Academy system vs father-son: A new paradigm

Maddy Friend Columnist

By Maddy Friend, Maddy Friend is a Roar Expert

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    The northern academies, designed to attract and nurture young players from the non-football states, have garnered much controversy since their introduction several years ago – mostly centred around the quality of the players being produced, and their draft value.

    The AFL’s website states that the academies “are aimed at increasing the opportunities for young people in NSW and Queensland to learn about and play the game of Australian rules football.

    “The four northern AFL clubs are incentivised through draft concessions for their role in growing the Australian Rules talent pool in NSW and Queensland, and ultimately strengthening the state and community leagues in those states.”

    In that regard, the initiative has been a remarkable success.

    Sydney youngsters Callum Mills and Isaac Heeney are the two most successful products of the system, but Brisbane, Gold Coast, and Greater Western Sydney have also reaped the benefits.

    Callum Mills of the Swans takes a mark over Stephen Coniglio of the Giants

    Callum Mills (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    The academies are an important part of our game, as the continued focus on attracting and developing young players who would otherwise have likely turned to different sports expands reach and popularity.

    However, the itinerant nature of football coaching – where former players often move interstate for their chance to join the coaching ranks – has thrown up another permutation to the mix: young players who are eligible to be drafted under both the father-son rule, and the academy system.

    Two players in particular fit this year – Nick Blakey, son of former North Melbourne and Brisbane player John, who is eligible to join both clubs under the father-son rule, but is also eligible for Sydney’s academy, given he has lived there for the past 12 years, and John is on the coaching panel.

    Likewise, Bailey Scott, son of former Geelong and North Melbourne player Robert, is eligible to join those two clubs as well as the Gold Coast as an academy selection, having lived there since he was nine.

    This raises questions over the purpose of the academies, the sanctity of the father-son rule, and the AFL’s intentions in this space.

    Blakey and Scott are representative of a wider issue – they are players who, due to their fathers’ careers, have been around football since a young age, and would have almost undoubtedly been playing it regardless of whether they had moved interstate or not. The fact that they are now eligible for Sydney and Gold Coast goes against the academies’ founding principle of growing the talent pool in non-traditional states – it has not grown the talent pool, merely found itself the beneficiary of two, young, Victorian footballers.

    Yes, the Suns and Swans have played an important part in developing the pair (Blakey is widely viewed as a top-five selection, while Scott looks a likely mid-range prospect; both are members of the AFL Academy squad), but this would likely have been the case had they been playing in the TAC Cup for their local clubs.

    Having grown up in their respective zones, they obviously have an affinity with those cities and clubs, but I’m sure there is also a connection with the clubs for which their fathers played.

    The father-son rule has long been a way for clubs – based on their own good fortune – to acquire talented players at discounted rates, while preserving club connections, something valued by fans. It’s one of the unique and treasured tenets – or quirks, if you like – of our game.

    Clubs should be comfortable in the knowledge that traditional connections will continue under the system, and have likely been planning for several years for these players to join their club in the future. The fact that this system can be over-ridden by the academies seems to go against the AFL’s oft-stated tenet that the father-son system is an intrinsic part of our game.

    Blakey and Scott are the first players to be faced with this scenario, but will most likely not be the last, which is why this issue needs to be addressed now – to provide certainty for both the academy and father-son clubs.

    Perhaps one solution could be that where players are eligible to be drafted to a club under the father-son rule, they are then not eligible for the academy system.

    However, if the current situation is more in line with its views, then it needs to clarify or possibly change its definition of the purpose of club academies.

    Blakey has already made his choice of club, nominating the Swans last week, and it’s likely that Scott will nominate Gold Coast. I don’t begrudge either their choices – they are merely doing what the system allows.

    However, the way the system currently operates lacks clarity, and calls into question the value of something we have always held dear.

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    The Crowd Says (104)

    • Roar Rookie

      May 16th 2018 @ 6:54am
      Bangkokpussy said | May 16th 2018 @ 6:54am | ! Report

      Well put and the AFL needs to come out with a much clearer policy on this issue.

    • Roar Guru

      May 16th 2018 @ 7:52am
      Cat said | May 16th 2018 @ 7:52am | ! Report

      How long before a family with an aspiring kid moves to a specific academy just so they can bypass the draft and know where they will end up?
      How long does a kid need to be in an academy ‘zone’ to be eligible for it? Could a 17-year-old that thinks he will be drafted move to an academy a year out from the draft to avoid being drafted by teams likely to have the top picks that he doesn’t want to play for?

      PS: I don’t know the answers to the questions posed above. There is no agenda, just questions I’d like answers to if anyone knows them.

      • May 16th 2018 @ 8:03am
        GoSwans said | May 16th 2018 @ 8:03am | ! Report

        If a player doesn’t want to go to Brisbane then they can just do a Wingard (tell recruiters they will be moving back home after 2 years). Does doing a Wingard constitute draft tampering and what penalty should there be for doing so?

        • Roar Rookie

          May 16th 2018 @ 8:11am
          Mattician6x6 said | May 16th 2018 @ 8:11am | ! Report

          Graham polack and Andrew McDougall presented themselves in such a way in pre draft interviews to manipulate their preference of staying in WA, father/son rules changed over fear the Morton boys would make wce unstoppable(in hindsight a tad funny), and the Gibbs situation was always quite laughable.
          This article has a tone of academies will favour the northern states at the expense if Victoria.

        • May 17th 2018 @ 8:42am
          AD said | May 17th 2018 @ 8:42am | ! Report

          It already happened with Brett Chalmers back in the early 90s. He wanted to go to Collingwood, and told the other clubs he wouldn’t play for anybody else. Ended up getting fined $30k.

          I guess saying you won’t play for them at all isn’t quite the same as saying you’d leave after your first contract is up, but would (or at least should be) close enough to be considered draft tampering IMO.

          https://www.sen.com.au/news/2018/01/09/the-tamper-affair-how-pies-lost-a-young-star/

      • May 16th 2018 @ 9:59am
        Kris said | May 16th 2018 @ 9:59am | ! Report

        Have to reside in the academy zone for 5 years. Moving your family so your 13 year old was in a particular zone would be fairly outrageous, disruptive and costly.

        When Mav Weller got drafted out of Tassie to the Gold Coast, his family moved up with him. His younger brother Lachlan non-the-less did not meet the residency requirement and so was not eligible for the Gold Coast as an academy pick. He was able to participate in the training programs, but not eligible as a draft pick.

        • Roar Guru

          May 16th 2018 @ 10:06am
          Cat said | May 16th 2018 @ 10:06am | ! Report

          Five years alleviates my concern that its easily manipulated. Thank you.

      • Roar Rookie

        May 16th 2018 @ 10:10am
        Tom VDS said | May 16th 2018 @ 10:10am | ! Report

        You make a really good point Cat, and if it hasn’t happened already then you can bet it will in the future if the current system remains.
        I think the suggestion in the article of prospective players that are eligible for the father-son cannot be eligible for an academy is a reasonable one. The academies are important to growing the game in the Northern states, but it should be the AFL nurturing this program, not the clubs

        • May 16th 2018 @ 10:51am
          Jim said | May 16th 2018 @ 10:51am | ! Report

          If a family is willing to make the move when their kid is 12-13 to get to a particular academy zone, so that they can play for that particular club in 5 years time, then so be it. Its a big call to make, especially when very, very, very few have any idea if the kid will be anywhere near good enough to play AFL when they are only 12-13.

          And as I’ve said elsewhere – the reason the academies in the Northern states exist as they are is because the AFL was utterly terrible at developing players in non-traditional heartlands for decades before the academies begun…. I am not against the AFL running all the academies (the Northern ones Plus NGA academies) and all players going into the draft, but I am pretty certain that will see a very big backwards step in terms of achieving the broader outcomes of the academy approach – I.e. deepening the player pool and increasing the quality of footy across the country (and not just at the senior professional level).

          While we all hear about the Heeney/Mills/Blakey’s of the world because they will be very good bonafide AFL players, we don’t hear so much about the impact of those that go through the system and don’t make it have on the spread of AFL more broadly. The NEAFL and Sydney comps in particular are both benefitting significantly from academy guys that don’t make it, but still end up wanting to play semi-pro football. It is a good outcome being ignored in this whole debate – not a central one, but one that shouldn’t be underplayed either.

    • May 16th 2018 @ 8:00am
      GoSwans said | May 16th 2018 @ 8:00am | ! Report

      How does Nick Blakey play in the TAC Cup when he is living in Sydney? Is he eligible to do so? You’re suggesting that because his father played for Brisbane that he shouldn’t be able to join the Swans Academy and he should be forced to move to Brisbane and play TAC Cup up there? Were you thinking that Nick would only want to move back to Victoria?

      Perhaps the AFL could just wait and see. The quality of junior football in NSW and QLD has a long way to go until it is as good as in Victoria.

      • May 16th 2018 @ 8:07am
        Trevor said | May 16th 2018 @ 8:07am | ! Report

        Academies need to be scrapped or handed over to the AFL to run and the players scattered through the draft. In clash circumstances, Father-Son should take precedence while the academies are in place.

        • Roar Rookie

          May 16th 2018 @ 8:13am
          Mattician6x6 said | May 16th 2018 @ 8:13am | ! Report

          Blakeley is a swans supporter whose choice should be the main factor not where his dad played

          • May 16th 2018 @ 11:34am
            I ate pies said | May 16th 2018 @ 11:34am | ! Report

            Blakely shouldn’t have a choice. None of them should have a choice. They should man up and be grateful that they got an opportunity to play games for a living.

        • May 16th 2018 @ 10:53am
          Jim said | May 16th 2018 @ 10:53am | ! Report

          On what basis should father-son take precedence Trevor? The ‘vibe’ of it? The ‘romance’ of it?

          Neither should take precedence, but the player should have the choice, as Blakey has done, to nominate where they would prefer to go. Either that, or it should all be scrapped and be a pure free-for-all….. but then the ‘romance’ of the father-son would be dead too – which is the only basis really present to defend that rule in the first place.

          • May 16th 2018 @ 8:28pm
            Joe B said | May 16th 2018 @ 8:28pm | ! Report

            Agreed. It is just another quirk, let the young players decide. I am more concerned about the AFL bias towards vic teams being grossly over represnted in prime time FTA broadcast slots.

        • Roar Rookie

          May 16th 2018 @ 10:13pm
          Seano said | May 16th 2018 @ 10:13pm | ! Report

          Why should father son take precedence? Young Scott has grown up on the coast and wants to stay near his parents.

          That makes him like every kid who claims homesickness a few years in.

          More power to him i say.

      • Roar Guru

        May 16th 2018 @ 12:35pm
        Paul Dawson said | May 16th 2018 @ 12:35pm | ! Report

        Good comment.

        Father son should not trump academies at all! Certainly not where northern states are concerned.

        Comments motivated by envy from embittered types who never got a go at AFL can be safely disregarded too

      • May 16th 2018 @ 1:34pm
        Bogdan Kanacheeny said | May 16th 2018 @ 1:34pm | ! Report

        Do people really believe John Blakey played for Brisbane?

    • Roar Rookie

      May 16th 2018 @ 8:04am
      Mattician6x6 said | May 16th 2018 @ 8:04am | ! Report

      Didn’t see an article like this when Marc Murphy chose to be taken by the blues instead of going father/son to the lions.

      • Roar Guru

        May 16th 2018 @ 10:24am
        Col from Brissie said | May 16th 2018 @ 10:24am | ! Report

        Mattician, it was Murphy’s decision to stay in Melbourne. Father/Son prospects have a choice of nominating if they want to go to their Fathers old club or not, Academy players do not have that choice.

        I wonder how long before clubs/young kids look at the category 2 Rookie rules to try and manipulate the draft. I am of the understanding that if a youngster hasn’t registered to play football for 3 years or more he can nominate which club he goes to. So if we have an outstanding 14 year old who wants to play for a certain club, he can maybe play another sport for the next 3 years then when draft age can nominate the club of his choice.

        We will see this situation shortly with Austin Bradtke, a 205cm 17yo basketballer who gave up football 3 years ago to concentrate on basketball but now wants to play AFL. There are at least 6 Victorian sides trying to convince him to nominate them.

        • Roar Rookie

          May 16th 2018 @ 10:38am
          Mattician6x6 said | May 16th 2018 @ 10:38am | ! Report

          Col I understand that it is more relation to the article and the decision Blakeley has made is no different to Murphy imo, the idea father son is sacred doesn’t stand up scrutiny imo, Murphy, Blakeley and cuz all are quite similar in many ways, all three had multiple options and all three made choice to stay in home state.

          • May 16th 2018 @ 10:54am
            Don Freo said | May 16th 2018 @ 10:54am | ! Report

            Blakely is not a father/son selection. Just a surfing dude from Swan Districts.

        • May 16th 2018 @ 2:50pm
          AB said | May 16th 2018 @ 2:50pm | ! Report

          It might be hard to keep your draft stock up if you give up the game for 3 years during your development.

    • May 16th 2018 @ 8:12am
      Hyena said | May 16th 2018 @ 8:12am | ! Report

      Get rid of father-son, allow academies (at each clubs expense) and everyone can have academy priority picks.

      • May 16th 2018 @ 9:20am
        Trevor said | May 16th 2018 @ 9:20am | ! Report

        The reverse is a better solution. The reason the draft was brought in in the first place was because the drafting zones (modern day academy areas) of Hawthorn and Essendon meant they were playing the in the Grand Final every year. There’s some romance to Father-Son that should be preserved for the interest of fans – no such justification exists for academies.

        • May 16th 2018 @ 9:40am
          Johnny Dalmas said | May 16th 2018 @ 9:40am | ! Report

          Father-Son favours the old Victorian clubs (they have the biggest pool of previous players who qualify). Outside of Victoria there is very little “romance” for fans in father-in-law selections.
          I agree that every club should be able to have Academy, however.
          I would let clubs set up one Academy wherever they liked — with the proviso that they must play a minimum of half their home games at the Academy location. So if a club decided to take on, say, Darwin or Hobart as an academy location, fair enough. But they have to commit to that city by playing games there.
          I also think Academies should be non-Exclusive. So more than one club should be able to have an Academy in the same location, and juniors should be able to choose which academy they wish to join. And, of course, players should be able to refuse to participate in an Academy or be nominated by the sponsor club at draft time. (This solves the problem of the old exclusive zones.)

          • May 16th 2018 @ 10:52am
            Slane said | May 16th 2018 @ 10:52am | ! Report

            The Swans academy has around 600 players enrolled. How many Father/Son picks have there been in the last 100 years?

            • May 16th 2018 @ 1:09pm
              Hyena said | May 16th 2018 @ 1:09pm | ! Report

              Of the 600 only a couple might get on the list any given year. They are also still subject to the draft and available to all other clubs. Given the points system Sydney nor any of the other northern clubs can draft all of the prospects in any given year so there is plenty for the other clubs to choose from.

              • Roar Guru

                May 16th 2018 @ 1:28pm
                Cat said | May 16th 2018 @ 1:28pm | ! Report

                The northern clubs still get the cream of the crop though. Often bypassing the natural draft order. No one but the team running the academy has a realistic chance of any of the best kids, just the ‘left overs’.

                I’ve asked this every time and will continue to do so until a realistic rebuttal is provided:

                Should a team that finishes at the top of the ladder be able to pick up a kid at the very top of the ladder (and at a discounted price)? No, clearly not, it just makes it harder for the bottom teams. The good academy teams (GWS and Swans right now) will find it easier to stay good and for longer when they keep getting picks their ladder position doesn’t warrant. Other teams have to seek trade partners and often pay MORE to move up the ladder if they want a highly ranked kid.

                Maybe we need a better system than this points debacle. Maybe there needs to be a limit on how often a club can pick ‘out of order’. For example, take a kid in the first round this year before your natural pick (the pick given by your ladder finish the year before) and next year that team is ineligible to select a F/S or academy kid in the first round. This would put a better limit on teams constantly getting top talent while being on the top of the ladder and also force teams into having to make real choices (right now there is no real choices being made as evidenced by every first and second round bid being matched instantly).

              • Roar Guru

                May 16th 2018 @ 2:16pm
                Paul Dawson said | May 16th 2018 @ 2:16pm | ! Report

                Why this obsession about high draft picks? Surely the last few years has demonstrated that it’s not the number of the draft pick but the club the player winds up at that is the main determining factor of whether the player turns into an elite young talent.

                I’ll happily abandon academies once players no longer have veto rights over trades. But while players are allowed to decide as a collective which teams rise and fall, academies are essential for us

              • Roar Rookie

                May 16th 2018 @ 2:26pm
                Mattician6x6 said | May 16th 2018 @ 2:26pm | ! Report

                I’m a tad skeptical Paul when a Geelong supporter, the team who has benefited most from father /son selection at discounted draft rate complains about the academy, it’s fundamentally true that NSW and qld has lost players due to being non football States and if academy picks ensure retention of quality players then it is common sense that they remain.

              • May 16th 2018 @ 6:12pm
                Hyena said | May 16th 2018 @ 6:12pm | ! Report

                And the other clubs get the cream of the crop for father/son. Further they don’t have to invest millions of dollars in developing those players.

                Academies are funded by the clubs running the academy not the AFL, and not the Victorian clubs. As such they deserve a benefit for their investment.

                Maybe as an alternative non-academy clubs must reimburse the academy club for academy selections they pick. How many academy players would your team pick if they came at a cost?

                Or as I’ve put out in other threads the AFL funds the academies. But for some reason I don’t see people putting their hand in the pocket to pull out the $$$’s.

                You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Pay up or shut up…

        • May 16th 2018 @ 10:38am
          Jim said | May 16th 2018 @ 10:38am | ! Report

          There is no justifiable basis for father son rules beyond ‘romance’. There is significant justification for academies – because they have come about because the AFL itself was utterly hopeless at developing talent in the northern states. If the clubs are expected to pump huge $$$ into their academies, then they should get some return for that money.

          If the AFL was good at developing players in non-traditional AFL areas, then they should run the academies. But like many things, they are simply not very good at it. Hence the output of the academies in half a dozen years is vastly superior already to what the AFL run development programs delivered over a couple of decades.

        • Roar Guru

          May 16th 2018 @ 12:36pm
          Paul Dawson said | May 16th 2018 @ 12:36pm | ! Report

          Pretty biased and subjective. As a Queensland afl fan I couldn’t give a toss about father-son, but the academies are vital to us.

    • May 16th 2018 @ 8:20am
      Ben said | May 16th 2018 @ 8:20am | ! Report

      I really don’t see where the problem lies. If we look at the scenario as ultimately wanting to have more kids involved in the football world and then having a pathway into the AFL system if they are good enough, then both systems work.
      To look at the situation and state that one pathway is a more preferred system seems to be short sighted.
      Growing up in a small town in NSW playing AFL we fell under the South Melbourne zone and were extremely lucky they put a lot of resources into the advancement of kids in their area. They also reaped some great rewards for the club through those years. I know I looked forward to the players coming in each year, getting to know them, spending a couple of days of pretty intense learning, and maybe having the opportunity to be offered a spot in the roster, for want of a better word.
      With Blakey and Scott coming through the academy system, for me it is a fantastic advert for kids in those areas that if they do join in and have the focus and intent, then they too have the opportunity to achieve. Subsequently more kids with talent may be more inclined to pursue a career in AFL than to go into other sports.
      The father son rule on the other hand favours some clubs over others. If you have successful clubs, generally teams are more stable and players will have longer careers. If you look at the Lions, GC, Carlton, the rosters are constantly changing and players time at the club are cut short. Where do the father/son kids come from.
      Compare this to say, Geelong, where multiple players stayed in the team for many years/games then their kids are going to be plentiful. Of course this doesn’t ensure that they will all have kids good enough or have the desire.
      I would much rather see all clubs have great academies and bring more kids into the AFL world, than to see the academies relegated to a 2nd class area behind father/son.
      Leave it to the kids themselves to decide, as young Blakey has.

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