A superior draft system

By Peter Zitterschlager

Recently, under the auspices of a … ahem … sports company I formed, I proposed a draft system to the AFL. The system was developed by my associate (with enhancements by myself), and believing we had a winner, we were confident the AFL would be interested. Unfortunately, after repeated efforts to catch their ear, we never heard back from them. Was it because it wasn’t as fabulous as we thought? Hmmm, you decide?

The proposal

Dear ……

It is with great excitement that we propose a new draft system for your organization. As we will demonstrate, it is system which is clearly more effective than your current model – the key feature being that it will never interfere with a team’s incentive to win.

These are the benefits we are sure it will deliver:

* It will create an environment which will never interfere with a team’s incentive to win

*It will eliminate the perception that teams have a reason to tank.

*It will allow teams to play junk games without distraction.

*It will subdue cynical media coverage about draft system machinations.

*It will strengthen the integrity of the AFL brand.

1. Why the current system is flawed

By also evaluating a team’s performance in games where it is out of finals contention, the current system creates situations where losing could be seen to be more beneficial than winning. Under this approach, a team which has missed the finals plays out its last few games knowing that if they win, they have something to lose. i.e. the higher order of a draft pick. This is undoubtedly a flaw. Needless to say, a perception has now arisen that teams approach this period of the season with draft picks as a distraction, and as a consequence, there have been instances where the integrity of these games has been questioned. Inarguably and quantifiably, this has been damaging to your brand.

2. The proposed system

The system we are proposing will create an environment which will never interfere with a team’s incentive to win. It will do this by concentrating on the games when a team was in finals contention, and in the case of the later (games where they were not in finals contention,) it will empower them to play undistracted.

2.1    How it works

Unlike like many complex sporting systems, such as Duckworth-Lewis etc, ours is pleasingly accessible.

Here it is in a nutshell:

Once it becomes mathematically impossible for a team to make the finals they qualify for a draft pick: it’s as simple as that. The first team that is unable to do so gets the first pick, the second team that is unable to do so the second pick, and so on.

Using the 2011 season as an example, Port Adelaide were the first team out of finals contention. This occurred upon the completion of round 17. Under our system, they would have been allocated the number 1 draft pick. The next team out of finals contention was Brisbane, which occurred upon the completion of round 18. Under our system, they would have been allocated the number 2 pick. Following them was Gold Coast in round 19, and then Adelaide in round 21. Brisbane would be allocated the number 3 pick and Adelaide the number 4. And so it would continue.

Note: In a scenario where 2 teams go out of contention in the same round, we propose that their ladder positions at this point would determine their order. This seemed a simple enough approach to the situation.

2.2    The rationale

The key feature of our system is that it shifts the focus on draft picks to a point of the season where a team can still achieve its primary objective. By doing this, our system creates an environment in which a team which might be distracted by draft picks would do so while still in finals contention. In a situation like this, you’d expect that the team would invariably recognize that qualifying for the finals is their primary objective and that their order in the draft is a secondary consideration. Assuming that this is a given, the team could then be expected to play with a singular focus while they can still qualify. At the point that they can’t, they would thereupon know their order in the draft, and this out of the way, they could then play the remainder of the season without distraction. In short, unlike under the current model, at no point would there be a situation where losing could be seen to be more beneficial than winning.

2.3    Example

Let’s walk through a typical scenario in our model; say a team which was most likely to be distracted by draft picks. You’d expect a team like this would have had a very poor start to the season and might have one eye on their draft pick at around round 10. The team might have a 1-9 record and believe that in all likelihood, they have no chance of making the finals; and in reality, they are of course right. But being that the case, the fact would nevertheless remain: they are still a mathematical chance of qualifying. While they are, the team would realize that to be distracted by draft picks at this juncture would be tantamount to giving up. Indubitably, this would be defeatist attitude that you’d expect would be alien to even the most flawed of club psychologies. For a team to do so would be like throwing in the towel at half time because they were 10 goals down. Under reasonable circumstances, you could realistically expect it just wouldn’t happen. Still, what if it happened? Well, we are confident that you would agree that this would be a flaw in that club’s culture and something out of the models control. The model recognized that their primary objective was still a possibility and that draft picks should have been a secondary consideration. A team which reasoned otherwise would have to have had an irregular logic. It would be a team that rejected the maxim, ‘Where there’s life, there’s hope’. Again, under reasonable circumstances, it just wouldn’t happen.

2.4    The period after the draft pick is allocated.

It is at the point that a team is out of finals contention that the true beauty of our system kicks in (and dare we say where the problems with the current system begin.) At this juncture, a team will already know its order in draft and can play thereafter without distraction. Indeed, a team from here on will be liberated to focus on everything other than the machinations of the draft. One benefit of this would be that they would be able to experiment with their players during this period without concerning themselves with cynical media speculation about their motives. (Is this not the most scandalous problem under the current model?) Another benefit would be that they would be empowered to play in an undistracted and wholehearted way seeing that winning from here would never mean having something to lose. (Is this not another problem?) In short, under our model, teams will be freed to concentrate on all the aspects they should be concentrating on, which, disconcertingly, under the current model, they can’t.

3. The provision for priority picks.

 Our system also has a provision for priority picks like the current model, and just like it, it is formulated to recognize a prolonged period of uncompetitiveness.

3.1  How it works

Like the model in part 2, once it becomes mathematically impossible for a team to make the finals, the determination about whether they are eligible for a priority pick will come into play.

Our model (and we concede this is arbitrary) is based on a number of benchmarks. They are as follows:

3.1 Priority picks before the first round

 * Criteria 1. To qualify for a priority pick before the first round, you must first have been a team which was highly uncompetitive the previous season. The benchmark for this would be that you had less than X premiership points at the point that you were out of finals contention.

* Criteria 2. If you meet criteria 1, and have less than X premiership points at the point that you are out of finals contention, you receive a priority pick before the first round.

3.2  Priority picks after round 1

* If you have less than X points at the point that you are out of finals contention, you receive a priority pick after the first round. (Note: this will not apply if you met the criteria in 3.1, in which case you received a pick before the first round.)

3.3 Rationale

Unquestionably, the provision for the priority pick has been the most problematic aspect under the current model. Because attaining an extra draft pick is clearly a beneficial scenario, it more than anything acts as a distraction to struggling teams. In our model, however, this problem is remedied.

Under our proposal, the provision for priority picks will work similarly to our standard draft pick model. At the point that a team is out of finals contention, the determination about their competitiveness comes into play. This again will empower them to play thereafter without distraction.

To be eligible for a priority pick before the first round, a team would first need to have been uncompetitive in the previous season. The benchmark for this would be that it had less than X premiership points when out of finals contention that season. If the team then again underperformed to the a level where it had less then X premiership points when out of finals contention, it would be granted a priority pick before the first round.

The beauty of this approach is that again, like our model in part 2, at no point does it interfere with the incentive to win. The model evaluates a team’s performance while they were qualifying for the finals, and therefore, the distraction of an extra draft pick would naturally be a secondary consideration. As we illustrated in 2.3 of this proposal, for a team to reason otherwise would be as vexing as it would be irregular. As also touched upon, it would be a team that rejected the maxim, ‘where there’s life, there’s hope.’ Again, in a professional sports environment, it is a psychology that you just don’t expect you’ll encounter.

4. Why our system is the more effective model.

The following points succinctly illustrate why our system is the more effective model.

4.1 During the period when a team was still in finals contention.

* By determining draft picks at the end of the period where a team was in finals contention, our system evaluates that team’s performance when it was critical. We feel that this is an exceptional feature of our model given that there is parity during this stanza: it being, every team played with a pure incentive.

4.2 During the period when a team was not in finals contention.

* By excluding the period of a season where a team was out of finals contention, our model recognizes that to do so is problematic. Once a team can not longer make the finals, its plays with secondary motivation (pride, honor, the development of team spirit), and though important inducements, they are of course not as strong as the one to qualify for the finals. To then dangle the draft pick carrot during this stanza is to throw a spanner in the works. Again, as important as pride and team spirit are, they could understandably play second fiddle to the magnetism of a high pick – this we’ll assume you’ll concede is a given. Our point made, and having recognized this, we have developed our model so as not interfere with a team’s psyche in this way. By doing so, we empower teams to play out these games without distraction, and more importantly, we empower them to play wholeheartedly, which is a real fillip, especially considering that they participate in games through this period which shape the eight.

5. Some questions you might have.

The following Q & A format touches upon some criticisms we have anticipated:

Question 1: You say that your system will never create a situation where a team is distracted by draft picks, but what about the period when they are almost out of finals contention. Won’t they be distracted then?

Our answer is that while there is still a mathematical possibility of making the finals, that team should view that as an incentive to win. Whether they will or not is to do with their own psychology and something out of the model’s control. In the case that they don’t then we feel it is cultural problem for that team and not a flaw in the model. In short, the model recognizes that where there is life there is hope, and we feel this is a healthy rationale.

Question 2:  I feel that your model has a parity problem. If you’re giving out high draft picks as early as rounds 13, 14, 15, you’ll be doing so before teams have even played each other once. Won’t this disadvantage some teams?

Our answer: is there parity in a 22 round season? No there is not. Indeed, there is so little parity, that teams only play 5 of the other competitors twice. We feel the only way you could make a criticism like that stick is if the AFL had a 17 round or 34 round season. (Note: as for giving out draft picks at round 13, this would be highly exceptional. That team would have had a 0-13 record at that point. On average it would usually begin around 15 / 16.)

Question 3: I know it’s highly unlikely, if not unfathomable, but do you realize that under your model, a team which came 9th could get the number 1 draft pick? And if that wasn’t enough, they could also get a priority pick?

Our answer is, yes, we do realize this, but we can assure you that – as you put it – ‘it is unlikely, if not unfathomable.’ Just for the record, for something like this to happen, a woefully uncompetitive team would have won all its remaining games, while at the same time, an astounding sequence of upsets would have also taken place. Again – as you put it – ‘it is highly unlikely, if not unfathomable.’ In any case, let’s say it did happen and you’d like it quantified. Well, we feel it is a quirk worth wearing once every millennium or so, especially when you consider the alternatives. And furthermore, it’s a healthy quirk, don’t you think; almost a feel good story? (Imagine the buoyant look on that teams supporters faces, especially considering that they’d endured a horror start to the season.) That explained, let’s examine a less dramatic scenario, shall we, one which might very well happen; like if that team ended up around 15th. In this scenario, we don’t feel that it is particularly concerning. The team finished 4th last, so it is still deserving of a high pick, and just because it is a little higher than what it would currently be, it isn’t exactly alarming, is it? Besides, even if there is a small disparity there, it’s a small price to pay, don’t you think? Especially when you consider that it is offset by the many benefits our system brings.


  1. It shows merit Peter. Have you run models on a few seasons – say going back to 2000 – to compare the scenarios of your model and the AFL way of allocating draft order?

    And have you – can you – got a patent on it?

  2. Hi Wrap

    Yes, looked at how it would play out in the previous few seasons. There were no instances like Q3 in part 5 of the proposal. The team it made a difference to quite often was Richmond. They always seem to be a team that finishes strongly (after failing to qualify). Under our model they would have received higher picks than the ones they actually did. As for a patent. yes, my associate has done so.

  3. I see you were up at 6:10 this morning, Zitter. Working on your next AFL proposal?

    I like the system. Andy D should adopt it immediately.

  4. Tanking is not in the Tigers’ vocabulary. They’re not that smart, you know.

  5. Up 7.36 today Gigz

  6. Neil Belford says

    Nice work!

  7. Sal Ciardulli says

    Great work Peter – I suggested the same in my preview a couple of rounds ago, but without the extensive level of detail you have put into it. It is a simple manner in which remove the motives for poor performance – a superior system than the lottery being touted by media types who can only look to the US for inspiration.

  8. If you’re going to tank, you’re going to tank. If you’re team building you know before the season starts that you’re not playing finals that year. So, drop the first whatever it takes matches to get the # 1 draft pick and then crank the boys up to see what they can achieve.

    And yes, of course it’s a formulae for poor club morale, so you don’t have to tank – the players do it for you. Look, why are so many people getting so uptight about it. In a perfect world, you’d worry about it. Surely, In the real world, there’s more to worry about than someone at the bottom trying to give themselves a bit of a bunk up. In fact there’s plenty of reasons why they should be admired for working out an advantage based on obeying the rules.

    Come to think of it, you show me in the rules where it says you’re not allowed to cheat..

  9. Wrapster,

    they reckon we Cats tend to hog the blog but you always seem to bring the conversation back to a Tigers perspective. You have just done it again.

    You’re a naughty boy.

  10. Cone on Phanto, everyone knows the Almanac is a Sleepy Hollow Love In.

  11. Oops, that’s a typo there Phantom. It should read come on.

    Then again …….

  12. Cone Head!

    Speaking of Sleepy Hollow Love In’s I note sadly that Scott McKenzie died a few days ago. Abit of a one hit wonder but what a great one.

  13. Hey Sal,

    Thanks for your interest mate. Yes, I fully concur with your thoughts. The lottery system is just what it is: a lottery. As for the AFL’s current system, they just too proud to concede they’ve got a flawed one. A simple case of hubris, I think.

    As for our proposal, we pitched it too them earlier this year … probably ended up at the bottom of very crowded in-box. Oh well.

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