How to fix the AFL fixture list
We’ve now, by accident, got the perfect opportunity to sort out the iniquities in the AFL’s annual fixture lottery – 18 teams! Michael DiFabrizio asked the question: why is the AFL protecting Hawthorn?
Every year supporters of all clubs look at Collingwood’s draw and wonder what the guys up at the pointy end of working out the fixture have been smoking…
The travel factor gets debated backwards and forwards with the interstate clubs. Then we have to sort of work the whole thing into roughly 22 weeks, being the traditional number of games in a season dating back to when it was the VFL and we had only 12 teams. Whilst the clubs submit “wish lists”, we will always have a “compromised fixture”.
I’m in favour of the American “conference” system. They have successfully adopted this system across all their sports – football, baseball, basketball etc. Typically, they draw it up on locality, with a bit of rivalry bias thrown in. To me, that sounds like something the AFL should warm to.
But how do we sort out this system to fit the AFL? My suggestion would be three even conferences of six teams. Personally, I also favour splitting the local teams up, so you don’t get more travel in one conference, than the other two. The New York Giants and the New York Jets are in different conferences, as are (were) the LA Raiders and the LA Rams before they moved to Oakland and St. Louis respectively. Hence, West Coast and Fremantle to be split, as well as Adelaide and Port Adelaide, and even Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sydney and the GWS Giants.
If you look at the split up of interstate teams and Melbourne based teams, we have eight and 10. If one of the Melbourne teams was allocated to the “interstate” side of the ledger, we’d have an even nine and nine. I’ve picked out Hawthorn in this exercise (only an example) given they play four games in Tassie each year, at the moment. So, we could then split up the so called interstate teams and Melbourne teams, three each, into each of the three different conferences.
We also know the AFL likes its blockbusters – the Perth derbies, the Adelaide Showdowns and then the ANZAC Day game between Collingwood and Essendon. I don’t think you would lose much if these match ups took place once a year. The added anticipation would certainly result in a packed house every time.
The three conferences I’ve roughly looked at are as follows;
West Coast Fremantle Brisbane
Port Adelaide Adelaide GWS Giants
Sydney Gold Coast Hawthorn
Geelong St. Kilda Collingwood
Western Bulldogs Richmond Carlton
Essendon Melbourne North Melbourne
I’ve tried to split the Melbourne teams geographically, but you could go with any combination, without too many problems. For instance, if the AFL was desperate to have Collingwood and Essendon clash twice each year, then swap Essendon and North Melbourne, etc. You could name each of the conferences after a passed legend of the game – Whitten, Baldock, Jeans, or by any other method that was appropriate.
From there it gets pretty simple. Each season, your first five games are against your conference rivals (except the ANZAC Day round, if necessary), then you play everyone else once, and finally your last five games are back against your conference rivals. End result: 22 games, playing everyone once (17 games) and your conference rivals twice (five games).
The games against non-conference rivals are reversed each year, meaning if you played Brisbane at home this year and Fremantle away, next year you will play Freo at home and Brisbane away. You play your conference rivals home and away each year.
Simple system, which leads to no arguments and a fair draw. The argument about sides not getting two games against Collingwood each year, to pull the big crowds, doesn’t really hold a lot of water, as far as I can see. Certainly, there are other rivalries that will develop within conferences – you only have to look at the NFL’s black and blue division (NFC North), with Chicago, Green Bay, Minnesota and Detroit.
None of these sides likes each other and the “black and blue” refers to the amount of bruising that usually follows a head-to-head confrontation between any of these teams. This reputation has developed over time and I’m sure the AFL will promote and foster similar rivalries in any AFL conference set up.
The biggest problem I can see to be resolved in this concept is the format for the finals. I think you could stick with the “top eight”, which would be more manageable than a nine-team final series. Having said that, anything is possible.
My way of working it out would be to put the “conference” winners straight through to the finals (obviously) with the next best record getting the fourth spot and the double chance. It would be a bit like awarding the top eight sides a seeding position and then playing the finals pretty much exactly the way they play it now.
So, the conference winners would be ranked based on number of wins (premiership points) and then you could either stick to percentages, or perhaps look to the head-to-head outcomes during the year.
Let’s say Geelong, Adelaide and Carlton won their conferences, with Geelong and Adelaide tied on premiership points, one win behind Carlton. Carlton would be seeded No. 1, and then if Adelaide beat Geelong during the season, they would be seeded No. 2, regardless of whether Geelong had superior percentage (as their division may have been weaker over the course of the year). Home ground advantage to the conference winners and on through the finals.
The other big advantage in sticking with the “top 8” is the further expansion of the AFL out to a 20-team competition – which, as sure as night follows day, will happen at some point down the track. You would at that point move to four conferences, each with five teams. You play everyone once (19 games) and your four conference rivals a second time (another four games), resulting in a 23-round season (minimal change). I’m sure the AFL wouldn’t mind an extra round of 10 games!
The top two in each conference through to the finals and so on – conference winners one to four based on records, runners up filling out spots five to eight on a similar basis.
Finally, I would also like to suggest that at some point down the track – be that 10 years, or 50 years – that the grand final has to go on the road. I know many traditionalists and Melbournians will howl me down on this point. But again, you should look at the NFL model. They work it out in advance, by several years, where the Super Bowl will be played.
It is a terrific economic boom to the city hosting it and should not be held in one corner of our nation, if it is truly a national competition. I would also suggest that it would be a sell out every year and probably pre-sold, five years in advance. The AFL could also restrict the ability of a city to host the GF, until they had a stadium of an 80,000-plus capacity, or in 50 years time, 100,000-plus.
Again, spectators will travel – last year’s Super Bowl was between Pittsburgh and Green Bay was played in Dallas, and as per every year, was sold out years ago, as will this year’s in Indianapolis, New Orleans in 2013, Meadowlands, New York in 2014 and Arizona in 2015. I’m sure you could still get a sell out in Brisbane, if they were hosting and it was Port Adelaide and Essendon. Fans will travel for the GF – maybe not next year, or in five years time, but beyond that, who knows.
I live in Perth but follow St. Kilda, and would love to see the greatest game of the year played in the west at some point (hopefully in my lifetime), say between the Saints and the Pies, or Hawks.
I know lots of people in Perth who go to the GF each year, regardless of who is playing, and I’m sure that would be the same in the other capital cities around the country and would even give some Victorians and excuse to get out of town for a change!
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