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Don’t augment the AFL season, reduce it

Ben Waterworth Roar Guru

By Ben Waterworth, Ben Waterworth is a Roar Guru

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    Jeff Kennett

    Hawthorn club President, Jeff Kennett, claps his players off the ground. (AAP Image/David Crosling)

    ‘Less is more’. It’s such a well-known proverb. Whether you’re writing an article, designing a website, or hosting a wedding reception, content seems more efficient when it’s produced succinctly. Now the AFL must employ the same approach to its home-and-away season structure.

    On Saturday, outgoing Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett told SEN radio that the AFL should extend the home-and-away season to 30 rounds to even up the competition.

    Huh? Thirty rounds? He was kidding, surely?

    Kennett’s exhaled many outlandish statements during his time as Hawks chairman, but his most recent one was plain silly. Yes an even competition is crucial to its long-term future, but a 30-round season in today’s era would border on suicidal.

    In fact, the 2011 season has given us numerous reasons why the AFL shouldn’t extend its home-and-away fixture.

    One week out from the finals and a large portion of players can give no more. They’re either spent, injured or both. In 2011, they’ve been pushed to new limits, going harder and higher for longer periods of time.

    And it’s beginning to take its toll.

    Ahead of Round 23, Fremantle had 17 players on its injury list. Some of the names included Matthew Pavlich, David Mundy, Hayden Ballantyne and Greg Broughton – all top ten players at the club.

    The Dockers could barely walk against Collingwood last Friday night. If they were still playing in six weeks, not too many players would be able to stand up.

    This year’s 24-round season has turned into an anti-climax.

    As the season has progressed, margins have increased, the chasm between clubs has grown and crowds have thinned. Collingwood, Geelong, Hawthorn, West Coast and Carlton cemented their spots in the top five back in Round 16 and haven’t been challenged since. While the lower placed teams have bottomed out faster than Ben Elton’s Live From Planet Earth program.

    So what’s the solution? How do we avoid this in the future?

    Don’t increase the number of games in a season. Rather, decrease it.

    AFL fans would think they would be the biggest losers from a shortened season. After all, we follow the game like a religion and want to absorb as much footy as possible.

    But supporters wouldn’t lose.

    Yes we’d witness fewer games, but the matches would be of higher quality. Players would be fresher and fitter come the end of the season. The best talent would be available for selection.

    Dead rubbers, like the clash between finals-bound Hawthorn and exhausted Western Bulldogs last weekend, would diminish. The gulf between teams on the ladder would close in and teams would play with the motivation they could still feature in the top eight. Late-season contests would be as entertaining as ever and, for once, more than pride would be on the line.

    But what’s the magic number? How many weeks should there be in an AFL home-and-away season?

    A 17-round season would be ideal.

    When the AFL’s newest team, Greater Western Sydney, is introduced into the competition next season, it will create an eccentric draw. Each team will play one another once, plus five random others, over the course of the 22 rounds. A handful of teams will be advantaged, because they’ll take on a number of bottom sides twice.

    But by decreasing the season to 17 rounds, it would dispense any unfairness. Every team would play each other once a year and the home/away titles would be swapped the following year.

    No nonsense. An even playing field for all teams.

    There are, as always, obstacles.

    This season, the AFL just a $1.25 billion broadcast rights deal. Therefore, broadcasters would argue to keep the 22-round structure to get full value for money.

    However, arguing for a shorter season and an extended finals series might be just as beneficial.

    Adding an extra two or three weeks onto the finals series would mean the networks would show more games with significant ramifications. AFL finals are a TV ratings hit, so the more finals matches, the more viewership for networks.

    If broadcasters are still not satisfied by that, there’s always room for a State of Origin return. You just never know.

    The shorter season would also mean the game wouldn’t receive as much media spotlight during the year.

    These days, footy is in our faces from the NAB Cup in February to the Grand Final in late September. Therefore, if you reduced the season, the AFL’s best selling point – the game itself – wouldn’t receive full treatment.

    But if you look at the NFL, a league with a 17-week regular season, it’s still the most watched popular sport in the USA, despite having far fewer games than baseball, basketball or ice hockey.

    AFL wouldn’t lose publicity or popularity. In fact, the longer breaks would not only allow players more time to recover in the off-season and to prepare in the pre-season, it would also allow the league and broadcasters build anticipation amongst fans and commentators.

    Given the AFL has reaffirmed its commitment to 22 games for the next two years, there can be no change to the number of rounds per season until 2014.

    But hopefully, during that time, the AFL will realise it needs a ‘less is more’ approach.

    With the game heading the way it is, the shorter the season, the better the spectacle.

    Have Your Say



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    The Crowd Says (69)

    • Roar Guru

      August 31st 2011 @ 7:56am
      The_Wookie said | August 31st 2011 @ 7:56am | ! Report

      Could not disagree more. maybe 24 rounds is too long, but 22 is just fine and has been for DECADES. This really has been the season for knee jerk responses by the media, and this has been the latest one that has them all jumping up and down. I know of no none media “expert” who follows the footy who thinks less footbal is a good idea. And Im in friggin Adelaide. of all the things Ive heard to fix footy, LESS is not one of them. Dropping the NAB to accomodate more rounds or state of origin has been brought up a lot, but never LESS football.

      Sure four of the top 5 were fairly settled early, but the eagles came from nowhere mid season, and as late as last round the teams in the bottom part of the top 8 STILL werent settled, the race was open down to as low as 10th. Of the rest – Brisbane, adelaide have had a bad run with injuries and retirements. Port are a basket case administratively and with the media constantly harping on about them, Gold Coast are a brand new team that is still developing. Way too early to hit the panic button.

      • August 31st 2011 @ 6:55pm
        JdaJawk said | August 31st 2011 @ 6:55pm | ! Report

        Get back to basics folks.

        Players are getting inlured more because they are now required to be on the ground in fatigued states in an ever-more faster and physically demanding environment. Efforts to make the game faster and thebeby push players’bodies beyond normal human capacity is showing its effects in the injury lists being carried by AFL clubs.

        Get rid of the NAB cup or revamp it. As it is, it is a bore and most teams (and fans) don’t take it seriously. Jack up the prize money (siginfcanty) for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd placegetters and allow only the top 8 or 10 teams from the previous season to compete. 4 shortened quarters of say 15 minutes per quarter.

        For fairness, teams should play each other twice otherwise the ladder is not truly representative of team’s standing for the season. Is it fair if a struggling team plays a competition leader twice while 2 top four teams only meet up once?

        I am football mad and will not mind seeing more football. I think genuine football fans are with me on this. TV coverage should not be a determining factor for managing the AFL schedule but, unfortunately, the reality is that it is. A balance approach to this trend is needed with crowd attendances to be increased or other means for clubs to increase revenues.

        Jeff Kennett may irk some people with his frankness but he says what is needed to be said and what is already on a lot of people’s minds. Its just that his public standing allows the massege to be heard.

        GO THE HAWKS!!!

        Increase the numberof

    • August 31st 2011 @ 8:30am
      Chris said | August 31st 2011 @ 8:30am | ! Report

      Agree completely. The NFL has managed to increase its number of teams without increasing the length of the season.

      Advantages
      – Season doesn’t start until the weather starts to cool down – better for players.
      – Less wear and tear on grounds – playing surfaces will be better.
      – Less strain on players – better quality playing standards for the whole season, and careers will almost certainly be extended.
      – More of an ‘event’ feel for each game – reduced sense of ‘I’ll miss this round, because there are so many other games throughout the season to go to’.
      – Reduced costs for clubs.
      – Fairer draw.

      Disadvantages
      – Less content for media companies
      – Less income for the game.

      Of course, my first point under the Disadvantages heading means it will never happen.

    • Roar Guru

      August 31st 2011 @ 8:47am
      The Cattery said | August 31st 2011 @ 8:47am | ! Report

      We can all agree that the season will never be longer than 22 rounds, it’s impossible, and that’s a good thing too I might add.

      But clearly, the home and away season can’t be as little as 17 rounds, not for the next five years at least.

      I mentioned on another thread of the possibility of a 20 round season, with five weeks of finals (still one week short of where we are now).

      There was a 20 round season in 1993, and it worked quite well, in fact, it was one of the most competitive seasons on record.

      The advantage of the extra 3 home and away games is that the WA/SA teams could all play each other twice, the Northern teams could play each other twice, and the big Melbourne four could play each other twice – so I’d be in favour of a 20 round season.

      • August 31st 2011 @ 3:50pm
        JamesP said | August 31st 2011 @ 3:50pm | ! Report

        “The advantage of the extra 3 home and away games is that the WA/SA teams could all play each other twice, the Northern teams could play each other twice, and the big Melbourne four could play each other twice – so I’d be in favour of a 20 round season.”

        From a commerical point of view that is a good thing. Don’t know how fair it is though.

        Why not adopt a conference like system…

    • August 31st 2011 @ 8:55am
      TomC said | August 31st 2011 @ 8:55am | ! Report

      My preference would be an 18 round season. That would allow for two Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and Sydney derbies each year, in the first and last rounds. Great way to kick off the season, and would reduce the concerns about ‘meaningless’ games in the last round. Derbies are rarely meaningless.

      • Roar Guru

        August 31st 2011 @ 11:16am
        The Cattery said | August 31st 2011 @ 11:16am | ! Report

        Yes, that’s not a bad idea either, but it does reduce the season by 4 rounds – which might have commercial consequences.

    • Roar Guru

      August 31st 2011 @ 9:08am
      The_Wookie said | August 31st 2011 @ 9:08am | ! Report

      “meaningless” games and “tanking concerns” are relatively new phenomena. Times past, you could rely on clubs like North and Richmond to really try and stuff up teams qualifying positions for the finals if they didnt make it themselves.

      One can only wonder how meaningless these games might have been with a few less injuries, a few less draws here and there, and some close matches won instead of lost (and vice versa). look at the ladder, only the bottom 3 had no chance this year.

    • August 31st 2011 @ 9:09am
      Fauntleroy said | August 31st 2011 @ 9:09am | ! Report

      The eventual response will be to shorten the length of games. Of course the stated reasons will be mitigating injury tolls, ensuring endurance over the season etc. The real reason, will be that with the AFL wanting to expand into ever new markets, they’ll find the way to make the game more palatable to the new converts is to make it shorter. To the unengaged or even casual aussie rules fans, the game is simply too long….especially if this trend of lopsided games continues.

      Absolutely, it will happen.

      Perhaps with shorter games – say 20 min quarters – a 26 or 27 week season is feasable??

      • August 31st 2011 @ 2:16pm
        Football Fan said | August 31st 2011 @ 2:16pm | ! Report

        To be annoying and pedantic – According to the laws we already have 20 minute quarters Fauntleroy!

        There’s just too much time on/off for stoppages and out of bounds and so on.

        I agree with you that the quarters will get shorter. the AFL have commented about having long quarters all year. The issue will be weighing up shorter games against the advertising revenue drawn from those longer quarters…

      • August 31st 2011 @ 3:53pm
        JamesP said | August 31st 2011 @ 3:53pm | ! Report

        Agreee with this. i recokong the answe might be shorter games. Shorter games means less chance for injury, and less chance of big score blowouts.

        Obvious change: change back the rule that allows for the clock to be stopped at a ballup. In todays congested game with all the stopppages, this would reduce actual playign time by about 5 mins a quarter…It would also appease the traditionalists…becuase it would not be a new change – merely rolling back to the way it was…

        • Roar Guru

          August 31st 2011 @ 5:49pm
          The Cattery said | August 31st 2011 @ 5:49pm | ! Report

          To add to this, with the stricter out of bounds deliberate rule, and the rushed behind rule, I wonder whether the clock needs to be stopped for these events, that might reduce the amount of time on

        • August 31st 2011 @ 7:25pm
          Ian Whitchurch said | August 31st 2011 @ 7:25pm | ! Report

          James,

          If you think shorter quarters of halves will stop blowouts, you havent been watching footy.

          Man U can put three goals on you in five minutes, and if you stand still and dog it, Souths can put twenty points on you in twelve.

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