Friday, 15 February 2013

Fixture Reform- In Closing [5/5]

It is interesting that the AFL was at one stage considering options such as conferences when introducing the new development teams (as per Fox Sports: AFL considering conference system to accommodate an 18-team competition) but never developed the idea further. Perhaps the most telling part in that stalling of development was from AFL chief operating officer Gillon McLachlan, who said
"We understand that our football community likes tradition, they like the way it's working at the moment"
We at the FootyMaths Institute also like tradition too... the football tradition of all teams getting to play all others home and away, and the Australian tradition of equality and a 'fair go' for all, just to name two examples.

We also know that the above footballing tradition cannot be achieved neatly with an 18 team competition, but our proposed model is a good start to meeting that, while giving all teams a 'fair go' at representation in the draw.

We also credit the footballing public with intelligence to be able to wrap their heads around a conference model, and in particular the one as we have proposed. One that creates and re-creates itself over seasons, ensuring that each conference is balanced, and the draw is not rigged by faceless AFL men, but determined by the finished order from the previous year.

Other football fans and personalities have also proffered options on how to redress the draw. We have also studied those concepts, and find most are lacking.
Lets put them into our classroom for study and grading.

The key proponents to date have been.

1. Matthew Clarke and Michaelangelo Rucci
The rather misleading headline "The Advertiser's AFL reporter Michelangelo Rucci calls for the AFL to make the draw equal for all" suggests it is Rucci making the call for the draw to be 'equal for all', but if you read the article it is really Matthew Clarke with the concept.

The Clarke concept calls for geographical conference splits (Northern, Western and Victorian), and also sets all the most heavily supported Melbourne clubs into one conference.
This concept is just so wrong, so unfair, on so many levels.
...and oh yes, it was published by a News Ltd affiliate. Says more than enough.


2. Mick Malthouse

Another News Limited affiliate provides us with the next idea, this time from a doyen of the game; "The AFL premiership should be split into three divisions, writes Collingwood coach Mick Malthouse".

Mick, who at the time was in his last year at Collingwood, suggested a 'three division AFL season', according to the copy editor who devised the headline. If you think of divisions in terms of the old VFA system (or Eglish FA, etc), then Micks proposal is not that at all. Just more misleading editing at News Limited.

At its core of Micks message was a call to 'stop the floggings' that were happening. This would be achieved by top teams playing bottom teams only once per year. This is effectively what the AFL are doing in 2013, along with the maintenance of the gerrymandered fixture.

What Mick, and the AFL, have failed to recognise is that other influences are fueling blow-outs... such as we described in relation to club spending. The AFL draw / Malthouse proposal does nothing to address that, and will continue (and possibly entrench) the divide between haves and have nots.


3. Ed Wyatt
The Back Page Lead and Ed Wyatt discussed concepts for conferences in 2010 (Can AFL conferences really work?). To Ed's credit, he throws up some formats, and also throws them out too, but ultimately there is no firm proposal tabled.

Ed also is one of the few that acknowledges that running a 'Big 6' conference wont be acceptable to the other clubs, and that the geographic skew that the AFL finds itself in preclude using location as a determinant that US leagues do. Ed also tips cold water on a two conference system, without any more of an argument than "nine is a strange, uneven number to have in your conference."
Fair enough!


4. Jason Feldman via Mark Stevens
Mark Stevens in the News Limited press writes of another approach, this time proposed by Jason Feldman... "a keen student of the game" (Forget the blockbusters AFL, just fix the fixture).

The Feldman approach goes closest to ours, suggesting three conferences, a reduced focus on blockbusters and altering the conferences.
But the detail shows that the conferences are altered only slightly, and that there remains gerrymandered home state derbies almost every year, and the Melbourne teams move about the most. Nonetheless, there is a great degree of thought to balance in this system.

There is also a possible error in the draft allocation where they have published "Draft picks 1-8 to be based on records of non-finalists". With an 8 team finals system there should be 10 teams as 'non-finalists'.
Also, this is difficult to grasp, and not explained or developed further: "Draft picks 9-16 based on positions after finals."

Oh, yes... that is all that Jason Feldman is credited as by News Limited... "a keen student of the game". A quick google search may show him also to be a Match day Statistician for Champion Data, but we haven't confirmed that. If so, then 'way to disclose your sources, News'!

Overall, a good system.


There are other proposals about the interwebs (for example, The Roar website has 5 alone), but in most cases that we have studied, they revert to type of having conferences
   - arbitrarily determined, usually to the benefit of the big clubs, or
   - determined by geography.

Most also consider taking the top two teams from the conferences into the finals direct, even though there may be a case where a second placed team in one conference has a poorer record than a third placed team in another conference.
Most don't even consider how the top 6 teams are allocated the 4 'double chance slots' in the finals, nor do they address the draft. 

The primary aspect that all other proposals gloss over is the notion of being 'fair' and giving every team a fair go. As per our 'principle' statement, we consider 'fair' to be more than just adjusting the playing schedule for an even number of games (home and away).

Ultimately, we see 'fair' also in terms of ‘opportunity’. The opportunity to meet popular clubs home and away each week, as well as the opportunity for free to air television coverage to boost brand awareness, club finances and supporter base.
Our conference model delivers a fair go, a draw that is open, honest and transparent without the fingerprints of the gerrymandered 'fixture' we have today.

That is the end game the AFL should be playing, because working toward that creates the overall even-ness on match day, it brings more people through the gates, more broadcast outlets tuned to your product.
Not positioning the AFL to that end will see further disparity, leading to disillusionment and ultimately a diminished league.

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