The AFL draft is supposed to be the league’s great equaliser, an opportunity for the competition’s worst teams to grab the best young talent in the land and build into a strong club capable of contending for a premiership.
But with father-son selections, academy players, compensation picks and teams trading down in order to accumulate points, the national draft has become far too compromised.
Last year’s draft saw six academy players taken in the first 24 picks. The result was that teams were shuffled down the order as the NSW and Queensland clubs grabbed the young talent available to them. By the time the Western Bulldogs had their first selection, they had dropped from the 20th pick (where they were positioned on the eve of the draft) to pick 25.
We also had the bogus situation during the trade period in which clubs with academy or father-son prospects tried to trade back in the draft to load up on points, knowing it didn’t matter where their picks fell as long as they could cobble together enough points to match the bid of another team.
Just how quickly other teams jumped at the opportunity to trade with those clubs last year is evidence that the system isn’t working as intended. It is a shocker that the AFL didn’t foresee such consequences.
Essendon are almost certain to end up with the No.1 selection at this year’s draft. Under the recently introduced points system, the top pick is worth 3000 points.
One of the best young prospects in the land is midfielder Jack Bowes. At 187cm and with the ability to win the footy and find time and space where others can’t, Bowes is exactly the kind of player the Bombers would love to add to their list. Unfortunately for them, Bowes is linked to the Gold Coast through their academy.
It’s unlikely that a club would use the top pick on a player they knew they wouldn’t get, but for the sake of this exercise, let’s say the Dons did bid on Bowes with the first overall pick. Then what?
Well, the Suns would need to come up with 2400 points (they get a 20 per cent discount because he’s part of their academy) in order to take him, and they have to use their next available draft picks in order. Lucky for them, as the ladder stands, they would have pick five and pick eight, which they acquired from Melbourne as part of a 2015 trade.
Those two picks are valued at 3429 points, which is more than enough to secure Bowes. So, the Suns would lose picks five and eight, gain Bowes and with their 1029 points “change” they get slotted back into the draft at pick 17. Not a bad deal for arguably the best young player in the country.
What about the Bombers though? Not only did they miss out on Bowes, but they get bumped down to pick two, which is worth 2517 points. Should’t they also be compensated? Those 483 points are exactly what pick 37 is valued at. A mid third-round pick is nothing to sneeze at.
But if you were to compensate the Bombers, you’d just be disadvantaging other teams who get knocked down the order after pick 37. Should they get compensated? And where do you stop?
There’s also the very obvious flaw of denying the club with the No.1 pick the opportunity to draft whoever they deem the best player available to them – this is not unique to the the academies, the father-son rule created the same issue in the past – it goes against the core principle of the draft.
What if, instead, the AFL just blew the whole thing up, did away with the draft as we know it and instead introduced an auction system?
Here’s how it could work.
Instead of live selections, clubs are assigned points based on their finishing position and the AFL’s draft values. So the trade period isn’t rendered useless, they would still be able to trade points and future ‘picks’. For example, Richmond could still offer their 2017 first ‘pick’ to Gold Coast for Dion Prestia, and the Suns would get whatever points that pick is work in next year’s draft/auction.
Then, on draft night, instead of teams selecting players, they bid for them.
Based on the ladder after Round 20, here are the points each club would have:
Gold Coast: 7154pts – picks 5, 8 (from Melb), 21 (Fre), 23, 24 (Rich), 28 (Port), 41, 59
GWS: 5129 – 7 (Coll), 15 (Geel), 17, 32 (Adl), 36, 53, 71
Essendon: 4647 – 1, 19, 37, 55, 73
Brisbane: 4642 – 2, 20, 27 (Coll via StK), 47 (NM), 56
Carlton: 3780 – 4, 22, 40, 48 (WB), 58
Fremantle: 2862 – 3, 39, 57
Richmond: 2292 – 6, 42, 60
West Coast: 2174 – 13, 31, 49, 67
North Melbourne: 2072 – 11, 29, 65
Western Bulldogs: 2016 – 12, 30, 66, 70 (Syd)
St Kilda: 1928 – 9, 45, 63, 80
Sydney: 1855 – 16, 34, 52
Port Adelaide: 1827 – 10, 46, 64
Hawthorn: 1726 – 18, 36, 54, 72
Adelaide: 1493 – 14, 50, 68
Geelong: 1336 – 33, 38 (Bris), 51, 69
Collingwood: 1269 – 25, 43, 61
Melbourne: 1214 – 26, 44, 62
To keep some semblance of familiarity and order, clubs would nominate players in reverse order of the ladder, so the Bombers would kick things off with the first nominated player and opening bid, then the Lions, then Suns, etc all the way through to the Hawks before the order starts over.
Once the player is on the market, it’s a free-for-all. To stop it from getting out of hand, let’s put a time limit of three to four minutes on each player and allow the initial bidder the opportunity to claim the player after time is up if they are willing and able to match the highest bid.
The strategy of the team with the top ‘pick’ – Essendon in this imaginary scenario – might not be to target the best player available. Maybe they’d rather target two or three kids they have rated in the 5-15 range. Or maybe they’d just throw out Bowes early in the hope it would run up the price and take a chunk of Gold Coast’s massive bankroll.
This is not some crusade against the academies. In fact, it would change very little for those clubs (and clubs wanting to pick up father-son prospects) if you allowed them to keep the 20 per cent discount when bidding – think of it as a discount voucher that you hand over at the register.
Perhaps the Dons would just make a speculative 50-point bid on a flyer to see if any other teams are ready to spend their points so early in the auction.
David King has lamented that the current draft doesn’t help the poor teams enough because the only difference between the first and last team is that first selection – an auction would change that.
It would make strategy more important and also give the lower clubs more flexibility. It would even make it easier for the AFL to help out clubs in dire straits – “Merry Christmas Brisbane, here’s a 500-point gift card – Love, Gil.”
Strategy would be equally important for the top clubs. They too could choose to bid big on one player or target a few. By the time it got to West Coast, for example, they might be the only club with more than 2100 points remaining, so they’d know they could outbid all other teams should they choose to.
It would certainly be less compromised than the current system and, as an added bonus, it’d be a hell of a lot of fun.