Fix the fixture – stop the season-rigging

Sunday Morning Coming Down

An even competition needs a fair fixture – not season rigging. In the past decade or so the fact that the fixture has been hopelessly unfair hasn’t mattered that much. The best teams have finished in pretty much the correct order anyway. This season it is all different. Who has played who so far, and who plays who plays who from here on will seriously influence the Premiership outcome. Equalisation has worked so now the fixture really matters – essentially if the AFL doesn’t fix it it seems to me they are leaving themselves open to accusations not of match fixing, but of whole of season outcome-fixing. I’m not sure with the amount of gambling money pouring into the game a system that is blatantly rigged (regardless of the intent of the rigging) can be tolerated  much longer -in fact for not one season longer.

There is a straightforward solution, so hand wringing about it being too-hard is just not acceptable. The clubs and players all deserve a fair go, the supporters definitely deserve a fair go, and the punters will demand a fair go – possibly through the courts.

I’m sure there several equitable solutions – here is one that is simple, transparent, and scrupulously fair. So pay attention. The fixture should be as follows:

The predicates are that there are 18 teams and 22 rounds.

Home and Away Season – Rounds 1 – 17

Each team plays each other team once. This period will include all the stage managed special ‘blockbusters’ that the AFL is so fond of. There will be no need to change these events.

This accounts for the first 17 rounds. This is the home and away season. The hosting of home games is reversed annually. For example if Geelong Plays Collingwood at home during 2012, then Collingwood will be the hosts in 2013. Thats that.

The Slice – Rounds 18 – 22

The slice is not a conference, or any other kind of permanent division of the teams, it is an in season fixture allocation, guaranteeing the most equitable fixture possible. The league ladder process is never disrupted.

From round 18, the teams are sliced into 3 sections of 6. Each team in in the group plays the other teams once – 5 games, rounds 18 to 22 completed. This provides a normal 22 round fixture, a bye or byes can be inserted without disrupting the principles.

The slice into sections is performed according to every third ladder postion. For each slice, first counting from the top down to the middle position, and then from the bottom up. This is an extremely equitable setup, not only being the fairest possible outcome for the teams fighting for a top four postion, but also for those fighting out for the bottom spots in the 8. The slice in ladder positions at the deemed date will be as follows:

Slice 1

  • First
  • Fourth
  • Seventh
  • Twelfth
  • Fifteenth
  • Eighteenth

Slice 2

  • Second
  • Fifth
  • Eighth
  • Eleventh
  • Fourteenth
  • Seventeenth

Slice 3

  • Third
  • Sixth
  • Ninth
  • Tenth
  • Thirteenth
  • Sixteenth

The home-away schedule during the slice would be at the determination of the AFL to ensure orderly venue use, contractual arrangements with venues, and fairness – more detail could be written in here by the AFL.

I think the best time to perform the slice allocations would probably be at the conclusion of round 14, or round 15 and have a bye after round 17. This way fixturing arrangements and coterie groups would have time to get organised.

The Finals

The finals series proceeds as normal on the basis of league ladder at the end of round 22. The AFL could still delay the scheduling of round 22 as they do today to give finalists the best timeslot to suit their likely finals first week.


  1. I was not going to comment Neil, because your proposal is too sensible and innovative for the AFL to ever adopt.
    Their main concern would be that the sort of fair fixture you propose would detract from gate numbers, revenue – and most importantly TV ratings and contract negotiations. Having 2 Collingwood-Carlton’s a year etc is an obvious money earner.
    For my part the only question I would have surrounds travel. I know how hard hotel and airline bookings to Perth are during this mining boom. Could you arrange the logistics that late in the piece for all the entourage that are essential to the modern footy team.
    Some year you would get a lot of the non-Melbourne teams in one slice. That would be a lot of travel for them, and correspondingly little for the other ‘slices’. Random chance I know, but it would create some unfairness leading into a finals series.
    Apart from that, you may as well bin it. Far too sensible to be adopted.

  2. Neil Belford says

    Thanks for that Peter

    The reference circumstance about getting organised is the finals series.Nobody knows what is happening week to week, yet by Sunday night on any of the fours weeks from the end of round 22 to the second prelim Airlines manage to get planes organised, footy teams manage to find hotels, fans manage to find flights and accommodation on under a weeks notice. If you did the slice at the end of round 14 and had the bye after round 17 (which would suit finals aspirants perfectly) that would give 5 weeks planning to the first round of the slice and 10 weeks to the last round.

    The variation in who plays who would add some genuine excitement to the fixture rather than the canned and stage managed ‘blockbusters’ we have to have. I go to footy at the MCG about 10 or 11 times during the home and away season and these show-pony fixtures can be quite tedious. Who gets who in the slice would be a breath of fresh air.

    The AFL is a curious beast, it is actually very responsive to stakeholder pressure, and it does try and ‘lead’ sometimes on issues when all the surrounding vested interests want ‘no change’ – re-introducing a substitute (reserves as we used to call them) into the game is a good example of this. Clearly it is for the better but the reactionaries are still howling – but I digress.

    I have a feeling if the AFL detected a groundswell of pressure to fix the fixture we would see change pretty rapidly. But maybe I am alone in seeing the issue as a big problem. From my point of view the current arrangements are an outrage – any fixture needs to be an orderly, unbiased, formal system.

    Exactly the opposite of what we have which is more akin to Hollywood Movie production, or WWWF than a fair management system for an elite sporting competition.

  3. Thank God for the carbon tax Neil.

    It will force the AFL to go back to local leagues because the cost of interstate travel and night lighting will be too prohibitive.

  4. This one was proposed a couple of years ago when they knew the 18th team was coming.

    Same idea with the 17 rounds.

    Then 1- 6 play each other to determine the order of top 6.

    7 – 12 play each other to determine who fills 7th and 8th.

    13 – 18 play each other with the best team of bottom six getting the first draft pick, etc. – avoids tanking.

  5. Neil Belford says

    I like mine better but at least that is a formal system. I think that system would be a bit unfair in an even year like this one as the top 6 is by no means set right now.

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