Almanac Football: The Asterisk

Whatever happens from here, the 2020 AFL premiership is going to come with an asterisk next to it.  Most things in 2020 seem to come with asterisks actually.


What we don’t know yet is just what the heck that asterisk is going to mean for the AFL premiers (assuming we get that far, which also comes with an asterisk and several pages of footnotes).  Arguably this premiership could feel a little ‘less’ than a normal premiership, like it was won under unusual circumstances, and that asterisk may mean that for some people that it doesn’t quite really count.  On the other hand, that asterisk may well mean that this premiership should count double, that this was the hardest ever flag to win.


Already we’ve seen so many things that would have been unthinkable for years.  Teams and families relocating and playing in hubs, teams packing up and moving states with no return date.  Games being cancelled and moved interstate has become perfectly normal.  4 day breaks.  Tuesday football.  Empty stadiums and faux crowd noise.  The scale of disruption compared to a normal season is completely unfathomable, but in 2020 nothing is unfathomable.


Reacting to circumstances of the day or the week has become what we do, and the players and their families have done an amazing job to put on any sort of season really – as well as the officials and administrators and everyone else involved.  The fact that the skills and scoring are starting to pick up is testament to the fact that teams are only just starting to adapt, and really only just getting to where pre-season should have them in terms of skills and game awareness.


There are legitimate arguments about whether sports should have been so fixated on ‘having a season’ at the outset, when the COVID-19 pandemic swept through our world.  But to be fair to them, every other industry tried equally desperately to stay alive, it was just that professional sport had to do all that in the public domain.  It was an impossible situation in many respects, and one that almost certainly is far from fully resolved.  Difficult choices likely remain, for everyone.


The question of that asterisk is not going to go away though, not unless the whole season does.  At one level it will be an easy argument to make that this premiership is diminished in value.  Shorter season, some teams getting unusual runs with the draw, and who knows where the GF might actually be played – it could well turn out to be a home GF for the premier yet, and that will rile many people.  The draw and the season certainly isn’t a level playing field this year, and a home GF would make that feel more asterisk-like again for some.  But then again, the season never really is fair anyway, so that’s not a great argument.  22 divided by 17 multiplied by how to maximise revenue from those bonus five games means there is always some level of distortion.  It is also very rare that at least one team doesn’t get a home GF, so we can pretty much put that to one side.


The argument that this is the hardest flag ever to win is also not perfectly straightforward.  Yes, it is stressful, but 2020 is stressful for everyone, and the stress is probably fairly equal across the teams.  For various reasons different teams will get harder or easier runs at different times.  Given the uncertainty, and the constant change though, it feels like that averages out in many respects.  By the end of the season it might be easy to see teams that have been advantaged or disadvantaged, but none are likely to have it completely easy.  And even if some of the non-Victorian teams end up with a preponderance of in-state games, it is unlikely to be substantively more than Victorian teams play in a typical year, as Victoria is effectively a hub pretty much every other year.


Which mid-season leaves us much like last season did.  I wrote after a few rounds last year that the rule changes were as though the AFL had hit the reset button on everyone’s game plans, but that in the end you’d expect the best teams to adapt best and rise to the top by the end of the season.  And they duly did.


The most likely scenario in 2020 is that, despite all the weirdness, over the course of the season, the best teams will once more rise to the top and fight out the finals.  One of those best teams will win the flag, and the asterisk that comes with it.  They will be immensely proud, and their fans will be sad to have to have a virtual celebration, but excited to have a winning team.  It will feel strangely normal I suspect.


In the end, what we each think that asterisk means will probably be different for each individual.  It will depend on who wins it, and what we think of that team.  It will depend on our own biases and assumptions.  One thing for sure though, is that no one is going to forget this season and whoever finally wins that asterisk any time soon.


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  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Interesting thoughts David. 2020, and probably 2021, we’ll look back perplexed by the happenings of the day and wonder why and how. I wonder how the pundits of the future will look back on the 2020 premiers, the way the season is going anyone could win it, and possibly a bolter.The constraints facing teams are incredible and I’m amazed they haven’t burnt out yet. It must be having some affect on performances and we are probably seeing that at the moment with the fluctuating fortunes of some teams.

  2. matt watson says

    David, good points!
    I am of the opinion that the asterisk will signal greatness.
    Whoever wins the premiership will deserve to be remembered as the club that overcame the pandemic, the hubs, the uncertainty and four day breaks to put it all together on grand final day.
    The asterisk will suit opposition fans.
    But no one will be able to deny the eventual premier has deserved it.
    Just like every other year.
    Cheers for your words!

  3. Agree with much of this, Dave. Well said.

  4. westcoastdave says

    @Matt Watson – as with most years, you can probably make a case for some teams that didn’t win it, that they were also worthy. But it is never the case that the premiers weren’t worthy, and I think that will certainly be the case this year!


    West Coast Dave

  5. Daryl Schramm says

    No need for an asterisk Dave. No-one will ever forget 2020.

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