the good, the not-so-good, and the awful: thoughts on the draw

by Trevor Blainey


a few thoughts on the draw for the Almanac.


like a lot of footy tragics i’ve thought about the draw a bit too much. divisions has appeal but i keep getting hung up on things like how after looking at a division based system would you make a fair finals system. this for a minute ignores that.

my draw would be constructed each year based on the ladder positions at the end of the last season. the divisions for the sake of naming them could be the Good, the Not So Good and the Awful.


as at today they would be comprised as follows.


The Good





West Coast

St Kilda


The Not So Good




North Melbourne




The Awful




Gold Coast

Port Adelaide




the simple proposition is that you play each team in your division twice and the rest once during the season. moreover you play your division in the first 5 weeks and the last 5 weeks of the season and the other 12 teams from Rounds 6-17.





1. the bottom six will have a reasonable chance to record a win in the first 5 weeks and will finish the season with winnable games.

2. the season will also start with some cracking games involving last seasons top 6. the Grand Final re-match should be fixtured in Round 5 which is generally around Anzac Day. despite being an Essendon supporter i see a strong case for that game being the Anzac Day game at the MCG.

3. if the guiding principle for the creation of the draw is known and easily digested then the mystery of the vagaries of the current system will disappear.

4. Rounds 6-17 will be clearly seen as when we sort the Men from the Boys. it will be much better for say Richmond to play Collingwood in Round 6 with a 3-2 or even 2-3 record than say 0-5 if the early draw hampered their prospects.

5. by the end of Round 17 then the top six will be facing a run home where they will have to play a mini finals series involving last years finalists to secure top 4 spots, home ground spots etc. the bottom six will be in the hope giving business. a couple of late wins for the membership drive for next year, no likely floggings at the hands of rampant top notch opponents tuning up for September etc. and the middle six are likely to be in a scramble for the lower reaches of the eight. against exactly the sort of opponents they should be competing for that with.


The Bear In The Room


before i go to the Cons lets make this point. teams dont stay exactly where they were last season. so West Coast this year would be finishing off with games against easybeats from last year. its the thing this system cant do anything about ie. rapid improvement or rapid decline. i would assert that broadly teams linger around the band of six they’re in for a few seasons at least. that it takes a while to graduate into the top echelon and that teams dont typically plummet through two bands in the way that West Coast has risen through two this season. no evidence thats just my feeling. i’m not sure it matters anyway. if the guiding principle is sound then no longer will the term ‘luck of the draw’ apply. i would allege that those who would worry about this aspect of this system are afflicted with hindsight not foresight.




1. the local derbies and blockbusters are not protected by this system. next year their would be two derbies in Adelaide, two in Qld, one in Sydney and WA. to which i say “tsk, tsk, tsk”. manufactured derbies are a problem in themselves. i get the commercial aspects of this but when some significance is given to Port playing the Crows when they are 15th and 17th you have to wonder what that means. similarly for the ‘blockbusters’. teams should earn that status based on where they sit on the ladder (at least last year anyway). i understand tradition but tradition gets created by intense battles at a point in time. noone would discuss Essendon and Hawthorn rivalry if it wasn’t for games played in the 80’s. recently Geelong and St Kilda have created a rivalry that really didn’t precede this century. lets not cling to things just for the sake of it. not many good Ess V Collingwood or Coll V Carl games lately but a lot of cracking Coll V Geelong games. lets stay focussed on what works now. we can still have a rivalry round if you must but we shouldn’t construct a draw for equity around such notions.

2. i cant think of a 2.


and the things that adhere to the draw and fairness?


primarily that is a conversation about the draft and concessions therein.  and i suppose by inference its a conversation about tanking.


in America they attempt to overcome this by having a ballot amongst the lower clubs whereby you cant be certain of the No. 1 pick by virtue of coming last.   i would suggest that there is top quality around from 1-10.  lots of examples – Heppell this year was at 7, famously so too was Joel Selwood.  Judd was not a 1 but a 3.  there is too much loaded up on the 1’s anyway.  there’s a nonsense conversation going on about the merits of Watts at 1 versus Natanui at 2 and i’d be happy to say that we’re thrilled that we got Hurley at 5.  might have bypassed them both in any event.  but a moot point.  again quality 1-10.  so conduct a ballot for the first 10 picks for those who finished 9-18 and dole them out according to the way the balls come out of the sack.  as it were.


no prizes for last, no priority picks.  let the cards fall where they may after that.  otherwise we continually prop up the poor performers.  there are still plenty of good ‘uns on offer deep in the draft.  we got Jake Carlisle at 26.  Hirdy at 70-ish.  lets recognise that some recruiters and coaches have an eye for it.


all good fun.





  1. Tim Ivins says

    Interesting concept, one concern I would have though is that teams in the second tier may tank in an effort to drop into the 3rd tier. Footscray would be a good candidate for this right now. They still have a decent list and in 2012, would have a much better chance of rocketing up the standings if they had a third tier draw.

  2. is it not better to tank to drop one tier [ie Dogs this year] than Pies in 05 who tanked 2 tiers or wce last year?

  3. Vic teams one conference. The rest another. Play off if you care.

  4. Skip of Skipton says

    1. WCE 2. PIES 3. CATS


  5. I don’t mind the idea of ‘regional’ conferences with playoffs leading to a national title. Works fine in American sport.
    Play in-conference teams twice and out-of-conference teams once – then conference finals for the right to play in inter-conference championships and the Premiership Final.
    Obvious difficulty is how to ‘seed’/structure the draw.
    Trevor’s idea is generally worthwhile but the seeded structure penalises success and rewards failure too much.
    Skip’s structure penalises the group 1 teams with too much travel. They would not have a fair chance against the other conferences at finals time after such an uneven travel schedule.
    West Australians bleat about travel, but in the current structure I think it evens out. The advantage of Subi home games balances the travel penalty. What is true is that the longevity of players is reduced from constantly being on return planes when others get to do recovery at home. Stats show that it takes 30-50 games over top player careers compared to Melbourne. Matera and Worsfold succumbed to hamstrings. McKenna to back. Kemp to Riccutio induced blackouts. All would have played longer in a Melbourne team (or even Adelaide or Sydney).

  6. Peter, your Regional Conferences idea could work as we would have 8 interstate teams. The interstate teams have been split by estimated travel distance assuming direct flights. Victorian teams split on rivalries (as we all know how much the AFL like their revenue generating rivalries)

    I’d propose the following splits:

    Group A

    Gold Coast
    Port Adelaide
    St. Kilda
    Western Bulldogs

    Group B

    West Coast
    Greater Western Sydney
    North Melbourne

    This way the AFL can keep all major dates and with one ‘interleague’ game a week, can ensure blockbusters remain.

    Regardless of the groups the problem is equity. For example in MLB The Red Sox and Yankees almost always take the two playoff berths. Toronto and Tampa are severely disadvantaged playing in such a tough division. If either team were moved to the Central division they would be in first place right now. The real kicker though is that these teams have no desire to change divisions as financially they would be worse off due to decreased revenue from fans and tv due to reduced blockbuster games.

    Finally, under Peter’s model the season would be 27 games long. Is that too much? If so you either have a scenario where all teams don’t play each other (play half the other division) per season (as per the NFL) or you cannot guarantee the big guns (e.g. Collingwood v Essendon) play twice a year (impacting revenue).

    No wonder Demetriou earns so much, these are complex issues we face.

  7. Todd Allison says

    There are so many cons with this idea it’s ridiculous. The major one being that by finishing top 6 one year, that side gets penalised with a tougher draw the next. By getting a tougher draw some of these sides are likely to miss the finals, thereby making the finals a diluted, weaker and less enjoyable prospect with several shellackings to be expected. Take a look at the bottom 6 – the top side in that is likely to get 10 wins off the bat, while the bottom side in the top group gets 0 (possibly). So, barring upsets, a side that is not as good gets a 10 game headstart on the side that finished sixth the year before.

  8. Alovesupreme says

    The present draw is a rigged raffle, so that teams feature in the finals, or get the jump to a top four spot by virtue of their easier draw.
    I think part of your objection can be overcome by using a moving average (possibly weighted) of the previous three years, rather than just a single year’s outcome to determine the seeded spots. I played around with this on the back of an envelope, and that meets some of the objections where a team has a single bad year, and gets a significant “benefit” in the draw for the following season.
    The top side of the bottom six never wins all their games against their weak rivals, unless you have an entirely predictable season, where bottom side wins zero, 2nd last wins against bottom side loses to everyone else etc.

  9. i guess this idea was primarily an organising principle for the making of the draw rather than a conference model which really deals with other things. there are two main conference models in other leagues around the world. one is the Premier League model as in UK football. Div 1/Div 2 here as proposed by some above. the problem with that is the experience in that competition has been that only a handful of teams ever win it and the same teams bounce around between the Premier League and Div 1. its got nothing at all to do with fairness. here lets say it was merit based and next years Div 2 was


    which is the group from the bottom of this years ladder as at today. there is simply not enough potential commerce in terms of gate or tv ratings to prop that up. i follow Essendon. if we found ourselves in that group i’d be horrified. no Carlton games, no Collingwood games. teams anchored at that level for any length of time will fold. its as simple as that.

    the alternate conference model is regional as in US sports but again thats not about equity its about logistics and commerce. in the NBA they have an 82 game season, in Major League baseball its 160+. they have to organise on a regional basis to try to contain the sheer wear and tear of constantly crossing the country in planes. and those competitions always throw up inequitable playoff outcomes. because its organised on regional lines (and each division has to provide 2 play off teams) its frequently the case that teams make the playoffs with worse records than teams in other stronger divisions.

    in the above model the assumption was the 22 games (because the broadcast deals are based on that)and the 18 teams. the math of that therefore is that everybody plays the other teams once (17 games) and 5 teams twice. so my thoughts were based on “who should teams play twice”. the answer for me is that it would be better next season for Port to play Gold Coast twice rather than Collingwood twice and i took it from there. at the margins this years sixth (today its St Kilda) may get a tougher draw than say Adelaide who are currently 13th but i think thats better than having Adelaide play Collingwood, Carlton and WC in the first few rounds next year.

    i’d lay odds right now that after 5 rounds next year under my model there will be no undefeated teams, no winless teams and a cluster of teams either 3-2 or 2-3. that seems fair to me.

  10. Crows 15 v Port 17 would happen twice under this draw as both are playing pretty average footy at the moment. So they would get their blockbuster; however it will be most underwhelming.

    That said, Bickley looks a super potential future coach and the Crows were rebuilding very shrewdly under Neil Craig. They would lap up a fixture such as this if they received it in 2012 (would be akin to the WCE run)

  11. Colin Tegg says

    A very Victorian attitude, Trevor. The Anzac Day GF replay at the MCG. The 2005 game would have been a beauty. “Dozens flock to the G for the Power Lions rematch”

    And listen to the Victorian commentators who go to a Showdown or a Derby. The respective capital cities are on fire all week in anticipation. There’s nothing ‘manufactured’ about them, and you do yourself no credit for suggesting otherwise.

    The competition would be degraded without them. Any suggested draw must include them. I love my Collingwood-Carlton and Collingwood-Essendon games, but I could live without them albeit reluctantly.

    But these matches are MUCH bigger. I don’t think the Nothern derbies will ever match them, but in states where AFL will always struggle for oxygen, they are guaranteed sports headlines that we can’t ignore.

  12. Colin, i’m really not trying to downgrade the derbies in Adelaide but if derbies are the lynchpin of the draw then its very hard to address fairness issues in the draw as it relates to the matter of top teams flogging bottom teams. the parochialism of all of the states is both a feature and a hindrance to the competition. it would be great if as many Victorians wanted to see say Carlton play West Coast (who are an interstate team on the up) as would go to Carlton V Richmond (who are a poor team) but the West Coast game would draw 35000 at Etihad and the Richmond game 55000 at the MCG. 80000 if the Tigers could ge their act together.

    the health of the competition is at risk if we pack out a derby but then noone turns up the next week when the Crows play Freo at the same venue.

  13. Dave Nadel says

    i much prefer Tim’s geographic division and have proposed something similar on an earlier thread. The only problem with Tim’s model is that to lessen the costs (financial and energy) the four teans to the West of Victoria should be in the same division and the four teams North of Victoria should be in the other division, i.e.take West Coast and Fremantle out of your Group B and replace them with Brisbane and Gold Coast.

  14. Apologies Dave, I didn’t mean to plagiarise, call it subconscious inspiration!

  15. Based somewhat on the NFL model — each team plays three division rivals twice, four teams from two divisions (one in-conference, one out) once and two more games based on previous year’s finish, I I thought about this with footy — how to balance travel, keep rivalries, make sure interstate teams get Victorian drawing cards and toughen the schedule a little for better teams. Here’s an idea:

    The 10 Victoria teams start with eight interstate games (four home, four away)
    They then play a nine-team round-robin and then a 10th game against a designated annual rival. That’s 18. That could preserve most traditional matchups.

    The eight interstate teams then must play 10 Victorian games (five home, five away).
    They then play a seven-team round-robin and then an eighth game against their geographic rival. That’s 18 games.

    That leaves four games. Because interstate teams travel more, mandate that one of the four is an interstate trip by a Victorian team, maybe based on previous year’s finish (interstate finisher 7 gets Victorian 7 and 9, interstate 8 gets 8 and 10). So Victorians must go five times interstate and vice versa.
    That leaves 10 Victorian teams with three games, six interstate teams with three and two interstate teams with two.

    To get the other three (or two) games, use either Trevor’s success model or Tim/Dave’s geographic model, eliminating the previously double match-ups along the way. I sketched out possible schedules and it always seemed to work out.

    No schedule can be completely equitable, but this would address 19 or 20 games a year in balanced fashion and keep the inequity to a minimum. This would be just for scheduling; I’d keep the ladder and the finals system.

    Another idea is to split to three divisions, but only for scheduling purposes:
    Freo, West Coast, Adelaide, Port Adelaide in one
    Brisbane, Gold Coast in another
    Sydney, GWS in a third

    Then take the 10 Victorian teams and split them however for two seasons, trying to preserve as many natural rivalries as possible. Every two years because then everyone plays everyone else home and away. Then after two years, rotate the Victorian teams to different divisions. Over a 10-year period, the travel would balance out as evenly as possible.

  16. a lot of these posts are trying to address fairness as to travel, logistics etc. which are all fair things to consider. my proposal is about trying to maintain interest for the public for the whole season so that poor performers get a chance to improve and the best play the best when the whips are cracking at the end. conferences and regions and divisions cant address this because they would be created at a point in time and would enshrine the strengths and weaknesses evident then. so today a say Central Victorian conference which included Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon, North and Hawthorn would be strong. six years ago it wouldn’t have been.

    whatever arbitrary split you decide on – regions, odds ‘n evens, teams with yellow in their jumpers ???? – will arrive at conferences/ divisions that can be strong or weak depending on all the variables. and having done it you’re stuck with it.

    what needs to be reassessed is the basis on which the draw is made.

    the dead last thing we need is conferences/divisions. what’s the prize for winning the Eastern conference, the Blue Jumpers division? we have a finals system and the best prize in sport which is the AFL Grand Final. we just have to work out how to give everyone a fair chance to get there.

  17. Neil Belford says

    Trevor I completely agree with your lack of enthusiasm for conferences. They are a bad idea for the reasons given above. Your system is ok but it is not fair. What we want is


    There should be none of this contrived lunacy – Showdowns, Hoedowns, Derbies, Anzac Day, Mothers Day, Queens Birthday, Dreamtime, blah blah blah. It is all nonsense. Stupid. Rubbish. It detracts from the game. Let the epic clashes fall where they fall. They will be better for it. And the answer is really straightforward.

    Everybody plays each other once. You play at home then you play away, week about.
    17 weeks.

    A bye

    Then the groups
    1, 4, 7, 10, 13, 16 and 2, 5, 8, 11, 14, 17 and 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18
    each play each other once. Home and away.
    5 weeks.

    So – 22 rounds, 23 elapsed weeks, and a fortnight from round 17 to get organised for rounds 18-22.
    And the fixture is simple and completely fair.

  18. Neil, i could go with that. i took a whack from someone on this thread for appearing to diss the Showdowns or the Derbies but to me they’re a complete contrivance along with all the ‘events’ you named above. a sign of an immature and uncertain of itself competition. its the national competition for crying out loud. and yes lets keep at least one bye. whether its one on one week or two teams off each week until everybody has had one i guess is the discussion. the necessity of byes this year has created an interesting wrinkle in the system. i think 22 games over 24 weeks gives us footy every week for a bit longer. in service of that i’d drop the pre-season comp.

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