AFL is a wonderful unique sport, which is arguably the strongest sport in Australia. However there are two gaps which I believe administrators can address.
Gap 1: Heart and soul
True footy fans will tell you that the game has been corporatised and will dream of the glory days in the 70s, 80s and early 90s when Footscray were called Footscray and played in Footscray.
Gap 2: Representative football
The casual fan will tell you that there are no representative events that capture the hearts and minds of the whole population. Soccer has the Socceroos, league has State of Origin and union has the Wallabies. AFL only has the grand final.
The below ten ideas mostly try to address these gaps.
1. Boutique suburban grounds for some Melbourne teams
Since all Melbourne matches have moved to the MCG and Docklands, some of the Melbourne clubs have gone backwards, losing some of their soul, local character and identity.
I suggest St. Kilda, Western Bulldogs and Carlton would all benefit from playing out of redeveloped boutique local stadiums at Moorabbin, Whitten Oval and Princes Park.
2. New teams in Perth and Adelaide
David Gallop famously said to fish where the fish are. Adelaide and Perth are both heartlands and deserve to have more teams represented in the national league than Sydney and south-east Queensland.
Both cities host fantastic derbies and another team would mean we get more.
3. Split league into two conferences
The glory days of Australian football before becoming corporatised was the local derbies. Both the previously mentioned ideas seek to bring back the soul to AFL through more localised derbies.
However splitting the competition into a north-west and south-east conferences will mean that all ten Victorian teams can play each other twice across a 18-round competition. Likewise so too can the SA, Western Australia and northern teams.
These many ways this could be structured but I suggest having separate finals in each conference, with a separate grand final in each conference.
A ‘Super Bowl’ style grand final could be played with the winners of each conference in a best of three series played at each home ground and a decider played in a neutral city.
4. Move North Melbourne to Tasmania
Nothing will bring more heart back into the comp than giving Tassie their own team to support, the Tasmanian Kangaroos. Time’s up for North and it’s finally an opportunity for Tassie.
5. Replace draft with junior zoning
Replace draft with each team being allocated a junior nursery. Players from their nursery get salary cap exemption and transfer fees apply to players leaving their home team.
6. Draft is redesigned for senior players wanting to enter the market
AFL culture has struggled with players selling themselves on the open market. It can be a seedy and murky business with fans only seeing disloyalty instead of players getting their fair share.
Suggest that the draft is used for senior players, with a blind auction. Player nominates their reserve, and the player goes to the lowest ranked team that matches their reserve.
7. Limit interchange and reduce game time
The unlimited interchange does not best illustrate player fitness, toughness or determination. Fatigue is a great way to allow the cream to rise to the top.
We must only allow each player to enter the field once, like in soccer. I imagine smaller players with silky skills can be unleashed in the final quarter when players are getting weary.
Quarters should be exactly 20 long, making an 80-minute match.
8. National women’s comp
Expand the women’s comp to all AFL clubs with each game player as double header with a men’s match.
9. Best of three Indigenous match
In the October/November quiet period, the best players of that year can represent our First Nations people and the rest of the league.
The concept has been running for a number of years in rugby league and is very important to players to connect with community. After the recent ugly scenes with Adam Goodes and crowd behaviour, this would be a small step in the right direction.
10. Create a conference All Star match to be played as a best of three
I know, the AFL have tried to do State of Origin before and it hasn’t worked. This is different in that it would be the best players playing in each conference. As the conferences don’t mix during the year, this match would have a lot of intrigue.