Peter Schwab: The radical change that could revolutionise the AFL

Would Hawk Shaun Burgoyne have achieved the same success under a knockout finals system?

Would Hawk Shaun Burgoyne have achieved the same success under a knockout finals system? Photo: Getty

Another Friday night game, another Carlton match.

The Blues are rooted to the bottom of the ladder yet get another chance to play in prime time due to the complicated nature of the AFL fixture, designed many months in advance.

A series of poor Friday night fixtures have seen television audiences dwindle this year and the AFL will be giving that some attention.

We can complain about the singularity of the Friday night television match as I and many others have done this year.

Perhaps the AFL can look to introduce the NRL system of being able to change the Friday night match with five or six weeks notice.

But in reality, this is still a minor issue compared to the difficulty of finding a more equitable fixture.

It is a complex issue and one, in my view, that requires further investigation.

So, where do you start? The easy solution is for every team to play each other once but of course that means only 17 matches per side.

And that arrangement will not satisfy any party, even with an extended finals series with more teams involved.

The AFL has previously floated a 17-5 fixture split, meaning that after everyone plays each other once, they are split into three groups of six teams according to where they are positioned after 17 rounds.

Playing a further five rounds in groups of six would then help determine final finishing positions before the finals begin.

The biggest loss in this concept is the fact local derbies may only be played once.

And big traditional matches between clubs with the largest followings, like Richmond’s match against Collingwood and clashes between Hawthorn and Essendon, might be played just once, too.

Collingwood Richmond

Matches between Collingwood and Richmond draw big crowds. Photo: Getty

This is not ideal for the clubs, fans, the AFL or broadcasters for many reasons, like reductions in gate revenue and television ratings.

But is it the only way to make the fixture fair and equitable?

The conference-style model, as employed in American sports, has merit. Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin is a fan, too.

To do this, the AFL could run two conferences of nine teams.

This would require a split of Victorian teams and the main challenge is how they would be divided.

It is unlikely the AFL would want to separate Richmond, Collingwood and Essendon, particularly considering the Anzac and Indigenous matches they play.

Under the conference model, teams in the same one play each other twice and have six cross-conference matches.

It still doesn’t allow teams to play every club, but this can be evened out over several seasons.

And while the conferences will not be equal in quality in any given year, crossover games assist in this regard.

In the model that I am proposing, six teams would qualify for the finals from each conference.

This gives 12 of 18 sides the chance to win the premiership and should add another level of excitement to the finals series.

In the first week, the top two teams from each conference would have a bye, with team three playing team six and team four taking on team five.

In week two, team one would play the lowest-ranked winner from the first week in each conference, while team two would play the highest-ranked winner.

This means eight finals in the first two weeks, with all clashes sudden death.

Then the conference finals would be in week three, with the winners of that to take on each other in the grand final in the fourth week.

This system allows for more finals, gives clubs more chances to win things (the conference title) and could breathe more life into the regular season as sides battle for a top-six spot in their respective conferences.

Peter Schwab played 171 VFL/AFL matches for Hawthorn from 1980 to 1991, winning three premierships. He later served as Hawthorn coach, AFL National Umpiring director, AFL Match Review Panel chairman and Brisbane Lions list manager

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