AFL’s inequitable draw is its unacceptable flaw

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    Dale Thomas of Collingwood marks over Daniel jackson of Richmond

    Dale Thomas of Collingwood marks over Daniel jackson of Richmond during the AFL Round 04 match between the Richmond Tigers and the Collingwood Magpies at the MCG, Melbourne. Slattery Images

    It’s been described as the elephant in the room for the AFL; an inequitable home and away season draw, distorted by two factors and exaggerated by the league’s maximising of its bottom line at the expense of a fairer competition.

    The two factors that condemn a truly fair AFL competition are:

    (i). With 18 teams in the competition from next season, unless the AFL reduces the home and away season to 17 rounds or expands to 34 rounds – neither of which is a reality for various and justified reasons – clubs are not playing their opponents an even amount of times. For example, some teams play newbies Gold Coast Suns twice this season while others face them once.

    (ii). As a legacy of the national competition’s Victorian Football League roots, with its 10 Victorian clubs versus soon-to-be eight interstaters, the level of travel each club must undertake per season is naturally going to be uneven.

    “If there is one thing in football that never ceases to amaze me it is that every year the AFL draw always seems to work out reasonably fair for all clubs,” wrote legendary player and coach turned commentator, Leigh Matthews – a sentiment that tends to be echoed around the competition, or at least accepted given the lack of real antagonism against the draw.

    But the draw would be an easier pill to swallow – “reasonably fair for all clubs” – if the inconsistencies were limited to those two drawbacks. But they tend to be exaggerated and amplified when the draw is laid out.

    Firstly, the lack of a system in place to ensure which teams face which opponents twice on a regular basis season after season, means there’s no attempt at correcting the anomaly of who meets who twice.

    Secondly, by not ensuring Victorian clubs travels outside of their state an even amount of times, there’s an even greater imbalance.

    Throw in the accepted practice of some teams selling home games to the likes of Tasmania, Canberra, Darwin and Cairns, and you have a draw distorted by finances rather than fair play.

    Reigning premiers Collingwood, for example, played 22 straight games in Melbourne over the course of 2010 and 2011 (four of which were finals played with earned home ground advantage) – a whole year without playing outside of their home state; 19 times playing at their home ground, the MCG, and on the other three occasions across Melbourne’s CBD at Etihad Stadium.

    Contrast this with fellow Victorian club Richmond, who played three consecutive interstate matches early in 2011 – one of which was a sold home game.

    It’s not hard to see why the AFL is keen to maximise the amount of times the likes of Collingwood play at the ‘G. After all, the AFL boasts home and away attendances that embarrass all other Australian codes.

    The big three in Victoria – Collingwood, Carlton and Essendon – currently hold an average of over 50,000 per home game.

    According to the MCG, 2011 AFL attendances are currently 2.143 million at an average of 56,403 per game.

    Yet the draw anomaly cannot be ignored as a matter of fairness, particularly at a time when the balance of power within the league lies with the likes of Collingwood, for it further distorts an already uneven playing field.

    The AFL will keep the 22-round fixture list through to the end of 2013, at which point the Gold Coast Suns and Greater Western Giants would have settled into the competition and the teams meeting them twice won’t have an easier chance at four points.

    A conference system remains the easiest and fairest option to implement who plays who twice, but the old dilemma of fairness versus profitability appears yet again.

    By splitting the 10 Victorian clubs into two conferences (along with the two NSW, Queensland, West Australian and South Australian teams for good measure), the AFL deprives itself of Victorian clashes, not to mention resulting in only one Showdown in South Australia, one derby in West Australia etc per season.

    By putting the Victorian clubs into one conference and the rest in another, it only increases travel for the interstaters and decreases it for the Victorians.

    If the conference system is ignored, then some form of equalisation within the doubling up of fixtures needs to occur – some way of evening up the draw.

    The AFL cannot ignore the growing divide between clubs – from those who have to sell home games, like Richmond, to those who can afford to send their players to mid-season training camps in Arizona, like Collingwood.

    The competition may be salary capped and draft concessions in place to ensure some form of equalisation takes place, but the growing inequities between club operations and spend are only amplified when the draw contains such inconsistencies.

    As a matter of fairness and for the league’s integrity, the elephant in the room cannot be ignored any longer.

    Follow Adrian on twitter @AdrianMusolino

    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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    The Crowd Says (37)

    • August 4th 2011 @ 7:56am
      John said | August 4th 2011 @ 7:56am | ! Report

      The draw is, as you say, creating a growing divide. Yet, if the AFL were my competition, I’d probably seek to maximise revenue as well. No easy answers here, but increased scrutiny is the first step to a fairer draw. Thanks.

    • August 4th 2011 @ 7:59am
      Shaun said | August 4th 2011 @ 7:59am | ! Report

      Bigger issue than manipulation of results? I doubt it.
      Everyone is quick to point the finger at the sub-continent and cry foul when cricket results are manipulated. Why isn’t there a similar outrage about the same thing happening in AFL???

    • August 4th 2011 @ 8:33am
      ManInBlack said | August 4th 2011 @ 8:33am | ! Report

      Draw is certainly a flaw. I like the concept of conferences.

    • August 4th 2011 @ 8:52am
      Jim said | August 4th 2011 @ 8:52am | ! Report

      So when collingwood is on top the goal is to cut them down? You’re not biased at all…. Melbourne and Carlton travel the same amount as collingwood….

    • August 4th 2011 @ 8:55am
      Frankie said | August 4th 2011 @ 8:55am | ! Report

      The only real solution is not to play everyone once(then you get teams like West Coast with a massive leg up), it is everyone must play each other twice, both home and away. Until then, it is corrupted.

    • Roar Guru

      August 4th 2011 @ 9:42am
      The Cattery said | August 4th 2011 @ 9:42am | ! Report

      Ever since the VFL went to 14 teams, back in 1987, 24 years ago, we have not been able to have a balanced symmetrical season – and it has been an absolute non-issue for the whole of that time.

      The modern AFL players is at his the very edge of his physical capacity playing 22 games per season plus finals.

      People can forget about any games being added to that schedule – it’s a physical impossibility.

      The modern AFL player has got to the stage where a six day break is seen as a severe disadvantage compared to a seven day break.

      We are reading this morning that Karmichael Hunt is “cooked” after 13 senior games and two reserves games – and we are talking about someone who was cramping up soon after half-time.

      How many marathons do the best marathon runners in the world run in the space of 7 months?

      • August 4th 2011 @ 10:44pm
        Little Aussie Battler said | August 4th 2011 @ 10:44pm | ! Report

        ‘very edge of physical capacity’, ‘…physically impossibility’.

        Duh!? Well, what about the months and months of training they do? Maybe they should do less and play more. That is a hell of a lot more strenuous that sitting on the bench or being ‘rotated.’

        Kevin Sheedy, who ought to know. Actually said it was possible to play everyone twice. You need bigger squad sizes.

        The problem with going 34 home and away is, 1) the demand from Joe Public.

        Never forget, the players are training. They are doing it anyhow, so they may as well be playing for real.

        If it was me running the league, I would get rid of the pre season cup and add 4 rounds from now on. Then guage it to see if there are problems with fatigue.

        If I was a player, my problem would be being bored out of my mind just doing training.

        • August 5th 2011 @ 1:35am
          amazonfan said | August 5th 2011 @ 1:35am | ! Report

          It would never happen. The players are completely opposed to it; and so forget the public, if the players are all against it, the AFL would never bring in such a radical change.

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