Three strikes and you’re out for Gazza?
As any football fan knows, there are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and the AFL implementing terrible solutions for problems that don’t exist.
This is a cliché but – as we experienced with the notorious sub rule – still a sad truth in the football world.
In its most recent episode, the AFL have decided to introduce a mid-season draft for the first time since 1993.
That’s right, we’re bringing back a something we saw as outdated in the ’90s.
That’s like if we decided mullets were cool again. Hipsters notwithstanding, we can all agree that humans as a species evolved past that.
Sadly, the AFL does not see it that way. Instead they’re bringing in the mid-season draft on May 27, just after the conclusion of Round 10.
Despite no other major sports league in the world having one, the AFL consider the mid-season draft to be exactly what this season needs.
This is in an attempt to reduce the impact of long-term injuries and sudden retirements in AFL.
For perspective, Tom Bugg is the most notable player to retire and leave his team short-handed. So it’s strange that the AFL saw it as an issue that needed resolution.
To be fair to the AFL, injuries are a part of football. Knee injuries can sideline a player for an entire season.
This year alone we’ve seen major players like Tom Mitchell, Alex Rance and Callan Ward end their seasons early.
While it’s a shame that injuries impact teams this way, that’s football. The season consists of 22 games – and up to four more in finals – of hard-fought collision sport.
It’s always disappointing when someone gets hurt, but the ability to stay healthy and manage injuries throughout the season is a component of judging the best club for the season.
While it can derail a team’s season, it’s a fact of life, and a risk that all teams face equally.
It’s no surprise the AFL are interfering without reasonable grounds, but this draft could have real consequences on the broader football community.
The AFL mid-season draft will be recruiting players from the state leagues – the top performers from the SANFL, VFL, WAFL and NEAFL.
These state leagues struggle in the shadow of the AFL, as well as decisions by the national governing body.
Despite being reliant on the state leagues for recruitment and reserve competition, the AFL rarely considers them when making a decision, often making things harder.
This draft will only worsen the problem.
We will see some of the top players in these leagues – some of their few drawcards – taken away.
State league clubs have already stated their displeasure at the prospect of their players leaving in the middle of their season, for the purpose of what will likely be just playing in the same league for an AFL club’s reserves.
However, the biggest reason that this mid-season draft is a bad idea is simple: the talent is simply not there.
The AFL already has a national draft and a rookie draft to bring talented players into the league. Through these drafts, 118 players joined AFL clubs at the end of 2018.
That means any player available in the mid-season draft is, at best, the 119th best player available at the end of last year and was judged by all clubs as not worthy of a chance to compete in the AFL.
The logic just doesn’t hold up. In this mid-season draft we are giving Richmond the opportunity to replace the 2017 All-Australian captain with a player who, after five national draft rounds and four rookie draft rounds, all 18 clubs judged as not having a future in the AFL.
We’re expecting a player that could not attract a contract before the season to step in and fill a role that an existing player on the team’s 40-player list could not?
It’s just not realistic.
Instead we will see players leave their lower-league teams to train with an AFL club for five months before being released back into the state leagues.
Occasionally we will get a Cinderella story of a player who gets a contract extension or a second chance at his AFL dream, but more likely we will see the dissolution of top level talent in the already struggling state leagues.
As per usual, the AFL are meddling with the game without considering the ramifications of their actions.
The AFL are adding yet another convoluted layer to the game that was once easy to follow and it will be to its detriment.