I’m excited, and it's not for finals. The AFL draft is just around the corner, allowing AFL clubs to add new talent to their lists. The ultimate equalisation measure, the teams get draft picks allocated in reverse ladder order, with bottom teams getting the highest draft picks, and access to the nations most gifted young players, setting these clubs up to move back up the ladder. My Sydney, Geelong and Hawthorn friends have finals fever (and a bit of a head wobble), while my Essendon, Brisbane and Fremantle supporting friends are already planning and plotting their Off-Season moves to get back up the ladder, starting with some elite junior talent from the draft. Surely they'll be back in the Top 8 in no time. This all sounds great plan for equality, right?
Unfortunately, reality sets in, and it’s not all great (that's putting it nicely). A quick look under the hood shows that the current AFL drafting system just doesn’t help the bottom sides get to the top. Only 8 AFL teams have contested a Grand Final since 2002. 8! To put that in context, that’s 14 AFL drafts totalling almost 1000 new players to equalise the competition, 11 start of first round priority picks to assist clubs that are really struggling, over 2500 matches, 15 Grand Finals (one drawn), yet only 8 , 8 teams have contested these Grand Finals.
Further to this, one of Hawthorn, Geelong and Sydney (power clubs in this era) have contested in 10 of the last 11 Grand Finals. And with those three clubs making up the top 3 this year, it seems this trend is set to continue.
But still no Sydney vs Geelong Grand Final - maybe we'll be lucky this year with those two finishing 1st and 2nd on the ladder.
The draft system is not achieving it's goal of equality, and it needs a reboot to accomplish the goals that it set out to achieve. And not a Windows 95 style reboot (long and arduous), but the development of a drafting system that will allow for rapid rebuilding. Here's one way that could be achieved. The AFL should award all ten teams outside of the Top 8 with an extra selection before the first round. The 10 draft selections would be entered into a lottery style similar to that of the NBA, which is weighted so that the team with the worst record, has the best chance to obtain a higher draft pick. After the 'Lottery Round', the First Round would begin from Pick 11 in reverse ladder order (the bottom team (18th) would receive Pick 11 - regardless of lottery position, the team finishing 8th after finals would receive Pick 21 as their first draft selection).
Solved! This system would speed up rebuilds, both by doubling the injection of quality draft picks to the clubs missing finals, and by pushing the Top 8 clubs down the draft order. It would rule out the need for priority picks, which should surely rule out tanking once and for all, as surely no team would tank to miss finals and get lottery pick, and finishing lower would only increase your lottery chances, not guarantee you a better selection. It also protects the lowest finishing sides from a bad lottery outcome, as at worst, they receive Picks 10 and 11. And, as if all this wasn't enough, it would give the AFL another event to hold during the finals series to add some interest for those of us supporting sides not in finals, especially my Essendon, Brisbane and Fremantle supporting friends.
Top selections aren't everything, the clubs still need to make the most of these selections, and then develop these into AFL quality players in order to progress up the ladder. But greater access to the nation’s top new talents would certainly improve their chances of improving much more quickly.