An AFL Lockout is the Only Answer

by Rohan Cooper


What is best for players is no longer what is best for the game. Players are increasingly choosing where they play and whom they play for. This isn’t free-agency. This is player entitlement gone mad.


We have players at the draft combine telling clubs that they will most likely return home (interstate) if a particular club drafts them.


We have first and second-year players telling clubs that they won’t re-sign their rookie contracts and thus must be traded (to the club of their choice, of course).


We have players threatening clubs that they will leave for nothing as free-agents and thus must be traded (to the club of their choice, of course).


The AFL cannot simply sit idle and allow this to continue. There is something fundamentally wrong with the system. If it’s not fixed, we might as well throw out the draft and throw out whatever equalisation measures that are in place. They’re not working. The inmates are running the asylum.


Those of you who are familiar with US sports would have heard the term ‘lockout’ before. League commissioners and/or owners have locked players out (not allowing players to train with their teams, cancelling games and suspending pay) in the past when collective bargaining agreements cannot be agreed upon with the players. I cannot see any AFL commissioner or club board member who truly believes that this past trade and free-agency period is good for the sport.


We hear from the AFL Players Association seemingly more often than our Prime Minister. They say that free-agency is a great thing, that the players deserve to choose their own workplace. They want players to hit free-agency earlier, as soon as four years into a players career. They need not ask, players are already choosing where they play, even before they’re drafted.


So lock the players out. Take back the power. Tell them that they don’t have the right to choose where they play, certainly not at the age of a Tom Boyd (from this trade period) or a Jared Polec (from the year before).


If I were on the commission, I would not budge on the following:

  • Clubs gain the power to trade any player to any club.
  • Players who attempt to dictate where they do (or don’t) play to be de-registered for a minimum of one year (similar to the old draft tampering rules).


In return, players would:

  • Be given a three-year contract upon being drafted (up from two).
  • Have the option of then re-signing (with the club that drafted them) a one, two or three year contract.
  • At the expiration of that second contract, players become restricted free-agents (with their original clubs having final right of reply).
  • After six years, players can become unrestricted free-agents.


Note: A player who signed a three-year extension on his rookie contract would still become an unrestricted free-agent after year six.


There are winners all-round in this model. Clubs can take back autonomy and control over their list. Players hit (restricted) free-agency after year four (or five) and unrestricted free-agency (after year six) earlier.


If it takes a lockout to right the wrongs that are going on in our great game, then so be it. Better the short-term pain now than carrying on as this new entity, the Player Entitlement League.

Rohan Cooper’s writing can be found at


  1. ned_wilson says

    I understand the frustration, but The AFL has allowed free agency because it knows the players would have won a legal bid if and when it came.. You just can’t dictate what organisation someone must work for. Its either the current system (still a restraint of trade) or the whole system comes crashing down.

  2. Dave Brown says

    Good food for thought, Rohan. One of the reasons I think a lockout wouldn’t work is that not all clubs would support it. The powerful Victorian clubs are probably quite happy with free agency as it allows them to trade on their prestige to attract players they did not get through the draft. Doubt Hawthorn would be locking anyone out, particularly not Frawley, Lake, Gibson, Burgoyne etc.

    Clubs no longer have any sense of loyalty to specific players (if they ever did) so I’m not sure it’s reasonable to expect any loyalty to flow the other way.

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says

    I like your idea but in reality , Ned and Dave ( above ) are both totally correct

  4. Thanks for the read. I know it seems a radical concept but it’s worked successfully in leagues far bigger than ours. I think if players were ‘ordering’ their departure from Victorian clubs like they are at GWS, people would treat this situation differently. How is it just what Tom Boyd did, for example? What is a contract worth now? Many leagues worldwide operate trading mechanisms without requiring player permission. There has to be give and take on both sides; if players want earlier access to free-agency, they have to make sacrifices too.

  5. Rohan
    One of my concerns is that the AFLPA has signalled it will be pushing for a bigger slice of the pie come the next broadcast rights deal. Meanwhile, most of the Melbourne clubs are, for all intents and purposes, insolvent!

  6. As fans of the game, this can cause a conflict – are the players servants of the game, and to the public? Or are they employees of clubs (administered by the league” looking out for their interests?

    Given the average senior AFL player career is only 5-6 years, and full-on professionalism is expected, my initial reaction is more power to the players for extracting what they can from the system, given the punishment their bodies are put through.

    The AFLPA should be pushing harder on the concussion and other post-career legacy issues of players, as an aside.

    In a manager-employee relationship, the standing of the game is the responsibility of the AFL and clubs to create excellent workplaces (i.e. clubs, games) where their employees (players) feel welcomed, included and part of something.

  7. Smokie I worry about that too. There are half a dozen clubs, maybe more, who look like they’ll stay in their current state for the foreseeable future, whilst others prosper. It’s a very tricky stage. I’ve got part one of a longer piece focusing on the AFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement written, part 2 on the way. This next agreement is so important.

    GeordieM you raise some good points. I’m particularly interested in the post-career points you touched on. If you look at what the NFL is going through re: concussion is a huge eye-opener.

  8. E.regnans says

    Interesting post and thread, Rohan/TwentyThree,
    It seems that this whole club/ employer/ trade/ workplace angle has kind of occurred by gradual stealth, and is now a minefield of precedent, handshakes, deals and bandaids.
    And I do like the idea that a contract must be honoured.
    But I think as a player, I would feel threatened if I was obliged to spend three years at the one club. What if I clashed with others at the club? I think any employee in any industry may feel that way.
    Players (i.e. people) need to be at their club (i.e. employer) by choice. I can’t imagine that enforcing players to remain at a club against their will would be to anyone’s advantage.
    “Playing dead,” being a destabilising influence, deliberately assisting a competitor could all occur pretty easily.

  9. Thanks for the read and comment E.regnans. I think the poignant phrase is;
    ‘a contract must be honoured.’
    That is not happening and that is our problem.

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