AFL USA Combine – no thanks

Last week the AFL boarded the A380 and headed to Los Angeles for the AFL USA Combine, I’m pretty sure they could have got a better result if they jumped on a Crop Duster and flew to Horsham.

The USA combine essentially saw the AFL invite 26 US College Basketballers and Gridiron players aged 23-24 to undertake a series of tests to determine their ability to play AFL. The two top candidtates are then invited to the AFL Draft combine. Its sort of like Masterchef for guys who struggle with toast.

There appears to be a fascination at the AFL with all things American.

Apparently the Combine identified ‘super athletes’ who can jump higher than Nic Nat and would dazzle us simple Aussie folk with their athleticism. My favourite player of all time was a skinny mulleted plumber from Wagga who wore number 14 for the Swans.

Mr Demetriou what are you trying to achieve with this and at what cost?

Is it part of a grand plan for the AFL to take over the world and get NBC to replace the Superbowl with a live feed of GWS vs Port Adelaide from Manuka?

Perhaps you think millions of Australians will be captivated by the story of some bloke who avaraged 4.6 points a game for the University of Michigan have a crack at the AFL?

In my humble opinion trying to expand the game to all corners of the globe and recruit a united nations half forward line for every team achieves little.

From the plus side there may be a slight increase in global television audiences which may translate into extra revenue, some media interest in successful foreign imports and some small scale local competitions popping up internationally (many already exist).

For every international import that means a young Australian misses out on an opportunity. Can the AFL say hand on heart that it has ‘mined’ every part of Australia to search for talent? And what about the great stories of blokes like JPOD who get plucked from lower levels in later life to play AFL, how many like him may miss out on a spot?

Mike Pyke is a good success story and as a Swans fan I’ve been made to eat humble pie over his fantastic development this year. No fancy Combine for Mike, he just showed initiative a sent a tape of himself playing rugby to the Swans. As good as Mike has been though what has it actually done for the Game? Has it drawn extra people through the gates? led to TV revenue from Canada?

There have been great Irish players over the years like Stynes, Kennelly and so on. They have brought fans through the gate and been good for promotion, however, they are very much the exception to the rule and for the large part I would argue the ‘Irish experiement’ has not had a major impact on our game… It certainly has not helped Stevie Js kicking

It was not long ago the AFL thought South Africa was the promised land. Unless Dale Steyn takes up a guest sport for Carlton during his trip to Australia later this year I’m pretty sure we won’t be seeing anything out of SA for a while.

Aussie Rules is Australia’s National Game and we should be proud of this, we did not import it (like cricket, rugby etc) nor do need to force it down the throat of every Country from here to Zambia.

I know its not sexy but how about we narrow our focus to Australia before taking over the world.

About craig dodson

Born in the sporting mecca that is Wagga Wagga and now reside in Melbourne with my lovelly wife Sophie and son's Jack and Harry. Passionate Swans supporter and formally played cricket at a decent level and Aussie Rules at a not so decent level! Spend my days now perfecting my slice on the golf course and the owner of the worlds worst second serve on the tennis course.


  1. I second the motion.
    Great stuff!

  2. Andrew Fithall says

    Craig – I take the opposite view. Increasing the pool of potential talent is worthwhile. With the increase in size of the AFL competition, I think we have already seen the effect of the dilution of the standard of player currently “making the grade”. This process you talk about in your article is not going to have any significant impact on the exposure Aussie rules gets in the US, but it will have a marginal impact. And that is all that is necessary.

    I don’t know the US very well, but my understanding is that there isn’t the equivalent of our local suburban and country leagues in their major sports. Unless you play as a professional, you don’t play. Basketballers who don’t quite make it go to Europe or Australia. I don’t know where their footballers go. Why not have Australian rules as an option for them?

    American Shae McNamara has spent the last couple of years on the Collingwood list. He took the initiative and put himself in front of the club. Was given the opportunity, didn’t make it, and has now been de-listed. He gave it a go. Maybe if he had been just one of a pool of candidates going through a selection process, a potentially better prospect may have been identified, and that person may now have been getting a game.


  3. Andrew Starkie says

    With you Craig

  4. craig dodson says

    Take on board your comments AF but we may just have to agree to disagree on this one. I’m all for guys like Pyke and McNamara rolling up their sleeves and showing initiative to have a crack, to me that shows they have a real desire to tackle our game. My main issue is with the AFL spending money and resources on targeting international athletes when I think that money can be better spent on home grown talent

  5. I love footy. I consider myself extremely lucky to be a kid who grew up in rural Australia where footy was my life. I loved it so much that I really want all kids around the world to have the opportunity to try our game – and if they like it – to be able to continue to play it (and if they don’t fine just the same).

    Footy is played overseas by both expats and foreign nationals in growing numbers – and most who try it love it just like I did as a kid. This combine is just one further step in the AFL coming around to the idea the appetite for footy overseas is growing and they are getting on board. I hope that this is one of the initiatives that ultimately helps more people around the world to access our game.

    I could bang on about this topic all day, but I will just put this forward for thought. Given that most people in the world are outside Australia and never play our game – the person with the potential to be the best ever Australian footballer is also likely to be outside Australia. Are you so xenophobic that you would deny your club or the game of the best ever player to play the game?

    I don’t beleive in forcing the game on anyone, but I do beleive in providing the opportunity if we can.

  6. craig dodson says

    Troy I find it pretty offensive to be called xenophopic, i never said athletes from outside Aus should not be allowed into the game, i think guys like pyke who show the initiative to do it themselves is great. For me its a matter of where the AFL is spending its resources, there are country footy clubs on life support that need support and and many other liam jurrahs that can be found out there. The AFL should be spending funds on that rather than talent searches in the us..

  7. Andrew Fithall says

    Craig – I don’t think Troy was making a personal attack. I agree with him on the approach the AFL is taking. At the risk of politicising the traditionally non-political Almanac site, the argument against the overseas Aussie rules development is similar to the argument that we shouldn’t contribute to overseas aid because not everyone in Australia is well-off. Using that rationale we would never contribute anything to overseas aid because there will always be someone who could be better off if the money was spent in Australia. Local football development could always use more money. If you waited until everything was perfect, the wait would be literally, an eternity. In the scheme of things, the amount being spent on the overseas talent identification project, at a unit cost level, is probably greater than the cost of identifying and developing a local talent – that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile.

    My daughters play lacrosse locally. In the US, lacrosse is the fastest growing participation sport in the country. I would love it if the US lacrosse, which is the best performed lacrosse nation, spent some money in Australia with the outcome being an increased profile of the sport in this country. I am sure there are people in the US who think the same way about Australian Rules.


  8. Sorry Craig I was not suggesting personally that you were xenophobic, but was suggesting there are footy xenophobes that hold the “Aussie rules for aussies in Australia” only attitude – and for them to just think whether that really is a reasonable attitude or whether we can all benefit by being open to the world. I apologise if my words pointed at you rather than more generally as it was intended.

    Most footy initiatives overseas have been developed from a grass roots level and have traditionally received no (or little) AFL funding (and personally I think this is the most sustainable model to be self supporting wherever you are in the world). They are however a part of the game that the AFL is the keeper of code for and have some responsibility to support them. To which they now do to a very limited level by providing some development pathways and things like these combines that in the short term perhaps do much more for the AFL than for the countries involved (there are chicken and egg arguments to be made here). A footy club started anywhere else in the world is probably just as important as one started in Australia in my opinion.

    The AFL clearly does have expansion ambitions and you might not understand the drivers and the strategies and should always be able to question them. But in the scheme of things the money spent from the overall AFL budget is a very small investment in a game that moved outside the borders some time ago.

    Australian football is still a very small player in a big world, but lets embrace those around it that see the beauty in our game as we do. And if we invest a little in it we may also see some returns some day.

  9. I live in Canada, and over here, no-one’s heard of Mike Pyke. And yet there is an interest in the game, bred on late night coverage from the 80s and 90s. It’s seen as gladiatorial, tough and probably something that the locals would never get an opoprtunity to be involved in. However the talent pool in North America is enormous. My son played High School football, and the coach made this long passionate speech about their last game being the last game of football all the Grade 12 kids would ever play. Grade 12 was when I started playing local footy, once school footy was finished. For people over here, they’ve got nothing once High School or if they’re good engouh, College, is finished. And some of the blokes who miss out are seriously talented athletes.
    As far as chipping in a few thousand to send Woodsy and Tadgh over to LA with some balls and a Vertec I can’t see a problem. It’s less of a junket than their Irish Rules farce, and might actually find one of those great Jimmy Stynes type stories we’ve only seen once since the original.
    These blokes will get offered a spot on an expanded Rookie List, so no JPods or similar will miss out on their opportunity, until they prove themselves as better than the local talent.
    And realistically, spending the same money in a place like Western Sydney or Western Queensland might find less interested able athletes than LA or Vancouver.

  10. craig dodson says

    no probs troy, appreciate your perspective and opinion. Rob thanks for sharing an international perspective as well.

  11. All good stuff. I’m for sharing Our Great Game with the rest of the World. It already has followings in many countries – witness the International Cup. Several ways of promoting The Game would surely be to make more of a fuss about those international teams when they’re playing here. Like publishing the fixture in the press. Like holding it during the byes. Like making entry to the matches a gold coin – or even free. Free certainly for any school kids. Like billeting out the players amongst volunteer Footy Fans.

    And I don’t feel recruiting players from OS through a Combine – whatever that means – is going to make the slightest scrap of difference. Why not contact the various international leagues and send a delegation over to meet with their administrations to find out what the troops on the ground feel would help promote The Game.

    Furthermore, OS players have demonstrated that if they want to play they’ll find their own way here. Why wouldn’t you identify sites at which sports people surf, in say North America, and slip in a few well-chosen clips about Aussie Rules while at the same time suggesting that there’s plenty of opportunities to play the game, if you’re good enough – see contact details below. It’s a lot cheaper than business class airtix to the US with a fortnight of 5-star accommodation, and a lot more bang for the buck.

  12. Coming from Canada, Pyke isn’t a known name; rugby is not a big sport in Canada; the only time people (outside of the small following) even know rugby exists is during the Rugby World Cup. In fact, I do follow AFL, and the following here is small, but I have seen a small steady increase the past few years; one of our sports networks shows a game each week, albeit, most games are shown during the overnight and very few get replayed during the daytime hours. Back to Pyke for a second, I didn’t even know there was a Canadian in the AFL until last year (Pyke), so I doubt many people knew about his landing with Sydney (I am a St. Kilda follower).

    Should point out (you didn’t mention, maybe you haven’t heard of him yet), but Sydney was the first to sign an American basketball player, Alex Starling from Bethune Cookman, which is better known for its academics.

    I’ll argue there are many athletes here that have all the physical tools to be better than the average AFLer, but right now, the AFL will never get them because the compensation they’d get for the opportunity to move is too low, and they are way to elite at their other sport to give up on it to try something else to have a chance at ultimately making less than their sport pays

  13. I’m a unabashed fan of promoting our game beyond our own shore, and I hope the AFL can seize the opportunity presented by Pyke’s success with the Swans.

    The Canadians have a great tradition under which the winners of the NHL have a period over the off-season where each member of the team gets to take the Stanley Cup trophy to their home town for a day each (the NHL has a lot more teams in the US, but the majority of the players are Canadians, so this becomes a massive deal in small towns over Canada).

    Would love to see the AFL and the Swans let Pyke take the cup home, and have his big day in our hometown over the summer break.

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