Live trading offers AFL clubs a nifty new loophole to exploit

Josh Elliott Editor

By Josh Elliott, Josh Elliott is a Roar Editor

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    After leaving us in the dark for most of the season, the AFL finally clarified a lot of what we’ve been waiting to hear about with regards to 2018’s trade period and draft during the week.

    To start with, this year’s player exchange period will be a little shorter than in the past.

    As usual free agency will begin on the Friday (October 5) after the grand final, with the trade period itself opening the following Monday (October 8).

    Free agency will then close that Friday (October 12), and the trade period will close on Wednesday night of the following week (October 17), which is two days earlier than usual.

    However, the trade period will not close until 8:30pm AEST, whereas in the past the deadline for trades to be finalised has typically been 2pm.

    This decision has been made largely with the intention of allowing the closing day of trade period – when the vast majority of deals are typically done – to be more of a prime-time event.

    Last year the final day of the trade period was broadcast live on AFL.com.au – that might be the case again this year, or it’s possible it could be broadcast on Fox Footy or even free-to-air TV.

    All things considered, that’s fairly similar to previous years, just on a somewhat tighter schedule. But there are bigger changes to come.

    After the close of this first window of the trade period, it will reopen not once but twice more – for near on a month (October 18 – November 16), and then again live during the draft itself.

    On these occasions, clubs will be able to trade draft picks only – not players. So the first window will be spent finding players new homes before clubs turn their focus to jostling for the best draft position, right up until during the very draft itself.

    The draft will now be a two-day event with the first round conducted on Thursday night (November 22), and the remainder of the national draft plus the preseason and rookie drafts on Friday (November 23).

    It will be held in Melbourne at Etihad Stadium – which will by then be known as Marvel Stadium – with clubs able to use corporate boxes as private offices in which they can discuss strategy and work out potential live trade deals.

    AFL Draft

    (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

    So what does all this mean in a practical sense? It’s a little hard to predict, but we can speculate.

    It’s clear that the changes being made are an attempt to copy and capture some of the excitement of the major US sports drafts, particularly the NFL.

    Gillon McLachlan has probably watched Draft Day a few too many times, and so have I. One can’t help but be lured in by the potential drama of live strategy decisions being played out mid-draft.

    Of course, the real NFL draft itself isn’t as dramatic as a movie and, unfortunately for the AFL’s desire to turn the draft into a primetime event, ours will be another step further down in tempo.

    The AFL simply lacks two of the key ingredients that make the NFL draft such a sporting phenom in itself: the ability to trade players live, and a nationally popular pre-draft competition.

    Realistically we’re not ever going to have either – the AFLPA’s control over player movement is just too deeply entrenched for the former, and there probably is never going to be a large enough interest level in the later.

    Without the drawcard of seeing players you’re familiar with traded live, or greater popular knowledge of the new players whose fates will be decided in the draft itself, I simply don’t see the changes that have been made here driving a significant public interest increase in the draft itself.

    Personally I’m still a fan of the idea that an auction draft, as I proposed in more detail in January, would make the draft a more watchable affair – but I suppose it turns out AFL house isn’t reading my columns giddily waiting for governance ideas. Rude.

    The ability to trade picks both in the month leading up to the draft and live during the draft itself will still add a new dimension of strategy, if not a particularly broad one, and will no doubt be of interest to those who, like myself, are already committed list management fanatics.

    I’d expect that there’ll be a decent number of pick swaps done in the window between the close of player movement and the start of the draft itself – these have been on the rise more and more in recent years so we should see a bit of action.

    During the draft itself is a whole other question though, simply because at this point in time we don’t know how long clubs are going to have on the clock to make a deal.

    At the moment clubs have two minutes on the clock before they must make an extension, however, they do have the option of requesting extra time.

    I sought clarification from AFL spokesman Patrick Keane on whether or not the amount of clock time per draft pick would be increased to allow for deals to be done mid-draft, and he said as follows:

    “The time for a club to make its selection is currently up for discussion internally. We’ve not yet made a final decision on whether that will change or not.”

    It’s a really difficult decision for the league to make.

    On one hand, if they wish for clubs to actually make use of the live trading rules, then they will probably have to give them more time to operate.

    On the other hand, if they lengthen the time between draft picks too much, there’s a good chance the draft – already an event often accused of dragging on too long – will become a grotesquely elongated snoozefest.

    When live trading does happen, I suspect it will mostly revolve around picks in the middle and later sections of the draft as clubs further down the order see players unexpectedly slide, and offer to swap clubs with timely selections a future pick so they can secure the player they want.

    However, the new live trading system does include one major loophole that is just waiting to be exploited in a big way by a canny club – a good example this year would be the developing scenario featuring North Melbourne and their academy player Tarryn Thomas.

    Tarryn Thomas

    (Photo by Robert Prezioso/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    For those not familiar with Thomas, he is an indigenous player eligible to be drafted by North Melbourne through their next-generation academy zone in Tasmania.

    Thomas garnered some media attention when he set the Division 2 tournament of the under-18 national championships on fire earlier this year and then was solid if not quite at the same level during the Division 1 tournament.

    At the moment he’s rated as being in the somewhat ambiguous zone of this year’s draft – not quite among the top six prospects, but potentially in the mix for anywhere from say pick 7 to pick 15 or so.

    On current ladder position North Melbourne would enter the draft with pick 9, and not knowing whether a bid is likely to come before or after then puts them in a really tricky position.

    If a bid comes before then and they choose to match it – as they surely would – then they would have to pay the price of pick 9 for Thomas.

    However if a bid came afterwards they would essentially strike the jackpot by being able to use pick 9 on another highly-rated prospect – say Ian Hill or Connor Rozee – and then pay for Thomas with a combination of their second and third-round picks.

    While pick 9 would be a fair price to pay for Thomas, North are no doubt pursuing every possible angle to game the system as much as can be done and secure Thomas at the lowest price they can.

    One avenue that they’ve gone down is looking to trade their first selection in this year’s draft so that a bid, regardless of where it comes, has to be paid for with picks in the second round or later.

    They pursued Jordan de Goey along this line of thought and it’s possible that recent rumours regarding Jared Polec might also be a continuation of this strategy.

    However, the inclusion of live trading in the draft allows them an alternative path – one that is much more flexible and essentially takes the guesswork out of the equation.

    This strategy would be to retain pick 9 and then, if a bid comes for Thomas before that selection, trade it live for a future 2019 pick before matching the bid, then match the bid with later picks in the 2018 draft.

    The fact that clubs can make a manoeuvre like this isn’t something that’s been made clear in the AFL’s public announcement of live trading, so I again requested clarification from Patrick Keane. He said:

    “If a club can complete a trade in the time before it is required to make its decision, they are allowed to trade. They won’t get any extension of time but they are permitted to do so if they can finalise it.”

    The NFL draft doesn’t have anything like the father-son and academy bidding system, so there’s been nothing to guide the AFL in making a decision on how this should work. Intentionally or not, they’ve left it open to exploitation.

    Gillon McLachlan

    (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

    Essentially, a club in North Melbourne’s position will have the opportunity to wait and see where a bid comes and then execute their strategy accordingly.

    If a bid doesn’t come until after pick 9, then it’s a big win – the club takes a player from the open draft and then is able to secure Thomas later at a bargain price.

    If a bid comes before pick 9, then it’s still a big win – the club trades pick 9 for a 2019 first rounder and then again is able to secure Thomas for cheap.

    A club like North could then either look to use that first rounder to trade back into the 2018 draft after the bid has been matched, or hold it to use in next year’s trade and draft period.

    For North Melbourne in particular, it’d be a handy thing to hold onto for next year if, as many expect, they make a significant play once again at the services of GWS star Josh Kelly.

    Either way, the club can wind up paying a bargain price for whatever father-son or academy talent they have access to – essentially flouting the supposed enforced fairness the bidding system was brought in to police.

    If I were North Melbourne, I’d make sure to have an arrangement locked in with an opposition club willing to swap its 2019 first for a high 2018 pick before the draft. I’m sure plenty will be willing.

    Collingwood could do the same sort of thing with academy prospect Isaac Quaynor, or the Western Bulldogs with father-son player Rhylee West.

    A nifty little loophole, don’t you think? I wonder which AFL club will be the first to flip a profit from it – and what the AFL’s reaction will be when they do.

    Josh Elliott
    Josh Elliott

    Josh Elliott may be The Roar's Weekend Editor, but at heart he's just a rusted-on North Melbourne tragic with a penchant for pun headlines - and also abnormal alliteration, assuredly; assuming achievability. He once finished third in a hot chilli pie eating contest. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshElliott_29 and listen to him on The Roar's AFL Podcast.

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    The Crowd Says (14)

    • Roar Guru

      August 11th 2018 @ 6:36am
      Cat said | August 11th 2018 @ 6:36am | ! Report

      This is my issue with the current bid system. If a player is bid for in the first round a club should be forced to match it with first round picks, not late junk picks. If a team has already used their first round pick (or traded it out previously) the points should come off the following year(s) first round pick. The same could be done for second and third round bids.

    • August 11th 2018 @ 6:49am
      christy olsen said | August 11th 2018 @ 6:49am | ! Report

      Sorry to let you down, but the NFL draft is not that big of a deal.
      Only serious fans follow it, which is true for every sport.
      Maybe you’re imagining everyone in the whole country tuning in with anxious jitters to see just who will be drafted.
      But that’s not the case.
      Most people just read about it later or pay no attention at all until the next season starts.

      • Roar Guru

        August 11th 2018 @ 8:20am
        Cat said | August 11th 2018 @ 8:20am | ! Report

        The NFL draft is still an industry in itself. There is a reason why any publication that covers the sport will publish multiple mock drafts and special sections/issues dedicated just to the draft. It is a huge deal. Even after the draft there is a solid week of coverage that continues to analysis and grade teams drafts, the impact it may have on the following season and what remains to be done.
        Of course it will only appeal to those who are already interested in the sport, that goes without saying. Technically you are correct ‘most people’ pay no attention, but then ‘most people’ don’t pay any attention to any sport, ever. However, most people who follow the sport do pay attention.

        • August 11th 2018 @ 9:21am
          christy olsen said | August 11th 2018 @ 9:21am | ! Report

          I suppose you’re right if the idea is to make the draft a bigger deal to existing fans.

          It’s true that ESPN, sports radio, and sports publications are consumed with NFL coverage surrounding the draft.
          So it is a huge deal to the sports industry.
          But I think that is mostly because the NFL is the most popular league in the US.

          I guess I thought the idea was to use the draft as a vehicle to increase the popularity of a sport.
          I’ve never heard anyone say something like, “I don’t watch much football, but I always watch the draft.”
          The Super Bowl and the World Series, are examples of that.
          Huge numbers of casual fans and otherwise uninterested people tune in to those events.
          So the NFL and MLB need to consider how to use them to increase overall popularity.

          But I can see that the AFL would want more footy fans to follow the draft more closely.

          • Roar Guru

            August 11th 2018 @ 10:16am
            Cat said | August 11th 2018 @ 10:16am | ! Report

            Holding your existing followers attention year round (or even just longer) is just as important as growing the total base.

    • August 11th 2018 @ 8:03am
      Peter said | August 11th 2018 @ 8:03am | ! Report

      Josh ,sorry, but the word you are looking for is “flout”, not “flaunt.” Words matter.

      • August 11th 2018 @ 8:26am
        MQ said | August 11th 2018 @ 8:26am | ! Report

        If you’ve got it, flout it.

      • Editor

        August 11th 2018 @ 10:43am
        Josh Elliott said | August 11th 2018 @ 10:43am | ! Report

        Oh, you know, I originally wrote “flaut” and thought wait, doesn’t that mean playing the flute, I must be thinking of flaunt. Thanks peter, have fixed it up.

    • Roar Guru

      August 11th 2018 @ 9:13am
      gameofmarks said | August 11th 2018 @ 9:13am | ! Report

      This will be another AFL balls up and embarrassment.

      • Roar Rookie

        August 11th 2018 @ 10:13am
        Mattician6x6 said | August 11th 2018 @ 10:13am | ! Report

        Yep

        • August 11th 2018 @ 11:43am
          BigAl said | August 11th 2018 @ 11:43am | ! Report

          Those who can do (or try), those who can’t . . . comment…

    • Roar Guru

      August 11th 2018 @ 10:37am
      JamesH said | August 11th 2018 @ 10:37am | ! Report

      The AFL could easily hit this on the head by not permitting clubs to live trade during the period where the decision re matching a bid occurs. E.g. Thomas’ name is called by a rival club at pick 8. No trading can take place until North has either matched the bid or declined. Simples.

      If North are committed to taking Tarryn Thomas then they may as well trade their first pick prior to the draft. Bring in Polec or a 2019 first rounder.

    • August 11th 2018 @ 11:36am
      Chris said | August 11th 2018 @ 11:36am | ! Report

      Mr Elliott ought to proofread his articles before releasing them. Moreover, thinking more profoundly before making outlandish and ridiculous statements would enhance the standard of journalism on this webpage.. Appalling in a nutshell. An absolute fiasco!

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