General Footy Writing: This solution to the problem of tanking is way out of left field. But it might just work

By Andrew Gigacz

Last Sunday Melbourne became the first team to drop out of the finals race. Mathematically speaking, that is.

Yes, for Freo or North or a bunch of others to make it, an extraordinary sequence of events would have to unfold. But the fact is that right now, before Round 18 commences, only Melbourne has no possible way of making it into the top eight by Round 22.

With that in mind, now seems like a good time to bring up the AFL draft system. At the risk of extending the seemingly endless debate about the draft, priority picks and tanking, allow me to share with you an idea that came to me via my mate Zitter a couple of weeks back. In between downing beers and yelling witticisms (ahem) from under the grandstand, Zitter and I got chatting about the draft and its various issues.

Zitter told me that our old school-mate, Phil Groenewegen (brother of former Footscray legend, part-time airline captain and stadium siren specialist Rob), had come up with a system that would eliminate the need for clubs to even consider tanking as the season drew to a close. I turned to Zitter, put on my best Pauline Hanson voice, and said, “Please explain”.

Phil’s idea is this. Rather than give the first draft pick to the team that finishes on the bottom of the ladder, why not give it to the team that becomes the first to reach the point at which they can no longer make the eight? That way, Zitter explained, a side with an assured early pick in the draft can go all out and endeavour to cause havoc to other sides, knowing that its place in the pecking order is secure.

My first thought was, “That’s not a bad idea”. Of course there would be situations where two or more sides might reach the “mathematical point of no return” in the same round. But for those teams a simple deciding factor such as the percentage could determine draft order. Sounds good.

“OK, Zitter, what are the flaws in this system?”

None, he assured me. And I had to admit, I couldn’t see any either.

On the following Monday, at our weekly Dinkum Pies Sports Debriefing session, I floated Phil’s idea to Rob. (Not Phil’s brother; another Rob.) His immediate reaction was that the only effect it would have would be to push any tanking, that might or might not occur, closer to the mid-point of the season.

Rob thought the lottery system for the bottom eight was the way to go. And that’s not a bad option. That system also means that teams can give their all until round 22. Their reward will either be a spot in the finals or draft pick somewhere in the top eight. But this system doesn’t resolve the issue of priority picks. Then again, I thought, neither does Phil’s.

Next time I saw Zitter back at Docklands, I said, “about Phil’s draft idea, my … ”

But before I got any further, Zitter shot back: “He said you can have the idea; he doesn’t want it any more.”

Sounds like Phil; always ready to move onto the next big idea. But I wasn’t. I explained to Zitter what Rob considered to be the inherent weakness. “True,” he responded, “but a team is far less likely to do that at such an early stage. Even if they did, once they reached the draft qualification point they could go hammer and tong until season’s end.”

I had to admit the idea still had some attraction. I’m not totally comfortable with a side missing out on the finals only by percentage getting a first draft pick. And of course any system that requires us to reach for the calculator is always going to keep us stat-heads happy.

I decided Phil’s system was still my preferred choice. But what about priority picks? My thought at that point was “just scrap them; they create too much doubt and talk about tanking”. But after Melbourne reached that point in losing to Sydney last week, I had another thought.

Maybe, if a side reaches the “no return” point (i.e. the point at which it becomes mathematically impossible for them to make the finals), BEFORE a certain round, then they would qualify for a priority pick also.

It’s just a thought. I’ll need to check the history books to see what round the “no return” point was achieved in other seasons. Maybe the Groenewegen-Gigacz system is too complicated. One thing I do know, though, is that whether or not tanking does occur, the constant speculation about it is no good for anyone.

About Andrew Gigacz

Well, here we are. The Bulldogs have won a flag. What do I do now?


  1. Gigs – the problem I have with all these draft systems, is that I always miss the part after “listen carefully”. It all goes over my head.

  2. Dips, if this sort of stuff is going over your head maybe you need to get that rock you were standing on at that party…

  3. As tanking rears its head again, I’ve had another idea for priority picks. System above remains in place – first team for which it becomes mathematically impossible to make the eight gets the top draft pick. After reaching that point, they qualify for a priority pick if they win 50% or more of their remaining games. Fans, coaches and players alike can pursue victory unfettered, and feel good about winning.

  4. That’s a great idea Gigs and whilst fair, I just wonder if it’s too technical for the AFL to ever embrace it. Is it marketable enough? and by that I mean, will the average Collingwood fan understand it? (Maybe I’m asking a bit much there).

    The fact that the system allows people to cheer against their own team is inherently wrong, there should never ever be a benefit to losing. I believe that the best way to move forward is to hold an auction for the top draftees in the competition. 16 players would be identified and entered into the auction (i.e. if Watts was ranked 1st, he’d be auctioned first etc.) all clubs would then have the right to bid on those players. Given that everybody is bound by the salary cap, if a club wishes to run a risk and overpay a prospect (or 3 to build a premiership team around) then so be it. Following the completion of the auction of all 16 players the draft would proceed as normal.

    Not only would this remove the stench of tanking; it would be a major media event and would sell newspapers for weeks before and after! Left field? Yes. Possible? Absolutely.

  5. What about:
    1) Reverting to a normal fixture, where every team plays each other once in the first 15 rounds (as it used to be up until 2 years ago)
    2) At the end of round 15, if a team has won 3 or less games, they are entitled to a priority pick (current system is 4 wins or less for entire season)
    3) Order of picks are still determined at the end of the season (ie. finish last, get pick 1 etc.)
    I don’t think teams tank to obtain pick 2 as opposed to 3 or 4, but I do think teams are tempted to tank to gain a priority pick.

    With this system, their would be no incentive to tank after round 15, and I think it’s unlikely that teams would tank before round 15.

    (Credit should go to Jon Ralph of The Hun for this idea, but coz I don’t like him, please send credit my way instead.)

  6. Well i was actually just googling my family when i came across this under Phil. And i have to say, so far it’s the most interesting blog i’ve read of anyone in the family. And typically it doesn’t involve Phil in person or authorship, but in great strength of imagination. My little brother is a great thinker. Always has been. As a kid he could draw at least five map worths of Melway pages along the concrete of the driveway and up to the path that led to the clothesline at the back of a deep backyard(by todays standards.Although maybe just that i remember it as percieved at 4ft tall), anyway, he could draw from Nth Sunshine to Bundoora when still in primary school(St Bernadettes). Having daughters with excellent verbal skills, but shit spathial ability, I am quite in awe of this capacity of boys. I’ve only ever come across a kid recently that can match that. He’s only 7, and his sense of direction blows ma mind. Personally, I couldn’t give a shit about the tactics and mechanisms of football and its politics, but interestingly, Phil is the only person that ever made me comprehend the intrinsic artistry and mind game qualities of cricket. I find it about as interesting as watching grass grow, but at least now I understand its appeal. The artistry of Phil is a wonderful thing. He should be given the job of fixing the rail system in melbourne. His knowledge of its network, its capacities and its current operational system is profound. I’m just glad that someone else appreciates that kind of beautifully logical,insightful, tactical yet aesthetically positive kind of thinking. Thank you. I redkon it’s good that people think deeply about anything, even football.

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