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Fix AFL Player Movement Now

Trade news brings to light the flaws of the current AFL player movement system.

· Opinion

Jaeger O'Meara, 22, has requested a trade from the Gold Coast Suns, and has nominated his preferred destination as three-time reigning premier Hawthorn. Is this fair on the Suns? Does news like this make you angry? Should it? I think it should, but I'm not angry at O'Meara, I'm angry at the system.

How many times in the past few years have you read ‘Contracted Player X has requested a trade to Club Y ’ or ‘Youngster has formally requested a trade to his home state, and has nominated Club Z as his preferred destination' ? The answer is too many times to provide a fair list building system.

The current AFL player movement system is unfair, giving all the power to the players, and not allowing the clubs that are losing players (think Brisbane Lions, Gold Coast Suns) to seek fair compensation in order to build their list.

Under the current system, AFL draftees have the freedom to leave the club that drafted them after only two years, effectively walking to the club of their choosing, and the clubs losing the players can do nothing about it (think Aish). The same applies to players that are out of contract, but are yet to qualify for free agency (think O'Meara). Even if the clubs losing players could pick an opposition club to negotiate a trade with, all of the players involved in a trade have to agree to the deal, so trading a player for a player is usually too difficult. This leaves the clubs that are losing players negotiating for the only players that can’t disagree on a trade, those yet to be drafted, and so draft picks are typically exchanged for AFL ready players. And if this wasn’t unfair enough, because the player being exchanged for a pick can say no to being traded to anywhere other than their desired destination, they club losing the player can be held at ransom, accept a lesser pick than is fair, or get nothing if the player walks.

To recap, that’s ready-made players and developing AFL stars being traded, usually against the current club’s desires, for less than adequate compensation or no compensation at all. It breeds a system where clubs poach another club’s player away, and then hold them hostage to make a unfair deal or get nothing. You’d hate to be the club losing a player in these negotiations. The player movement system needs a revamp to allow clubs to trade any player to any destination, allowing for a free market to form in player movement, where a players’ trade and free agency value will be determined by what the highest bidding club will pay.

Now, at this stage you might be thinking what about the players? It’s not fair to be packing a life’s worth of gear, and moving across the country because a football club negotiates the best deal for itself. It’s not fair to have no ownership over the players’ own career destination. And under the current contracting and player movement system I agree. I’m not suggesting that the players should lose all rights; but I do think a new system could be structured that benefits both the players and the clubs. Here is how I would set up an equality based AFL Player Movement System:

  1. Double all players’ salaries (double salary cap, minimum contract value set to $150,000), with the new salary system based upon fixed % AFL revenue. In exchange, the AFL clubs own the player contracts, and players lose veto rights. If they want to trade a player, they can. If they don’t want to, they don’t have to.
  2. 4-year rookie contacts for top 20 selections (2 years, +1 year, +1 year club options)
  3. AFL players have restricted free agency rights when they enter the system. Restricted free agents have the right to move to a club of their choice,  but the current club can match an offer and re-contract the player. Unlike the current system, the player does not then have the right to refuse the contract and enter the draft.
  4. AFL players are entitled to unrestricted free agency after 6 years in the system, or over the age of 26. Unrestricted free agents can move to the club of their choice.
  5. No compensation for losing a player to free agency

The Suns wouldn’t have to trade O’Meara to Hawthorn. O’Meara would be a restricted free agent, and the Suns would have the right to match any deal offered to O’Meara. They could then trade him for full market value without the risk of him leaving for nothing. No need to feel bad for O’Meara, the doubled salary cap would see him earning in excess of $1,000,000 while staying at the Suns, and if he stayed for another 2 seasons, he’d be 24, and an unrestricted free agent, allowing him to move freely to the club of his choice.

The Lions would have been able to attract fair market value (maybe even some ready-made players) for Jared Polec, Elliot Yeo, Sam Docherty and Billy Longer, instead of the less than adequate draft picks they were held ransom to accepting. Staying on the Lions, James Aish couldn’t have walked out after 2 years, as the Lions would have a club-option on the top 20 draftee, which grants the original club the right to keep a player for another year.

Don’t be worried if a player on a minimum value contract moves states and clubs as part of a bigger deal (think Jack Crisp to Collingwood in the Dayne Beams trade), they are being paid minimum $150,000 a year for their troubles, having them earn as much as your average chief executives and managing directors.

The AFL and its fans need to come to terms with the new landscape of player movement, and embrace it fully. It would take some getting used to, but in the long run you would see happier players, and a much more equal completion. Clubs would have a fair chance to retain their players, or seek sufficient compensation, and all players would have the right to move clubs without being unfairly ridiculed (like O'Meara or Aish) for wanting to do so.

Share your experiences, frustrations and ideas on how to improve the current player movement system, or if you want to know how your club can make the most of the current player movement landscape, contact me at John@Lystics.com.

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