Solutions for the 2014 AFL fixture
Jonathan Brown celebrates his 250th match for Brisbane tonight (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)
The AFL has suggested that in 2014 the much-maligned pre-season cup will be scrapped, and instead there will be just one long 24-round premiership season.
There is no doubt that the pre-season cup and the State of Origin concept have faults, yet with some tweaking both formats have merit as viable pre-season competitions.
But before one looks at any potential change to the AFL season the AFL management should research what occurs in other football competitions around the world.
There are far more opportunities for trophy-winning moments in the other codes than what there is in the AFL. This is the state of play with other competitions:
NFL (National Football League – USA)
Three trophies on offer, 32 teams.
EPL (English Premier League)
Four trophies on offer, 20 teams.
Two trophies on offer*, 10 teams.
NRL (including State of Origin)
Two trophies on offer, 16 teams.
*The A-League at present has just one trophy on offer per year, but they are introducing a second competition next year.
In contrast, the AFL is proposing to just have one trophy winner per year in a crowded 18 team competition.
If it was a 12-team competition (as it was back in the 1980s) and you had one winner each year then the concept is easy to sell, but it is difficult to justify it in an 18-team competition.
The central problem that no-one addresses is that there are way too many teams in the competition now to have just one team winning a trophy each year.
Sharing the joy of cup-winning moments should be a factor in the AFL’s deliberations over the fixture.
However, the future viability of the AFL’s pre-season cup is held back by the alarming drop-off in the prestige level of this trophy.
It seems that in recent years it is more prestigious not to win the pre-season cup than to make an attempt to win it.
Yet when Hawthorn and Essendon were sharing the pre-season/night trophies back in the late 1980s and 1990s it translated into being a prestigious title as they were the dominant teams of that era.
Between them, Essendon and Hawthorn won nine of the 11 trophies on offer between 1984 and 1994.
But now it seems that the less developed teams steel themselves to peak for this moment and to build some positive press for the home and away season.
Brisbane, for example, won the title this year despite finishing 13th, 15th and 13th in the last three years of the home and away season.
To solve this problem of there being a lack of prestige in the pre-season competition the competition should only be between the top six clubs from the previous season.
Teams that have achieved in the year before are rewarded with a second chance of winning some silverware and adding some prestige to their club.
They are the best teams and should be rewarded for that good form.
The suggested format (of a six team knock-out competition) satisfies the requirement of the AFL for a quick three week competition and it also potentially gives an opportunity for instant revenge if the grand final combatants happen to meet in the pre-season playoff.
First week: 3rd vs 6th – qualifying final 1
First week: 4th vs 5th – qualifying final 2
Second week: 1st vs winner of qualifying final 2
Second week: 2nd vs winner of qualifying final 1
Third week: the final
An NRL comparison and the importance of the State of Origin concept
In the NRL, the State of Origin competition is a bigger event than the NRL grand final, so that should also be of consideration in the AFL’s deliberations.
It is the over-arching success of the NRL’s State of Origin competition that should make the AFL reconsider an AFL State of Origin concept.
Whether the State of Origin competition is introduced every second or third year (in place of the pre-season cup) is up for debate, but it should at least be trialled.
Recent AFL reports have confirmed that players ‘overwhelmingly’ supported the return of representative State of Origin football.
The football guru Kevin Sheedy has also been a vocal proponent of re-introducing the State of Origin competition.
A suggested three-week State of Origin competition is achievable. Initially Victoria would be deemed the highest seed, yet should Victoria lose the final they would also lose their status as the highest seeded team for the next series.
First week: Queensland vs NSW vs Tasmania– round robin/shortened games/winner progresses
Second week: Queensland (assuming Qld wins) vs Western Australia vs South Australia – round robin – winner progresses
Third week: Western Australia (assuming WA wins) vs Victoria – full match.
The time has come for the AFL to ensure that there are two genuine moments of trophy winning joy every year.
It shouldn’t matter whether that be in a club competition or a State of Origin competition, but as long as there is a second competition on offer.
As it stands now, the pre-season competition has lost its prestige. The aim of the new format as suggested is to increase the pride and prestige of that pre-season competition.
The NRL state of origin concept has been such an enormous rating success, so much so that it seems the AFL should at least see if they can re-introduce the concept and work out if it gets traction.
If it doesn’t work, then at least an attempt was made.
Either way, the AFL should seek to learn from other sports as much as possible and having one competition per year is going against the wisdom provided by other competitions from around the world.