Flawed expansion teams mean its time for an AFL conference system

Lou Lando Roar Guru

By Lou Lando, Lou Lando is a Roar Guru & Live Blogger

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36 Have your say

    The AFL has always had years where one or two weak teams have copped weekly hammerings. Beatings so bad that you wondered how they would ever recover.

    St Kilda, for example, in the pre-AFL days of the 80s, went through several lean years, one year losing three games in a row by over 100 points.

    With the introduction of a second new team in two years, the AFL this season has created a two-headed monster in regard to lopsided uncompetitive matches, casting doubts over the wisdom of the process that enabled both teams to build their lists.

    The Gold Coast Suns and Greater Western Sydney Giants are no more than under-21 teams sprinkled with experienced players. For the Giants that means experienced players such as 7-gamer Phil Davis, or main man Tom Scully, who played just 31 games with Melbourne.

    Compare these teams with American sporting teams. Americans would have said the AFL have no idea what they’re doing. They would ask what the hell were you thinking creating a new professional franchise made up of college freshmen!

    First year college players are being asked to compete against hardened players. Taking this year’s best high school basketballers or footballers and asking them to compete in the NBA or NFL next year would be crazy.

    Everyone was aware that both teams would struggle in their first few years, but the extent of the way the whole competition is now compromised is only just starting to hit.

    With the number of teams expanded to 18, teams play only five teams twice. Collingwood for example play five of last year’s finalists twice, where many other teams play only one of last year’s finalists twice.

    Adelaide and North Melbourne are the only teams lucky enough to play the Suns and Giants twice, in what come finals time could be a huge advantage.

    Not only could it result in more wins but also a boost for percentage. Teams could also take advantage by resting players against the new teams.

    What effect will this have on the Suns and Giants players? Could it leave them scarred? Sure, some say it may actually make them better in the long run, but is it fair when the average career of an average AFL player might be six or seven years to ask these youngsters to spend two, or three, or four, or five of those years in such inexperienced teams?

    Yes, currently for every kid who’s drafted very high it usually means they go to a weak team and have to endure a couple of years at a struggling club (unless you’re Joel Selwood). But this is different. It’s unfair that they go to a team full of teenagers.

    Also with free agency commencing other teams have a better opportunity to remain more competitive, especially if the new teams struggle to lure free agents. Would free agents go to a team that is regularly thrashed each week?

    With 18 teams and with the game facing a year where there may be more blowouts than ever, it’s time for the AFL to reconsider splitting the competition into conferences.

    Maybe we could use conferences just for the next two to three years while the ridiculously inexperienced Suns and Giants come up to scratch.

    It has been discussed in the past and the AFL have asked for ideas on how conferences or divisions may work. The AFL has so far resisted due to concerns regarding restrictions on the draw and finding an equitable way to split the teams.

    My suggestion would keep certain rivalries intact and provide a way to make the draw fairer.

    The simplest way would be to split the league into two nine-team conferences or three six-team conferences.

    Unlike American conferences, the make-up of the conference teams would change every year based on previous season positions. The AFL could keep interstate rivalries going by putting those teams in the same conference.

    Some rivalries could do with a slight shake up. For example, do Essendon, Carlton and Collingwood really have to face each other twice a year, every year?

    Conference rivals play each other twice a year and other conference teams once. Most importantly, this way your ladder position in the conference is compared only with teams that had the exact same draw.

    Head-to-head record would decide how teams on equal points are split. If that failed to split them then percentage would determine the highest-ranked team.

    Importantly it would ensure every team would play the new teams the same number of times.

    It may sound a tad radical but the rules to help build the new franchises were probably the most unfair since the AFL started. Certainly more unfair than the Eagles and Crows faced and even more unfair than the Brisbane Bears endured.

    Long term the upside for the Suns and Giants is that the move may pay off, but as Melbourne has shown, high picks in the draft are no guarantee of success. Especially with free agency also clouding the picture.

    The AFL’s mistake in setting up the new franchises will result in a few years of distorted and uncompetitive results. A temporary solution to help offset that distortion is required.

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    The Crowd Says (36)

    • April 13th 2012 @ 12:00pm
      Jaceman said | April 13th 2012 @ 12:00pm | ! Report

      I’d love 2 x 9 with 8 interstate clubs in one conference and Vics in the other and a Vic club taking in turns to be in that non Vic conference. That way each team in a conference would play the 8 other clubs twice in a season (16 games) plus 9 in the other conference once (or less if 25 is too much). The Vic teams would still play one game in Adel, perth, Syd, Melb,Bris/GC each year to maintain the interest of Vic people in other states to maintain their AFL commitment. That way there are Vic and interstate clubs in the finals each year and the big blockbusters in melb remain twice a year. But theyll never go for it because it sounds like the VFL again..

    • April 13th 2012 @ 12:38pm
      Cameron said | April 13th 2012 @ 12:38pm | ! Report

      I can think of no better way to confuse and disenfranchise the fans that by inventing a conference system for ‘a few years’ while we wait for GWS and GC to improve and then abandon it. Fans that dont support GWS and GC are already cynical about the huge concessions given to develop these clubs and this will compound that times 10.

      And why do we need to Americanise the AFL by using a conference system?

      • April 13th 2012 @ 12:49pm
        Jaceman said | April 13th 2012 @ 12:49pm | ! Report

        Because its unfair that Adelaide get to play GWS and GC twice this year – (and Port) but thats an annual event…

      • Roar Guru

        April 13th 2012 @ 12:54pm
        The Cattery said | April 13th 2012 @ 12:54pm | ! Report

        Agreed with last point – we don’t need a conference system in the sense that it is used in the US where you have lots of large cities across the country – we don’t have that. When I use the word conferences below, I’m using it in the sense of fixturing, determining which teams you get to play twice, and which you get to play once, I’m ok with the use of the term notionally to assist with fixturing.

      • April 13th 2012 @ 2:57pm
        thesportsguy said | April 13th 2012 @ 2:57pm | ! Report

        the conference system in america is set up only due to the extensive amount of travel they would otherwise have to do.

        the states is basically the same size as australia, and to minimise the west v east trips, a team would embark on a 2 week journey where they play 6-8 games on the road.

        the conference system in super15 is a mini version of this. NZ teams doing south african trips and vis versa are away 2-3 weeks.

        I cant see it being applied to AFL. Its totally meaningless , and you actually penalise an interstate team (say WA or freo) or are away constantly dueling in QLD, SA, or NSW. the vic teams would get a HUGE edge as they all play in similar areanas.

    • Roar Guru

      April 13th 2012 @ 12:50pm
      The Cattery said | April 13th 2012 @ 12:50pm | ! Report

      People have to appreciate certain limitations that the AFL faces.

      They have 100% of their ovals from the last weekend in March till the last weekend in September when the grand final is played, that’s a total of 27 weeks – that’s it, that’s the AFL season.

      Take away four weeks for finals, and you’re left with 23 weeks for the home and away season, which currently allows each team a weekend off by scheduling two rounds across three weekends in the middle of the year.

      The Players’ Association is already lobbying to get two weekends off during the season, meaning that the AFL would have to start a week earlier, this could be achieved without the MCG, which is booked by Cricket for that weekend just in case Victoria makes the Sheffield Shield, needless to say, the AFL is already negotiating to grab that weekend, with good reason.

      So whichever way you cut it up, 22 rounds are here to stay for a long time to come, hopefull spread across 24 weekends.

      As it happens, three conferences of six fits into 22 rounds quite neatly (10 games in your own conference by playing each other twice, and play the other 12 teams once).

      But balanced against that is the need to ensure that each pair of teams from the four states outside of Victoria play each other twice – and that consideration sits above all other considerations – and then you can work out the fixturing thereafter.

      Chris Scott, Geelong coach, was asked about the unevenness of the draw just the other day. He said he agreed with the idea of the lesser clubs getting to play GWS and Suns twice, and that clubs like Geelong, Collingwood, Hawthorn, the premiership favourites, are playing each other twice – in his view, it’s not an issue, and he can’t imagine any other coach having a problem with it. He reckons they’ve come up with a pretty good draw under the circumstances, and I agree with him.

      • April 13th 2012 @ 2:03pm
        hawker said | April 13th 2012 @ 2:03pm | ! Report

        yes the strong teams should only play GWS and GC once and each other twice. Where they have stuffed it up is allowing Adelaide and NM to play GWS and GC twice. This shouldn’t have happened, otherwise I think its a good draw overall.

        • April 13th 2012 @ 2:24pm
          Matt F said | April 13th 2012 @ 2:24pm | ! Report

          It’s true they have stuffed up with Adelaide, and North as they both play GC and GWS twice. We shouldn’t forget though that everybody said Adelaide had a soft draw last year, and they did, but they ended up finishing 14th

          • April 13th 2012 @ 3:30pm
            Jaceman said | April 13th 2012 @ 3:30pm | ! Report

            They knew exactly what they were doing!!!

            • April 13th 2012 @ 9:23pm
              ManInBlack said | April 13th 2012 @ 9:23pm | ! Report

              North continually have been given way too many home games against the interstate sides – which hits hard at the gate when playing at Etihad – – so, we get a season like this and people get up in arms? Reality is – we’d love to get H&A v Carl, Ess, Coll etc……and get back to even a couple of Friday nights……

              but, correct, the AFL know what they’re doing in buring a team like North.

              So, if we can this one year turn that into a few soft wins and percentage boosters then I figure it’s some little comfort!! (because, if we aren’t good enough, and we do make the finals – then we’ll be exposed there).

        • Roar Guru

          April 13th 2012 @ 2:34pm
          The Cattery said | April 13th 2012 @ 2:34pm | ! Report

          fair enough comment, but at the end of the day, Adelaide and NM are unlikely to break into the top 5, and if they do, good luck to them!

      • April 13th 2012 @ 3:29pm
        Jaceman said | April 13th 2012 @ 3:29pm | ! Report

        Victorian teams cant play away in the first 2 weeks and/or share more fruitfully with Etihad, tassie and Darwin (wet season?)?

      • April 13th 2012 @ 6:45pm
        Mitch Brown said | April 13th 2012 @ 6:45pm | ! Report

        I don’t have a problem with Adelaide and North Melbourne playing GWS and GCS twice. Would you rather have mediocre teams who are unlikely to have an impact on September, such as these, or better quality teams such as Collingwood, Hawthorn or Carlton getting hand-out wins with multiple games against the weaker teams?

        The way our fixture is structured means that there are going to be teams that get easier runs than others. But it would be better to see these unfortunate hand-out wins having little to no effect on the finals (which is much more likely when given to teams such as North Mebourne).

        Yes, maybe Adelaide should only get multiple games against one of the expansion teams. But if you make them play GCS twice and GWS once, knowing the way the AFL likes to write their fixtures, the two GWS hand-outs could end up with Sydney or a more skilled side like them.

    • Roar Guru

      April 13th 2012 @ 12:51pm
      mds1970 said | April 13th 2012 @ 12:51pm | ! Report

      (deleted – replaced with post below)

    • Roar Guru

      April 13th 2012 @ 12:56pm
      mds1970 said | April 13th 2012 @ 12:56pm | ! Report

      I’ve posted my thoughts before on how a conference system could work, if there’s any need for it.
      Each team would be given a ranking based on last year’s ladder position (eg premiers = 1, runners up = 2, wooden spoon = 18 etc), then the teams are split into 3 conferences; with each conference ideally having an aggregate ranking of 57, but a range of 54 to 60 would be acceptable. Each team would then play every team in their conference twice and every team in the other conference once.
      That would enable an even distribution while still enabling the derbies and blockbusters to be played twice.

      • April 13th 2012 @ 1:40pm
        Matt F said | April 13th 2012 @ 1:40pm | ! Report

        I like the idea from an even competition point of view, in fact I’ve advocated the same system if we are to ever use a conference-style system. I’m not sure how it enables derbies and blockbusters to be played twice though? If it’s based purely on ladder position then you would have absolutely no control over whether derbies and blockbusters could be played twice each year. It’s the main reason why this system will never actually happen.

      • April 13th 2012 @ 1:58pm
        Nathan of Perth said | April 13th 2012 @ 1:58pm | ! Report

        These aren’t conferences, they’re a different take on league divisions.

        • April 13th 2012 @ 2:26pm
          Matt F said | April 13th 2012 @ 2:26pm | ! Report

          True, they’re not conferences as these would change every year. Though that’s one of the main reasons why I would prefer this system to conferences.

    • April 13th 2012 @ 1:01pm
      Ian Whitchurch said | April 13th 2012 @ 1:01pm | ! Report

      “Some rivalries could do with a slight shake up. For example, do Essendon, Carlton and Collingwood really have to face each other twice a year, every year?”

      Yes, yes they do, because the absolute and utter shedloads of money this makes allows the AFL to have the buckets of money it uses to keep less financially competitive sides sustainable.

      “Compare these teams with American sporting teams. Americans would have said the AFL have no idea what they’re doing. They would ask what the hell were you thinking creating a new professional franchise made up of college freshmen!”

      I really wish the OP would have bothered to find something out about how actual American expansion teams worked, but like every other poster who goes “Waaah waaah wahhh GWS waaah waaaah GC waaah waaah Americans would never do this”, he has no idea of just how Americans do expansion teams.

      I give you, for example, the new Cleveland Browns, introduced in 1999.


      If you know your late 1990s NFL players, my god there is some crap on that list. To give you an idea just how full of spuds the list of players they were given was, they picked up a long snapper from Seattle with their *eighth* choice.

      They then entrusted the future of their franchise to a totally untested kid, Tim Couch.

      They were belted 43 to nil in their first game back, and have had one trip to the finals since.

      Trust me, a Browns fan would have *loved* the concessions GC or GWS were given.

      Next, the idea of a conference system. All I have to say is “2010 Seahawks in the playoffs at 7-9”, including six games against the hopeless 49ers, hapless Card and useless Rams.

      • April 13th 2012 @ 2:00pm
        Nathan of Perth said | April 13th 2012 @ 2:00pm | ! Report

        This is part of the reason that Art Modell will never be able to step foot in Cleveland again.

      • April 13th 2012 @ 2:11pm
        Lou Lando said | April 13th 2012 @ 2:11pm | ! Report

        Ian, i’ve followed the NFL for over 20 years now. Agree you with the Browns, they were rubbish. There was a lot of hype around Tim couch though as there was since his high school days.

        However the Panthers and Jaguars both made the playoffs in their second seasons. the Panthers with 12-4 record wonf their division.
        You have to remember they could also sign free agents in addition to expansion draft where they picked up some decent players.

        Texans were a poor team but they were able to pick up several Pro Bowlers.

        The NFL would not allow so many college draft picks and so little experienced players available becuase they wanted the teams to at least be competitive to start with.

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