The AFL Fiddling Again

Earlier this week the AFL announced its proposed changes to the draft bidding system as it affects Academy and Father/Son picks. The details of the proposal have posted on the AFL website and can be viewed by clicking this link.

The CEO of the Brisbane Lions, Greg Swann, has gone on the attack, as has Fox Sports journalist Andrew Hamilton.

Both Swann and Hamilton attribute the AFL’s latest fiddling with the rules to the Sydney Swans ability to pick Isaac Heeney, a top two pick in the recent draft, as a Swans Academy product despite their first pick being No. 18.

There are technical problems with the proposed structure I do not propose to discuss here, such as the scaling of the points scheme that allocates a certain value to each draft position and the ‘discount’ to be taken off the stated points for an Academy product or a Father/Son pick. These are legitimate bases for discussion.

But the technical issues are not the main concerns that currently occupy the hearts and minds of clubs and supporters from the northern states. The Lions, Suns, Giants and Swans are up in arms about two main questions:

  1. When the clubs have been pouring their own money into establishing and running the Academies, is it unreasonable to expect some sort of benefit from the process?
  2. Is the AFL serious about spreading the faith in ‘hostile’ territory, and do they have any idea, even after dealing with the setbacks in entering Brisbane and Sydney, of how difficult it is to fulfil this aim?

Greg Swann, who is actually a Lion, mentions the likelihood of handing the Academy back to the AFL to run if the proposal goes ahead. There has as yet been no official response from the other clubs, apart from Tom Harley at the Swans adopting a wait-and-see approach.

The two basic intentions of the Academies are to provide a pathway into the AFL for talented boys and young men in Queensland and NSW, and to strengthen the local competitions by exposing players to high quality coaching. We are only a few seasons into the project and are now beginning to see the benefits to the AFL premier clubs as well as the locals. It would be nothing less than a disaster for the code to scale back the impact of the Academies at this stage, but if the proposal goes ahead in its present form, there is a strong chance that’s what will happen.

The consensus among those debating the issues is that the matter has come to a head because of the Swans’ pickup in Isaac Heeney. Up till now there has been no problem with the process in place, but it seems that for a successful club like the Swans to strike it lucky with an Academy pick is the signal for an outburst of envy and an urgent desire to clip wings on the part of certain Victorian club identities. There seems to be no awareness that the Academies were designed to make up the shortfall experienced in Rugby League territory compared with those states where Australian Football is and always has been the dominant code, available on a daily basis to every kid in the state.

I hope we can work our way through this latest kerfuffle to an outcome that genuinely benefits the game. Unfortunately so far – I’m thinking for instance of the Swans being banned from trading – I am not encouraged by the track record of the powers that be.


  1. Dave Brown says

    Good food for thought, Don. Was interesting to see the composition of the committee that came up with this system. From memory Gold Coast the only club north of the border to be represented.

    I have no problem with the concept. It is not fair if, on a regular basis, the Swans will have a top 1-2 draft pick land in their lap. The question for me is what a fair discount to apply is to recognise the time and effort the clubs put into their academies. This is where the proposal comes up short.

    Father-Son has always been a Victorian club scam. Just need to wait for the second decent Crows prospect so they can change the rules again. It’s teeth grindingly annoying to watch South Australian sons of South Australians go to Vic clubs under father son.

  2. G’day Don,

    I hadn’t heard about such point systems in AFL drafts and still have no idea what is for…

    I agree with the idea that the AFL academy should be run by AFL, not by northern clubs. Brisbane Lions lost several players in the end of 2013 season due to players’ homesickness. Then Lions need to get local young footballers to avoid losing players whom they trained.

    Thanks for your contribution. I learned one thing today.



  3. Dave, thanks for your input. Two things quickly:
    While I agree fully with your comment that it would be unfair if the Swans (or anyone else) hit the jackpot every year. Fortunately there is no chance of this happening annually simply because the Swans Academy is a small contributor to the draft pool. Having said that, it seems as if it will happen again next year! (Callum Mills)

    I am a relative newby to the culture of AFL and I simply hadn’t stopped to realise the situation you describe in your last paragraph. Totally unjust and completely galling.

  4. Hi Yoshi, thanks for chiming in.

    You can find the details of the plan if you hit the first link in my article. Yes, it is complicated, but I think it becomes easier to understand if you think of the points against each position as the cost of that player. So if you want the top-rated player, it will cost you 3,000 points. The first pick for the Swans is number 18, which is a much lower value; to make up the 3,000 points required the Swans would have to add up all the points for their other picks, probably numbers 36,54, 72 (for the sake of argument). Even then they would probably not have enough points to ‘buy’ the player they want. This might be fixed by adjusting the points to a more realistic level.

    I think the clubs want to continue to run their Academies and would not trust the AFL to run it; in my view the northern clubs tend to think that they are better off looking after their own interests.

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