considerations of paying accommodation for a squad and staff, there would be a definite disadvantage to a non-Victorian club.

    Again, there is an inherent flaw with this system in a national competition, and its the fairness for the participants and spectators that is compromised.

    But what was most frustrating watching the saga unfold was the fact everything was in place for a continuation of the intense drama of the day and a conclusion to the match.

    The actors were in place as were the fans and television audience, and they (in the main) wanted a conclusion.

    Everything was in place to keep going – to decide the premiership when it should be decided, on the final Saturday in September.

    Extra time doesn’t unfairly disadvantage one particularly club over another.

    It means the team with the momentum can continue with it into the additional period. Instead they must restart next week, back at square one.

    No one should have begrudged St Kilda a possible win in extra time – should they have continued their comeback into the extra period. They had bravery kept Collingwood within striking distance and fought back into a potential winning position.

    With that “empty feeling” for both clubs, why then should everything be packed up only to return the following week and do it all again, with all the additional logistical headaches for clubs, players, fans and the league?

    There is obviously no fundamental issue with extra time for the AFL has instigated a five-minute each half period should this weekend’s second grand final (should it have it’s own name: Act II, The Sequel, “The Empire Strikes Back”?) end in a draw.

    Extra time is already written into the rules of the rest of the AFL finals series. And the AFL wasted no time in instigating it for next weekend’s match.

    So why is it unacceptable after 120 minutes and four quarters but suddenly acceptable after 240 minutes and eight quarters?

    Because there is an antiquated rule “unique” to the AFL, that’s why.

    So much of the modern game of AFL has evolved and modernised, including how the game is played with constant tinkering with the rules forcing a rethink of a coach’s playbook, and yet it is prepared to hold on to this rule despite the wave of criticism.

    It’s rare occurrence, yes, but this is no justification for the rule in itself (the “it has only happened three times in over a hundred years so why change it” argument).

    It does happen, as we’ve seen, and the AFL should be thankful it didn’t happen in those closely fought finals between West Coast and Sydney, for the outrage of both sets of interstate fans would have been deafening.

    That’s when the rule should have been changed – when the interstate clubs were in a premiership contention and the AFL matured into a national competition.

    And the draw and replay rule, having occurred so infrequently, is mystifyingly revered by its supporters. Tradition or not, what is it about the rule that needs to be protected when it has an obvious unfairness?

    The AFL is already a unique competition, without the replay rule.

    Even the FA Cup, which has stuck so stringently to its traditions, instigated extra time and penalties for its final so it is decided on that one day in May, one way or another.

    Another argument, that the team who lost in extra time would feel unjustly robbed of a premiership is flawed.

    I’d imagine they would feel the same anger and hurt as they’ll feel when they lose this coming Saturday, but maybe with an even heavier hurt considering their expectations have fostered for an extra seven days.

    The contest needs a winner. There’s a premiership at stake, which should be decided on the day – just one day!

    Practicality must come into the AFL’s calculations when they review the rule.

    There should also be a gentleman’s agreement or recognition from the AFL that the September-October calendar is heavily congested with various finals and the commencement of the spring and summer sporting events, and with that in mind it should only take up one weekend for its grand final.

    Already fans are linking the AFL’s staunch support of the replay rule with the financial windfall of a second grand final. They should be careful for the league’s reputation, on this and its aggressive posturing toward other codes, is being hurt.

    Ultimately, there’s no place for a grand final replay in a modern, national AFL competition.

    It’s no longer the VFL. Time to move on and modernise.

    Adrian Musolino
    Adrian Musolino

    Adrian Musolino is editor of V8X Magazine, and has written as an expert on The Roar since 2008, cementing himself as a key writer who can see the big picture in sport. He freelances on other forms of motorsport, football, cycling and more.

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