It clearly didn’t sit well with the AFL community that three relatively minor incidents could cost someone the Brownlow Medal.
We can only imagine the outrage had Nat Fyfe been given his third fine from the match review panel on Monday. It would’ve been mayhem.
Either way, plenty made their views known this week and it wasn’t hard to come around to the idea that the Brownlow Medal eligibility criteria must change.
But there was a problem – all the answers presented were either too drastic or too much of the same.
Rohan Connolly in The Age wrote that the ‘fairest’ element of the game’s fairest and best award should be removed. I’m not so quick to put a fork in 91 years of tradition, especially when it involves spreading what is surely an undesirable message.
It’s no longer important to be the fairest? Being the best is all that matters? Call me idealistic but we’ve got to do better than that.
Others, like Mark Ricciuto in The Advertiser, advocated what you might term a re-drawing of the line. In Ricciuto’s case, he suggested players whose suspension count sits at two weeks or less should be eligible.
This wouldn’t actually kill off the debate, it would shift it.
So the guy that gets a light two-week ban is eligible, but the guy who cops three separate minor bans isn’t? Outrageous!
Blowing up the fairness element doesn’t cut it. Re-drawing the line isn’t the answer.
The place to look is asking why we even have a line at all.
As it stands, the criteria for being the ‘best’ player is pretty stringent – it’s a breakdown of 1188 votes across the season. A player can have anywhere between zero votes and 66. It’s a pretty comprehensive system.
The criteria for being the ‘fairest’, though? That’s actually still decided by whether you are on one side of a line or the other.
A player can only be ineligible or eligible.
You’ll have to excuse me for this, but is that really, well, fair?
We need to add a bit more flexibility to the ‘fairest’ equation and there’s a pretty obvious way to do it: if you are penalised by the match review panel, you lose votes on Brownlow night.
I’ll repeat to let it sink in: if you are penalised by the match review panel, you lose votes on Brownlow night.
For example, a player who receives a fine may lose one vote. Perhaps each week missed to suspension costs three votes.
You’re still eligible to become the fairest and best player, but from now on your claim to being the best will have to be strong enough to outweigh your indiscretions.
Under such a system, had Fyfe copped his third fine this week he would’ve started Brownlow night on -3 votes, and gone from there.
As an alternative to not letting him win at all, that works. As an alternative to letting him win a ‘fairest and best’ award without any consideration of the fines at all, it’s not the worst idea.
Is there an alternative that works better?
You might say that under such a system, Fyfe missing out the medal by two votes would be highly controversial. But that controversy could only be fuelled by those who legitimately believe the Brownlow should be reserved for the best player only, no consideration for anything else. That wouldn’t be a majority.
Besides, players would have one very simple way around that situation – avoiding fines and suspensions.
We don’t need to change what the Brownlow Medal represents, we just need to put a little more effort into how we decide who best lives up to what it represents.