“Depends what the people want…”
Does the AFL know what it is doing with the draft anymore? Is it a redistributive tool or a vessel for romanticism and ‘great stories’?
This week we heard the AFL is considering granting South Australian and West Australian clubs greater access to Indigenous draft prospects under its Next Generation Academy model.
Over the last 15 years the AFL has made efforts to ensure that players selected under the father-son rule are drafted closer to their true draft position and to minimise the advantage certain clubs get from having past players sire sons.
But at the same time they have created the academies for the teams in the northern states and granted them similar access. Then, to try and even things up, they created the Next Generation Academy model for the remaining 14 clubs to access Indigenous players and players from ‘multicultural’ backgrounds.
When the then VFL introduced the draft in 1986 it was trying to end the hegemony the larger and more successful clubs had on recruiting talent, especially from outside Victoria as the VFL cemented its position as the preeminent competition for Australian Rules football. It then ended the zoning system and replaced the under-19s competition with an under-18s competition with clubs created solely for underage football. This was supposed to level the playing field, and once other changes in the now AFL were bedded down – in particular the formation of new clubs and the demise of Fitzroy – between 2000-09 every club played in at least one preliminary final.
With the introduction of the Gold Coast Suns and the Greater Western Sydney Giants, along with the other changes listed above, the draft is simply not acting as the redistributive tool it did successfully for almost 20 years.
I’ve long advocated for the scrapping of the father-son rule, a quaint localised anachronism that only exists in the AFL that is based solely on a past player’s ability to sire male children who become good footballers. To put it bluntly, Tom Hawkins should have been drafted by Carlton and Jack Daniher by GWS.
But the father-son rule had little effect on the redistributive objectives of the draft – although it did have a significant contribution to at least Geelong’s three premierships – and has wide support from a footballing public who have seen the game change recently much more than they would like. And the new points system negates any detrimental effect the father-son rule has on the draft even further.
But the academies, both for the clubs in the northern states and their makeweight counterparts for the other clubs, are an abomination and tear at the fabric of a competition in which, between 2011 and 2018, Brisbane, Carlton, Essendon, Gold Coast and St Kilda did not play in a preliminary final, with only Brisbane any chance of doing so this year.
If the AFL were serious about equity of opportunity as a primary objective, they would have removed any special access any club had to any underage player entering the draft. Gold Coast are probably about to finish last, so they’d get pick 1, and if the best player in the draft were an Indigenous player from Adelaide or the son of a Hawthorn 300 game player, they would still have unrestricted access to that player. This would be fair – and it would be transparent.