Fixturing can be tricky at the best of times, but some interesting ideas can come from unlikely places.
For the AFL it’s hard to produce a fair draw for an 18-team league. Seventeen rounds is too few but 34 is too many, so teams will play some clubs once and others twice.
Various models have been suggested and rejected, the major flaws being that an equal number of home games for each club can’t be guaranteed and that supporters want certainty when the games will be played before they commit to a membership.
Geelong midfielder Patrick Dangerfield has come up with a way around the issue. He’s suggested that the current length of the season in terms of minutes played is about right but that it could be spread over more weeks. Instead of having 22 rounds of games with 20-minute quarters plus time-on we could instead have 34 rounds of games with around 13-minute quarters plus time-on.
The number of minutes played over a home-and-away season would be about the same but the minutes would be spread over an extra 12 weeks.
Each club would play each other twice and each club would have 17 home games.
It’s a thought bubble. Nothing will come of it. But, hypothetically, could it work?
Fatigue in individual games would be less of a factor. With shorter games there’d be less distance run and less wear and tear to the body each week.
But having to get up 12 more times over a year makes for a long season.
A 34-week season with four weeks of finals makes almost nine months of competition. There’d be no time for byes, a week off before the finals or any time off. This could possibly be worked around by mandating that each player is limited to 31 or 32 games, requiring the clubs to manage each player’s individual byes.
Would a suspension be able to be taken as a week off? If so, it may encourage more early guilty pleas and reduce the need for tribunal hearings. If not, there may need to be some flexibility in the rules for a player who the club was planning to rest in the last round but who gets suspended after the penultimate weekend.
For the non-Victorian clubs there’s a lot more travel with an extra six interstate trips. Even Victorian clubs would have eight interstate trips, not counting matches in Tasmania or home games played away.
With no time for a week off to recover, it would probably be the end of the Gold Coast vs Port Adelaide China trip. But with more home games on offer there’s more opportunity to take games to new domestic markets without reducing the number of home games currently played on the home ground.
Greater Western Sydney could play a couple more in Canberra, North Melbourne in Hobart et cetera. Maybe some other regional centres could be considered for games.
From a media perspective it would be a gold mine. Extending the season to nine months would guarantee the AFL would dominate the news cycle for longer.
With each game all over in two hours, games could be scheduled so there are never two games on at the same time. Currently the AFL viewing audience is split when there are concurrent games, but that wouldn’t happen anymore.
Further, with nine months in the season, then trades, the draft and the draw to come, that’s most of the year covered publicity-wise.
But there are plenty of logistical reasons why it will never happen. Access to venues is the big one.
For a 34-round plus finals season we’re probably looking mid-February to mid-November. But that would require cricket to give up access to the grounds during that time.
They’d probably give up October. The only cricket in October is the domestic one-day competition, which is played on suburban grounds in Sydney. The cricket grounds the AFL use sit empty in October, so I can’t see why there’d be any objection to the AFL moving into October.
But by November the Sheffield Shield is on and the Tests are looming. The cricket pitches need to be in the grounds by then, and cricket uses the grounds until late March.
If the Brisbane Lions were to make a home preliminary final, it wouldn’t give the Gabba much time to get a pitch prepared for the first Test of the summer.
Such a long season would affect preseason schedules. Patrick Dangerfield acknowledges that.
Currently the preseason starts in mid-November. After about a month the players take a break for Christmas before restarting again in January.
With the season finishing in mid-November the players would need a break, so preseason training wouldn’t start until after Christmas. There’d only be about six weeks before it’s time for the season proper to start.
Would that be enough to get everyone match-fit given that there won’t be time for any practice games?
It won’t happen. It’s a thought bubble. An idea. Thinking aloud.
But, interestingly enough, I can see potential for a nine-month footy season. But the men won’t be playing all of it.
AFLW starts at the beginning of February and is expanding. By 2020 it will have 14 teams, extending from the current seven rounds to 13. It may not be too many years beyond that before every AFL club has an AFLW team and we’re running a 17-round AFLW season.
That makes some overlap with the men’s AFL season inevitable, but the overlap could be reduced by holding the men’s season back a few weeks, starting on the Anzac Day weekend and running through until the end of October.
For those who want more trial match practice some AFLX could be scheduled in early March before the JLT Series in March and April.
The pre-Christmas preseason training would be abolished, with the preseason starting after Christmas as a single block instead of stopping and starting again.
Cricket would have no reason not to make the grounds available for October and could have them until the end of March or even early April for the Sheffield Shield final if they wanted.
Giving the women more time in the spotlight before the men’s season starts would mean on-field footy action from the beginning of February to the end of October, creating a nine-month season, and with trades, the draft and the fixture release to come in November, that’s most of the year’s news cycle taken care of.
The AFL would like to see that.