The frequency with which this idea gets raised leaves me worried they're actually going to do it
AFL could introduce radical fixture change that gives bottom-six team finals incentive
JAY CLARK, Herald Sun
an hour ago
BOTTOM-SIX teams could be given the chance to play finals or secure a significant draft points boost as part of bold a fixture shake-up from next season.
The AFL is developing options to canvass with clubs potentially including “the quite dramatic” move to dangle a finals carrot in front of lower-placed teams as part of a late-August wildcard weekend.
The league is strongly considering splitting the league into three pools of six teams after Round 17, allowing the top and middle conferences to vie for finals positions over the last five rounds.
The three-tier system has considerable support at AFL headquarters and would help inject more evenness and excitement across the fixture late in the season.
But fixture and broadcast boss Travis Auld said one of the biggest headaches of the proposed new fixture format was finding a way to incentivise the bottom-six clubs to finish top of their conference.
The AFL wants to keep the season alive for the bottom teams for as long as possible.
Auld told the Herald Sun the league was investigating all options including providing extra draft points boosts as reward for winning games in the bottom-six conference, or even more remarkably, a spot in a proposed wildcard weekend in the round before finals.
“It is definitely one of the challenges,” Auld said. “I think there is a mixture of (possible incentives including) draft selections, draft points or a quite dramatic one would be the opportunity to play finals.
“It’s at the more dramatic end, but it’s a genuine incentive for (lower-placed) clubs to do that (finish as high up the ladder as they can).
“I don’t know if I’ve got a view on it just yet, because I need to get a better understanding of the impact of things like draft picks.
“But there is no doubt we need to find — if we are going down a fixture format that splits teams into groups — then the challenge is no doubt to find an incentive for that bottom group.”
Of the bottom-six teams last year, Carlton, Brisbane Lions, Richmond, Fremantle and Gold Coast did not win more than one of their last five games as the teams went into development mode, highlighting the need for a new solution. Essendon won two late-season matches.
Fremantle tumbled down the ladder last year.
In February, Auld said the league was “going pretty hard at the moment to see if we are going to make some changes”.
The benefits of a more competitive bottom-six conference would potentially help boost broadcast audiences, game attendances and fan engagement for the lower-placed clubs in the last part of the season.
It would also help eliminate ugly tanking talk.
As part of the proposed revamp, the wildcard weekend could pit the top-ranked team of the middle group (seventh overall) against the best-performed club from the bottom-six, based on their performances against rivals in their pool over the last five rounds of the season.
Teams ranked second and third in the middle group (eighth and ninth overall) would also face-off to finalise the top-eight on the eve of the finals.
The extra draft points option for winning teams in the bottom six could help strengthen clubs’ positions in the draft order and potentially help them jump ahead of other rivals in select rounds of the draft.
Currently, lower-placed clubs are incentivised to drop down the ladder to secure earlier draft picks, although the AFL remains adamant the scourge of tanking has been eliminated from football.
Star players are also regularly sent off for early season-ending surgeries in the later rounds to help prepare them for the new season the following year.
Clubs have made clear they believe the worst-performed clubs, such as last year’s wooden-spooner Essendon, and 2015 struggler Carlton, deserve the No.1 pick in the draft and access to the best underage talent in the country.
HOW IT COULD WORK
Teams are split into three pools of six teams after 17 rounds. The top six teams play each other over the remaining five rounds to determine finals positions.
The middle six teams play each other for the right to secure one of three wildcard weekend berths. The fourth wildcard weekend spot is given to the best-performed club from the bottom six.
In overall ladder rankings, the team in seventh spot would play the best team from the bottom-six. Eighth would take on ninth. The teams which finish 10th, 11th and 12th are eliminated from the finals race.
The two winners from the wildcard weekend would secure the remaining two positions in the top eight.