The Next Generation Academy system is one of the most contentious aspects of the modern AFL draft. Initially designed as a way to encourage people from non-footballing backgrounds towards Australian rules football, the program has been only somewhat successful.
Given the long and storied history of players like Tadhg Kennelly, Lin Jong, Bachar Houli and Adam Saad, it’s no wonder the AFL wants to encourage such mindful recruitment paradigms from its constituent clubs.
However, in light of the 2020 draft being resoundingly criticised as the most compromised draft in history – and rightfully so – the AFL needs to bring about reforms in an orderly and effective way that still acknowledge the intent to equalise the competition.
These are my ideas regarding how to fix the draft haul to ensure everyone gets a fair crack at the most talented players.
1. Reduce the discount on players
Under the current system clubs get a 20 per cent discount on the draft points total they need to match in order to acquire a player. Consequently, that enables clubs to pool together useless picks, like the Swans did with Callum Mills or Isaac Heeney or Nick Blakey, to draft absolute guns they otherwise would not have access to.
My solution to this is to either remove the discount altogether or halve the discount of points such that it decreases the draft points total by only 10 per cent.
For example, an enterprising club seeking a quick rush up the ladder drafts Jamarra Ugle-Hagan at pick 1. Instead of the Bulldogs needing to match 3000 points, with 600 points for the discount they’d need to match 2700 points. That’s a 300-point difference, the equivalent to a mid-third-round pick, which forces clubs to think twice about matching those bids when they might have otherwise gone for them.
2. Allowing bids in the first and second rounds only from clubs that have not won a premiership in the preceding ten years
The more libertarian of those among you might say this is punishing success, to which I would respond: Isn’t that the purpose of the draft being matched in reverse ladder order? The AFL has brought up removing bids from the first two rounds altogether; this is fine but should be limited to clubs that have experienced success to truly equalise the competition.
So the Western Bulldogs, who won in 2016, would be unable to match a bid on Ugle-Hagan if he were picked in the first two rounds.
3. Give opposing clubs the opportunity to outbid the other club on academy player
The Next Generation Academy gives clubs the right to match an offer. I believe giving the club the right to outbid the NGA club is a viable option but should be limited to a couple of rounds of bidding, and if a deal cannot be reached, the pick defaults to the club that initially trained them through their NGA.
4. Extend rookie draft contract to three years, reduce free agency to six years
The current contract for draftees is two years, which has left clubs like Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney exposed when they have a bunch of players requesting trades home. They can resolve this with an extension of their rookie contract to three years, as it will allow them to truly see the development of a player and ensure they can grow with the club, hopefully encouraging them to stay.
However, the AFLPA will be frustrated with this, and so the AFL should lower the free agency requirements from eight years to six years. This will enable players to move throughout the league more easily and enable quick and effective trading of players.
This will create a more equitable distribution of talent throughout the AFL, ensuring all players are valued and supported at their given clubs.