Thursday, May 01, 2008

A solution to the AFL's fixturing problems (Australian Football.)

Recently the AFL players association came up with a proposed solution to fixturing problems in the AFL. For the uninitiated, let me explain the problem. For a long time the VFL (Victorian Football League) was a 12 team competition. This worked out as a neat 22 round season; 11 home games and 11 away games. With an additional 4 weeks for the finals this made 26 weeks, which is exactly half a year, allowing the other 6 months for cricket. The draw was fair and everyone was happy.
The first expansion with the relocation of the South Melbourne Swans to Sydney in 1982 did not affect the draw, although Sydney began to play their games on Sundays, and the tradition of 6 games on a Saturday was over. In 1987, the VFL added West Coast Eagles (Perth) and Brisbane Bears, to make a 14 team competition. This did have an effect on the draw. To avoid stretching the draw to 26 weeks some teams were only played once. (13 teams twice and 9 once.)
Further expansions happened in 1991 with the addition of the Adelaide Crows; Fremantle Dockers in 1994; Port Adelaide Power in 1997. The merger of Fitzroy and Brisbane played as the Brisbane Lions in 1997, so the competition never grew larger than 16 teams.
The AFL now plan to add two more teams to the competition; Gold Coast in 2011 and Western Sydney in 2012, which will create an 18 team competition. The Players Association have complained that the current draw is already unfair. Some of the higher ranked teams end up playing lower ranked teams twice in the season, and effectively get a free win. The proposed solution from the Players Association is a 17 round competition, where each of the 18 teams play each other once. This is not realistic though, as the AFL will never agree to this. The AFL would be giving up TV revenue when the next contract is due.
There has been debate over the years about splitting the AFL into a two conference fixture. Many are against this, as the Melbourne teams (still 10) would have to be split in half and would play each other less often.
The simplest of solutions would be to recognise the inequality of the current draw and seek to rectify the problem. A win is currently worth 4 points, and a draw is worth 2 points. The solution could be to award only 2 points for a win to games against teams that are played twice in a season. This would mean such games are not "free kicks" to the top ranked teams.
A conference system could still work and is worth considering:

Western Conference:
West Coast
Port Adelaide
Western Bulldogs
North Melbourne

Eastern Conference:
St Kilda
Western Sydney
Gold Coast

In a conference system each team from the opposite conference would be played once, (9 games). A further 8 games against each team in the same conference would make 17 games. This would leave 5 to make up the 22 traditional rounds. The 5 additional games would be drawn randomly from the same conference, with the extra games only worth 2 points. It would be important to keep the conferences the same from year to year to keep the draw fair. Another step in keeping the draw fair would be take the top four teams from each conference to play in the finals series.

I appreciate that the Players Association would like to see equality in the draw. The above solution could see some equality. Discussions on the ABC "Offsiders" show recently suggested that if the AFL did not choose the proposed solution from the Players Association, that the AFL would not be interested in the quality of the game, but only in money. This is a little shortsighted of "Offsiders". They need to realise that the world of sport has changed for three decades now. Professional sport is about the money. The solutions to problems need to be found within the framework of profit making.

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