Don’t punish Dees for Tanking Think Tank

It’s rare that I give a crap about footy outside the footy season, but this tanking crap that Melbourne are copping is really making me forget what ball I should be rubbing at this time of year. That’s the Kookaburra, the shiny, non-swinging one.

I don’t even like Melbourne. That’s not fair – I don’t care about Melbourne. Apart from my mate Nick who’s a member and who declined going on the board, and Jimmy Stynes, who I was lucky enough to meet once and interview. And, yes, Nick is and Jim would be shat off big time to learn their club made explicit what every other team does implicitly – don’t win towards the end of the year if there’s nothing to gain. Everyone sends blokes off for surgery, they try young blokes, move positions, etc. Melbourne were just politically stupid enough to hold a tanking think-tank to explain to everyone what they probably already did the year before anyway. And, of course, they got nothing out of all this, losing Scully to GWS, and now, as possible punishment, losing Viney’s kid to some club he won’t want to be at and that he’ll come home from as soon as he can.

I’ve gone off topic, sort of. The big problem with tanking is not the tank, but the elephant in the room that it’s shooting the head off: the AFL isn’t a real competition.

It’s the problem that everyone knows, but no one knows what to do about: we have a ‘competition’ that rewards mediocrity at the end of every season. Be crap enough and you’ll get good players next year. Isn’t that nice? I can see that working at my place – Hey, kids, muck around and be stupid and I’ll give you extra Christmas presents on Santa Day. Bewdy, Dad, here’s a pie in your face . . .

There are a few different ways to get around tanking. My favourite, so far, is that the bottom eight get the picks they should get, but they’re drawn from a barrel at the end of the year. That way they can’t muck around and expect Santa to be good. They might finish 16th and get number 4, 27 and 36. They might finish eighth and get 1, 45, and 121. Whatever. I don’t care. Numbers aren’t my thing. I leave that to Gigz and others. But we have to find a way to ensure tanking doesn’t happen, and it will continue to happen as long as there is no value in finishing 9th (go Tiges) compared to 18th.

All this sanctimonious posturing about Melbourne by Big Demmy and the AFL – and Caroline Wilson’s OMG, I’m aghast, front page Age revelations – is a patent deflective tactic to mask a defective system. Get it right and tanking disappears by itself. And if Melbourne get punished for being politically stupid and all the other cloak and dagger tankers mentioned in today’s Age, including my Blues, don’t cop a rap, then they should appeal it to the High Court. Basis? I leave that to the lawyers in our midst. But, frankly, it’s the constitution, it’s the vibe and it’s all created by not having a competition, but instead having a warm and fuzzy play environment that makes my local kindergarten look like the backstreets of Baltimore.


  1. Jeff Dowsing says

    Paul, I’ll see you and raise you a gerrymandered fixture again rewarding failure and punishing success (when a ‘competition’ would endeavour to achieve an even degree of difficulty across all clubs).

  2. Yep, Jeff. Definitely don’t want $ to rule, either, but there has to be an approach that can bring the elephant down to size

  3. Jeff Dowsing says

    The elephant is the competition. It’s too big to sustain without intervention. Problem is, more rules and more meddling just creates more issues – such as tanking.

    I’d be interested to know if there’s another professional football or other comp in the world where the governing body actually owns several clubs. The AFL has become truly bizarre.

    I wouldn’t worry too much Paul about the Dees’ punishment, they’re already on their knees. One of the cashed up clubs would be made an example of.

  4. BS. So your mates with a guy so close to melbourne that he was offered a place on the board. THAT SHOWS.

    How can you claim that everyone does tanking. SHAMEFUL

    Let me pull apart your casual attitude to tanking, and the accusation that other teams do it.

    ‘Everyone sends blokes off for surgery, they try young blokes, move positions’

    1. Sends blokes to surgery
    Yeah, at the end of the year, unless you are about to play finals footy, you send your injured players off for surgery to give them the best chance possible to be prepared for the next year.

    2. Try out young blokes
    Young blokes get tried out, all during the year, for lots of different reasons. Teams in the top half of the ladder gunning for finals spots will still play them.

    But the key is that they will do it in a careful and considered way, not all the time like melbourne, and you certainly dont take off your performing players for them like melbourne.

    3. Move positions
    There are position changes for sure in football, BUT you dont get your key position forward to play as an inside midfielder. And you dont get your 3rd string backline to play full forward. The FACT that the melbourne players themselves had to confront the club about how it was being played to tank in this way is undeniable.

    Melbourne should be ashamed, and they should be unable to gain draft picks this year or the next. And I would not allow them to receive any points next year to co-inside with no drafting at the end. It’s the only way they, or they players and members can possibly feel better anyway. Whilst they have nothing to gain, they would have nothing to loose, and can play their hearts out for a season of penance.

    THAT is how you stop more tanking.

  5. Andrew Fithall says

    I see Jeff Kennett is saying that Melbourne should be punished such that they spend the next few years in the football wilderness. What? Just more of the same?

    I cannot find anywhere in the rules of football where it says that you have to play to win. In horse racing it is quite explicit and there is punishment for a jockey who doesn’t give his mount the best opportunity. In football? What rule or law have Melbourne actually broken?

    I read your article Paul, having read the blurb on the home page. Daisy and Pendles? No mention at all in your article. It seems the prejudice of the Almanac web administrators (yes I am looking at you Cookie) knows no bounds.

  6. Mark Doyle says

    The AFL Commission should throw the book at the Melbourne Football Club for bringing the competition into disrepute and force the Melbourne board to sack incompetent administrators such as Cameron Schwab and Chris Connolly and ensure that they are never employed in the AFL industry.
    The fiasco of the garbage Melboune Football Club for the past 12-15 years is a history of bad management and poor decision making; they have sacked three coaches – Neil Balme, Neil Danaher and Dean Bailey; they have given away some of their better players to other clubs – Nathan Bassett, Jeff Farmer, Troy Simmonds, Shane Woewodin, Darren Jolly, Scott Thompson, Travis Johnston, James McDonald, Cameron Bruce, Tom Scully, Brent Moloney and Jared Rivers. It is interesting that two of these players were no. 1 draft selections. This record of giving away good players reminds me of another garbage club, Fitzroy, which also gave away their best players in the early 1990’s. Their worst decision was using the no. 1 draft selection for Jack Watts in lieu of Nick Natanui. This Jack Watts decision demonstrated a very conservative incompetent club which preferred a white upper middle class Anglican school educated bloke from Brighton in Melbourne in lieu of a black bloke from Perth with a Fijian background who is a much better footballer.
    People should understand that top 5 draft selections do not guarantee success. It is interesting that two of the most successful clubs of the past 15 years – Geelong and Sydney – have not had a top 5 draft selection. Both these clubs have been well managed and have made mostly good decisions for staff appointments such as administrators, coaches and players.

  7. Paul mitchell says

    Enjoying the comments, some of which I disagree with. As I said, I don’t care about Melbourne, which is worse, really, than hating a club. At least I care about who I hate. And Nick will tell you how much I don’t care about Melbourne. But I think the AFL has been right to stop clubs, including the Blues, from buying flags. Tanking, I think, is a rubbery term that has degrees, and Chris’s comments point those out. That’s why I think we can say that all clubs engage in ‘tanking’ in differing degrees. Melbourne, I maintain, just made it explicit – why wouldn’t any team play to lose when that is, effectively, the best way to win (i.e. to make finals and win flags)? In effect, they were being as competitive as they could be within the construct of a faulty competition.

  8. Peter Flynn says

    Do we really know why Scully left?

    The money helped.

    You mean we tanked to draft me and Trengove.

    I’m outta here.

    I’ve always been amazed at C Schwab’s ability to ‘stay in the caper’.

  9. Andrew F is right about the gratuitous comments in the intro about Collingwood which doesn’t come out of Paul’s article, Caroline Wilson was right when she drew a distinction between sending your players off for surgery before the end of the season and actively throwing a game by playing players out of position or interchanging them at key moments. Collingwood and West Coast can be accused of improving their draft position by allowing some of their players to finish the season early. Carlton and Melbourne threw games (not on the field, where I am sure their players were trying to win) but in the coach’s box where individuals where played out of position or taken from the field when they might have scored goals. This is more than bending the rules. It is cheating.


  10. All these ‘holier than thous’ who say their club didn’t tank and come up with convenient excuses expecting the world to believe are a bit sad really. ‘He had a tummy ache, mum said it was too wet to play……………..’ It really is becoming very tiresome.

    Remember when your kids would look you in the eyes and say it wasn’t me who ate the mulberries and threw the rest at the sheets on the clothes line when they stood in front of you with purple stain all over their faces, clothes and hands.

    We grown ups all know who tanked , in which years and who they got. It’s on the record. You don’t have to be Woodward and Bernstein to work it out.

    Come on guys no one is saying you are at fault just because your clubs have been involved in match fixing. I know it’s hard on you but you just have to accept it and move on.

  11. I’m with the phantom on this.

  12. Match fixing involves exactly that – manipulating the result of a specific game. As Caroline Wilson says in today’s AGE – “Putting players in for surgery once a season is lost is not match-fixing because everyone associated with the game knows the playing field they are watching, backing or barracking upon.”

    Read more:–awful-20121102-28ppz.html#ixzz2B74NDzbg

    You are welcome to take a holier than thou approach, Phantom,
    because your club succeeded without taking an advantage of a loophole in the system but don’t confuse taking a legitimate advantage with actual cheating.

    While you are at it please note that your club also takes advantage of the system.
    Geelong is the only club in the traditional AFL states (Vic, Tas,, SA, and WA) which still has a unique, unshared homeground. This is a result of geography and history and nothing to do with any virtuous actions of the GFC but it certainly gives the Cats a considerable advantage in the home and away games.

  13. Isn’t tanking vs match fixing splitting hairs? Btw, I’d be interested which team came out on top. Match fixing only matters to punters, surely, the betting dollar? The problem with the afl comes down to there being an advantage to clubs in losing. Take that away and away goes tanking. Melb pushed it too far but, instead of spanking them and being all outraged, now is the time for afl to say, ok, we got it wrong re allocating draft picks and now we are going to fix it – sorry, clubs, for putting you in the position where losing is winning

  14. You are right, Paul, that changing the system, rather than punishing the miscreants is the more desired outcome. Fixing the system is not necessarily all that simple. The AFL is committed to an even competition – rightly in my opinion. No-one really wants the European Soccer system where only a handful of very rich teams can ever win the competition. The AFL is convinced that the combination of the salary cap and the draft is responsible for equalizing the competition. The role of the salary cap is clear though it should possibly also include a cap for total coach’s salaries. The draft is more controversial. It is not as clear that high draft picks guarantee success – look at Melbourne – the irony about their match fixing is that it hasn’t lead to a move up the ladder and they have already lost Scully and been forced to draft two forwards from other clubs after Watts was supposed to be the new Jason Dunstall.

    I actually think some sort of zoning would be a better alternative. It would have to be somewhat different to the old VFL draft, which was in restraint of trade but it would be easy to modify to give first refusal to the players rather than treat zone players as property of the Club.

    Putting players in for surgery vs Match fixing is not just hair splitting. One is taking advantage of the system the other is cheating. One gives young players a chance to impress coaches and hold their place on the list, the other just demoralises players. I would be happy if we could eliminate both.

  15. Yeah, knew I’d be in the crosshairs about splitting. Perhaps some zoning, + lucky dip draft, caps on football depts – but then there’s still the issue of external sponsorships for players, clubs, etc. I agree that eveness is a great aim, but it just may not be possible because the afl faces the same battle that govs in capitalist countries face: producing social equity in a competitive culture. Well, the afl does see itself as a social leader ….

  16. Yes Paul , let’s get rid of the tanking label and go with match fixing. Stuff the semantics.

    I don’t think Geelong’s home ground has any thing to do with match fixing (either on the day or at the selection table five or six weeks out from the end of the season) Dave, but I can see why you would raise it I suppose as the Pies appear to have a bit of skin in the game. Anyway Collingwood get to play heaps more games each season at their home ground. Geelong appear to play all their home games against the Pies there. Perhaps you could bring the seething masses down the railway line this season.

    All other arguments may well have some credence (meaning it is not just Melbourne , Carlton and Collingwood who have undertaken match day strategies that will allow them to gain priority draft picks in premium drafts) but it appears that we have a situation of all the naughty children blaming each other outside the headmaster’s office.

    If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, quacks like a duck then it has just come out of the tank.

  17. Dave Nadel says

    Of course Geelong’s home ground advantage has nothing to do with match fixing but it is an advantage that comes out of the current system. Collingwood may play more games on its home ground than the Cats but a some of them are against Hawthorn, Richmond, and Melbourne who also call the MCG home. In the states where everyone supports AFL only Geelong gets to play at an unshared ground in front of a crowd 90% of which are their own supporters. It is an advantage and it comes from the current system. Collingwood’s huge number of games at the ground it shares with three other Victorian clubs is an advantage it draws from the AFL’s policy of granting the entire gate to the home club so even Geelong wants to play its home games against Collingwood at the MCG.

    My point is that the anomalies come from the existing system and ALL clubs exploit them when it is in their favour. The same applies to clubs resting players and playing kids when they have no chance to finish within cooee of the finals. Most clubs have done this some time this century. It does not involve throwing specific games and it isn’t match fixing. Geelong can only claim the high ground because it hasn’t finished below 12th position since the competition went to 16 teams in 1995. It hasn’t played poorly enough to be tempted. That is to its credit as a well performed football team but it does not justify the high moral ground.

  18. Skip of Skipton says

    Geelong is not a suburb of Melbourne, Dave. It is a provincial city 75kms from Melbourne’s CBD. It should have its own home ground, no?

    Geelong only play 7 or 8 games a year at home. The other 14 or 15 are on ‘neutral’ or hostile territory. Compare that to Collingwood’s 17/18 ‘home’ games in Melbourne!

  19. Barkly St End says

    Most of us prefer to see the AFL try and have a more equitable competition, avoiding the extremities of European soccer where only a handful of teams have any chance of winning the title, unless you are bought out by an oil rich Sheik (or Russian).

    The salary cap and the draft achieve this. By most measures, it has been a success.

    In the case of the Demons, what are we to do about a team that has not tasted success for 48 years and has been bumbling along at the bottom of the ladder for much of the past decade?

    Can the AFL really consider measures that would keep them there for the rest of this decade? Punish them in such a way that they absolutely need the very thing they are accused of chasing with too much zeal?

    I doubt that that is the solution.

    Another way of looking at it is that Demons have sown the seeds of their own punishment – they are living it now.

    On the positive side – it has helped emphasise that the Demon path is not to be recommended. That’s a good thing.

  20. Dave Nadel says

    Skip, I am in favour of Geelong having its own home ground. I am in favour of Collingwood, Carlton, St Kilda, Essendon et al also having their own home grounds. For that matter I think it would also be better if Fremantle and Port Adelaide had separate grounds from the other AFL club in their city. The AFL is virtually the only football competition in any code or country which demands ground sharing to the extent it does.

    Of course after 40 years of of the VFL and then the AFL following a policy of ground rationalisation. implemented by a mixture of bribery and intimidation, it is too late to unscramble the egg and we are stuck with a reality of 9 clubs sharing two grounds. Even if Collingwood was as rich and powerful as its opponents fear, it could not afford to redevelop either Victoria Park or Olympic Park to a point where it could house 70,000+ fans and provide facilities comparable to the MCG. The same applies to Essendon , which is richer than Collingwood, or Carlton which has more millionaire supporters,

    The problem is that if you share your home ground with half the clubs in Melbourne then you don’t really have a home ground advantage except when playing interstate clubs. Home ground advantage comes from your opponents having to travel (not relevant when playing Melbourne clubs) , your supporters dominating the crowd and intimidating umpires (again not relevant in relation to well supported Victorian clubs) and understanding the special conditions of the ground – but all Victorian teams play lots of games on the MCG, even some of the nominal Docklands teams like Carlton and Essendon. In the Twentieth Century all grounds had differences in surfaces, wind direction, position of stands, size etc. Some clubs found Windy Hill unplayable, others had trouble with Moorabbin’s sandy surface etc.

    The only real home ground advantage left is at Kardinia Park. Because of its size very few opposition supporters get into the ground. Geelong’s opponents only play there a maximum of once a year or more likely once every two years. The journey is no longer seen as onerous but Geelong has two out of the three home ground benefits. The other Victorian clubs only have them when playing interstate teams.

    I don’t begrudge Geelong having eight home games. I just wish the other nine Victorian teams had a similar advantage.

    Barkly St End – I agree with you that it would seem pointless to punish Melbourne. Unlike Carlton’s salary cap offenses of the 90s Melbourne have hardly benefited from their tanking. If they can hold on to them, they will eventually derive benefit from Trengrove and Watts but they have already lost Scully and Jurrah and look further from a Premiership than any other team in the AFL.

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