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Will free agency open up the premiership window?

Roar Guru
13th February, 2012
8

2011 was the final year the draft and trading windows operated under the current system, before free agency will hit the AFL player trade system in 2012.

In years like 2009, the AFL draft was a test of patience and fairness for the AFL Players Association with the AFL’s draft laws.

The draft system exists on the goodwill of both the AFLPA, the AFL and clubs in that 90 percent of the time all parties are best served by the draft system.

The transfer saga surrounding unloved former St Kilda player Luke Ball a direct result of the complex and difficult trading laws in the AFL. Collingwood and St Kilda just couldn’t get it done in a reasonable timeframe, Ball’s interests left to chance.

Normally there is some outside discussion as clubs and players align with each other to form a positive partnership. It is unhealthy for any club to pick up a player who does not want to play for them.

If Ball had not been able to find his Collingwood home and refused to play for another club, he might have found himself having to stand out of the AFL competition for two years. This could have been have given cause to a ridiculous restraint of trade case.

Ryan O’Keefe of the Swans wasn’t so lucky. He made it clear he wanted to return to Melbourne and join a Melbourne club but was unable due to the restrictions of the draft and trading system.

Wisely, the AFL and AFLPA have agreed to a modified form of free agency that will allow players who have served eight years at a club to move to another with some restrictions if the player is classified in the top salary earners of the club.

If the player is in the top 10 earners of a certain club, then the incumbent club has a chance to make an equal counter offer or receive a compensation pick.

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Players that are delisted at the end of a season are complete free agents; they do not have to nominate in the pre-season draft or latter drafts and are free to negotiate direct with any club.

The opportunities for clubs at the bottom of the ladder to use both the draft and free agency to fast-track their development and eventually climb up the ladder in the near future has been greatly enhanced.

The draft and trading system has not served the AFL and clubs as well as anticipated. The premiership window for some clubs has been too fleeting, but probably of more concern for clubs at the bottom, the climb from obscurity painfully slow.

Tanking was also a major concern for the AFL; that clubs like Carlton and Melbourne chose to bottom out so severely in order to gain priority picks and other high draft picks.

These clubs were stuck in the middle of the pack and the opportunity to rebuild was difficult, and without high draft picks you were not able to make quantum list improvements.

Clubs that resisted the temptation to tank have been stuck in the middle rung and unable to make material changes. Free agency, whilst not a free for all, will at least pry loose more players from the restrictions of trading windows and the draft.

Top clubs currently in the premiership window can use free agency to keep list fresh. As successful clubs they will have the funds to make offers to free agents.

Many fans fear the loss of loyalty in the AFL with the introduction of free agency, however I believe the rules have been carefully designed to enable most clubs to keep their best players – the top six, if you like.

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These are the key players used in the marketing of the club to fans to buy memberships and merchandise – the untouchables.

We are at the beginning of free agency, so what if any impact will it have? Will a premiership window open up for more clubs as a result?