The West Coast Eagles finished ninth on the ladder in season 2021. They won six of their opening nine games of the season. After 13 games they had won eight and lost five games.
The bye round. Along with the deliberate out of bounds rule, this is the most contentious argument at the moment in football.
Television pen pushers hate it, fans hate it and the players are split.
Round 14 came and went without a blip on the radar. Apart from the win by St Kilda (which obviously meant that the betting agencies held most of the multi bets to themselves), the results went the way of the favourites. The attendances were extremely low, with only 136,314 people sitting on a cold plastic seat watching the rounds games, and most of the attention was left on the fate of Paddy Dangerfield.
Many reasons have been thrown around why the attendances were so low: weather, train lines being down, school holidays, MCG car parking, footy being played live on TV. Certainly the combination of these reasons explain why most grounds over the weekend were empty, but what it does raise is the question of whether the bye round is effective in its current format, or should it be tinkered or thrown away entirely?
The AFL Player’s Association support their players in the need to have time off during an obviously arduous season, and with the demands of an AFL player being more and more each year, this mini break between rounds helps to freshen the player up physically and mentally. As mentioned previously, supporters of AFL understand the necessity of a bye and want the best players playing week in and week out. However, the lull in the season has certainly halted some momentum in the season and draw the attention of the audience to other alternatives.
Combine this with the draw being favourable to certain teams (North Melbourne would certainly back this line after their 6-day break and trip to Adelaide) and you have a situation that calls for a review and for alternatives to be thrown up.
Can the season have no bye at all?
With less rotations, a full-time profession plus a long and tiring pre-season, it’s a big ask of clubs to expect players to perform at a high standard consistently. So without a bye, yes we have continuity with television and a nine game round, but at what cost? Will it mean more injuries (poor Collingwood) or would it mean a change in the game plans of a coach to manage their players? Perhaps they revert back to congested football that requires less running?
Most would agree that the game has never looked this attractive, which we can attribute to a few rule tweaks, but an attacking game style employed by most coaches.
Furthermore, if the bye was removed entirely, and due to the demands from the public to see the best playing each week along with the money provided by sponsors/supporters, will it open the door for another possible Essendon saga?
In an era where sports science has never been as competitive, how far can they push the boundaries to ensure their players are fresh each week and recovering quicker? Gone are the days where players rely solely on ice baths, rest, nutrition and massage. What could come next in such a competitive environment.
Perhaps the answer is to go back to a single bye week that allows each team a week off, meaning every club has a rest at the same time. Does this improve transparency and evenness across the competition?
What this alternative does throw into the mix, is what would the AFL do in this week off? With television rights demanding such a big say in fixturing, how much less would be the proposal if this format was adopted?
When looking at the pros and cons of both sides and considering all the factors, money unfortunately makes the world go around. If the AFL proposed a standard week off for all teams between rounds 13 and 14 (for example), no football games means no ratings and less sponsorship dollars. However, this is where the AFL/TV hosts need to be creative.
With the announcement of the elite AFL female competition to begin next year, why can’t their competition take centre stage for a weekend with no male games. The female competition will get great air time and plenty of coverage but it will no doubt be overshadowed by the men’s competition. However, if for one week of the year, there is nothing but the female games, in all the prime time slots, I’m sure it will give focus and draw more attention to the skills and abilities of this new competition.
Sure, television audiences won’t be the same, however, it’s important that the female competition is given every opportunity to prosper, in particular to their sponsors who would reach a larger audience.
Crowd attendances would be down during this proposed bye week of the male variety, however, you could play a VFL game as a curtain raiser to the women’s, or a TAC game beforehand which may draw some interest when there may not necessarily be any.
Of course, with their two-month season locked in for February-March of 2017, this suggestion is for some long term thinking.
The bye round is contentious. It’s there to support the players and help rejuvenate them towards the finals series.
With all factors combined, a neutral bye round in the middle of the season, coupled with a front and center stage for the AFL to show case the talent of the female competition, may just be the ticket to adding rest time and continuing an otherwise exciting year.