Flawed expansion teams mean its time for an AFL conference system

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The AFL has always had years where one or two weak teams have copped weekly hammerings. Beatings so bad that you wondered how they would ever recover.

St Kilda, for example, in the pre-AFL days of the 80s, went through several lean years, one year losing three games in a row by over 100 points.

With the introduction of a second new team in two years, the AFL this season has created a two-headed monster in regard to lopsided uncompetitive matches, casting doubts over the wisdom of the process that enabled both teams to build their lists.

The Gold Coast Suns and Greater Western Sydney Giants are no more than under-21 teams sprinkled with experienced players. For the Giants that means experienced players such as 7-gamer Phil Davis, or main man Tom Scully, who played just 31 games with Melbourne.

Compare these teams with American sporting teams. Americans would have said the AFL have no idea what they’re doing. They would ask what the hell were you thinking creating a new professional franchise made up of college freshmen!

First year college players are being asked to compete against hardened players. Taking this year’s best high school basketballers or footballers and asking them to compete in the NBA or NFL next year would be crazy.

Everyone was aware that both teams would struggle in their first few years, but the extent of the way the whole competition is now compromised is only just starting to hit.

With the number of teams expanded to 18, teams play only five teams twice. Collingwood for example play five of last year’s finalists twice, where many other teams play only one of last year’s finalists twice.

Adelaide and North Melbourne are the only teams lucky enough to play the Suns and Giants twice, in what come finals time could be a huge advantage.

Not only could it result in more wins but also a boost for percentage. Teams could also take advantage by resting players against the new teams.

What effect will this have on the Suns and Giants players? Could it leave them scarred? Sure, some say it may actually make them better in the long run, but is it fair when the average career of an average AFL player might be six or seven years to ask these youngsters to spend two, or three, or four, or five of those years in such inexperienced teams?

Yes, currently for every kid who’s drafted very high it usually means they go to a weak team and have to endure a couple of years at a struggling club (unless you’re Joel Selwood). But this is different. It’s unfair that they go to a team full of teenagers.

Also with free agency commencing other teams have a better opportunity to remain more competitive, especially if the new teams struggle to lure free agents. Would free agents go to a team that is regularly thrashed each week?

With 18 teams and with the game facing a year where there may be more blowouts than ever, it’s time for the AFL to reconsider splitting the competition into conferences.

Maybe we could use conferences just for the next two to three years while the ridiculously inexperienced Suns and Giants come up to scratch.

It has been discussed in the past and the AFL have asked for ideas on how conferences or divisions may work. The AFL has so far resisted due to concerns regarding restrictions on the draw and finding an equitable way to split the teams.

My suggestion would keep certain rivalries intact and provide a way to make the draw fairer.

The simplest way would be to split the league into two nine-team conferences or three six-team conferences.

Unlike American conferences, the make-up of the conference teams would change every year based on previous season positions. The AFL could keep interstate rivalries going by putting those teams in the same conference.

Some rivalries could do with a slight shake up. For example, do Essendon, Carlton and Collingwood really have to face each other twice a year, every year?

Conference rivals play each other twice a year and other conference teams once. Most importantly, this way your ladder position in the conference is compared only with teams that had the exact same draw.

Head-to-head record would decide how teams on equal points are split. If that failed to split them then percentage would determine the highest-ranked team.

Importantly it would ensure every team would play the new teams the same number of times.

It may sound a tad radical but the rules to help build the new franchises were probably the most unfair since the AFL started. Certainly more unfair than the Eagles and Crows faced and even more unfair than the Brisbane Bears endured.

Long term the upside for the Suns and Giants is that the move may pay off, but as Melbourne has shown, high picks in the draft are no guarantee of success. Especially with free agency also clouding the picture.

The AFL’s mistake in setting up the new franchises will result in a few years of distorted and uncompetitive results. A temporary solution to help offset that distortion is required.

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