AFL competition framework is better than ever. So can we stop the fiddling for five minutes?
If your definition of a great competition is every team having at least some sort of chance of beating any other team on a given day, then AFL football has never been in as good a shape as right now.
Take a look at the ladder. Two of the bottom three spots are currently filled by two of the three most successful sides of the past decade. The other has played finals the past three years and twice been within one win of a grand final berth.
Brisbane and Carlton, tipped almost universally this season to finish 17th and 18th, have at least won a game. And on Saturday, the Lions led the reigning premier by 38 points shortly before half-time, a Western Bulldogs outfit which came from seventh after the regular season to win a flag.
If that doesn't signify evenness and unpredictability, what does? As for exciting games, we're hardly short of them are we? So what's with this incessant need to tinker, not just with laws of the game, but the very framework of an AFL competition that is working just fine?
The Bulldogs won the grand final from seventh place last year.
We've become used to the annual night grand final kite-flying exercise. Last year there was a concerted campaign to offer Brisbane and potentially other clubs more assistance because they hadn't been in the finals for – shock, horror – a few seasons.
And now we're getting more impromptu "suck it and see" polling with the concept of a 17-5 fixture. Well, I'm sick to death of it. And I'm not the only one.
The 17-5 fixture concept is one of AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan's favourite kites. And he's got plenty of helpers (usually connected to TV networks) all too ready to take it out for a run seemingly every few weeks.
In the latest breathless dispatches, we're told three groups of six teams would be ruled off after every team had played each other once, the top two "conferences" fighting out a top eight berth, but even more stupidly, a bottom-six side potentially given a finals chance as well as points to use in the next national draft.
The 17-5 model is necessary, apparently, because there's not enough incentive for teams stuck in the bottom six after 17 rounds. Well, here's one. Try winning more of your first 17 games. If you don't, why on earth should you deserve a chance for a "wildcard" finals spot or whatever US sport-inspired jargon seems sexy right now?
Apparently, the fact that last year none of Carlton, Brisbane, Richmond, Fremantle or Gold Coast won more than one of their last five games highlights the need for a "new solution". In fact, perhaps all it highlighted was that they just weren't very good teams.
We play 198 home and away games a season now. News flash. Not all of them are going to be gripping, nor have finals spots riding on them. And even with close to 200 games to churn through, I'll wager there's a higher percentage that indeed do have something riding on them than the 132 we played in a 12-team competition until 30 years ago.
A solution to tanking? It's talk that had some credence when teams stood to earn an extra priority draft pick as well as one for finishing at the bottom of the ladder. But the AFL dispensed with institutionalised priority picks five years ago.
Now that the only gap between clubs' draft hands is determined by ladder positions, is the difference between draft selection No.1 as opposed to Nos. 2-3-4-5-6 on a 40-man playing list really enough to have AFL clubs even considering deliberately dropping games? Give me a break.
As for adding excitement? So the top six spend the last five rounds playing each other. Given they're the best-performed teams to date, it's more than likely they lock horns at least once again, if not more, during the finals proper. Is that more exciting? Or more a case of familiarity breeding if not contempt, boredom.
And speaking of incentives, if we adopted the 17-5 model, would clubs, knowing they could still potentially play finals even were they 13th on the ladder with just five games left, still hit the regular season as hard?
What would be the point if you only had to be somewhere vaguely beyond the bottom five to still have a chance in September? You could spell some players for half a season and have them hit a physical peak for two months only.
We could effectively call the first 17 rounds pre-season, scrap the home and away tag and have a nine-week finals series. See how ridiculous this gets?
Perhaps I'm getting old and cranky. But the goldfish memories, driving of agendas and constant refusal to consider history as context infecting football more and more drives me batty. The 17-5 fixture and the rationale for its necessity are just another example.
But I'm also not too old and wedded to the past to realise that right now, we have a framework of an AFL competition that is the best it's ever been. The model isn't broken. It doesn't need fixing. How about we leave it the ■■■■■■ hell alone for at least five minutes?