Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Case for Relgation in AFL

Recently I've upset the odd friend with my references to the AFL needing a Division II. While it is intended to be deliberately provocative, there is some merit to include the possibility of splitting the AFL on a year-by-year basis so that we get a more even and (here's the buzz word) equitable competition.

How is introducing two division more equitable? The idea would be to play against teams of roughly equal standing. I wouldn't label each division numerically, but would go with Premiership Cup Division and Shield Division. Sell off naming rights for the Shield Division, and name the Shield after a significant figure, and you've already open up new revenue to distribute amongst those clubs. The Premiership Cup Division should be exclusive to Ch7.

How would the particulars work? I'm glad you asked!

The Split
The easy bit. For examples I'm going to use the 2012 season as a guide, mainly due to the Essendon fiasco last year compromising the make up of the bottom 10 teams.

After the season we would split the AFL into two divisions. The top 9 teams would be the Premiership Cup Division, with the bottom 9 comprising the Shield Division.
For example,  based on 2012, we would have:
  • Premiership Cup Division: Hawthorn, Adelaide, Sydney, Collingwood, West Coast, Geelong, Fremantle, North Melbourne.
  • Shield Division: St Kilda, Carlton, Essendon, Richmond, Brisbane, Port Adelaide, Western Bulldogs, Melbourne, Gold Coast, GWS.
The Season Schedule (not a FIXture)
Team would play each team in their division twice (home and away) making for a 16 game schedule. This would enable teams to play against teams of roughly equal footing (though incidentally, several of the top Shield teams from the above list beat GWS by 90-100 points, and North lost their 2012 elimination final to West Coast by 100 points too, so it wouldn't be perfect). There is 4 games a week in each division with one bye.

The AFL could introduce additional games, and revenue, via one of the two following methods:
  • Two heritage or rivalry rounds - Teams would nominate two teams to play against from another division for historical reasons. In the above example, Essendon could nominate Collingwood and perhaps West Coast or North Melbourne. St Kilda might nominate Collingwood and Geelong as a grand final rematch. Since everyone would want to play Collingwood, the AFL would make these decisions. These games could be played for premiership points since every team gets the same number of games against someone in the other division.
  • A secondary 'knockout' competition - the NAB Cup. Teams play preliminary pre-season games for a 'seeding' in the knockout cup. The knockout cup would take place over four rounds throughout the season. Teams that are already out would get a bye that week. This would enable the AFL to schedule some of these rivalry games across divisions and create a longer season. 
Finals series 1 - Winning the Shield Division
After 16 games, the top four teams would play an elimination finals series over two weeks.
  • Week 1 - 1 v 4, 2 v 3.
  • Week 2 - Shield Grand Final: The winner plays off for the Shield. 

Finals series 2 - Winning the Premiership Cup Division 
After 16 games, the top six teams would play a final series in the following format:
  • Week 1 - Elimination Finals: 1, 2 get a bye. 3 v 6, 4 v 5.
  • Week 2 - Semi Finals: 1 v winner of 3 v 6, 2 v winner of 4 v 5
  • Week 3 - Grand final between winners of semi finals
Between the two divisions there are 10 teams involved in finals. From the Premiership Cup Division only the 7th placed team isn't involved in anything (see below for teams 8 & 9). You could have a playoff for 6 (the 'wild card' spot) between 6 and 7

Promotion/Relegation or Playoffs?
The grand finalist of the Shield Division play against teams 8 and 9 from the Premiership Cup Division. 9P v 1S, 8P v 2S. Winners are promoted, losers are relegated (or stay in the Shield Division). These games could be played as preludes to the Premiership Grand Final.
We could also just promote or relegate based on finishing position without the need for games between the two.

The Draft
The draft could still occur as is. Bottom teams from the Shield Division get top picks. Ideally it would be a lottery amongst the bottom five Shield Division teams to make tanking a less desirable option. I would, however, mandate four year contracts for first round picks. This would avoid the temptation for top picks to jump to Premiership Cup Division clubs after just two years.

The Benefits
  1. An equitable schedule. Teams play similar teams twice. Removes all confusion about the FIXture. Everyone plays everyone in their division twice (home and away).
  2. Less games for players minimum 16, with maybe a couple more - no more 'rest' listed next to big names and veteran players. No chance of top players playing 26 games (including finals). Teams get two byes a season.
  3. More teams involved in finals. 10 instead of 9. A wild card playoff in the Premiership Division between 6 and 7 would make this 11 teams.
  4. Teams playing against teams of a similar skill level (as noted previously this would never be perfect but it is a start).
The Drawbacks (and some responses)
  1. Missing out on some big drawing games. Using the basics of scheduling and the 2012 example, Essendon, Richmond and Carlton would not have played Collingwood in 2013, meaning all three and the AFL miss out on big crowds. There also would not have been a Showdown in Adelaide or a Battle of the Bridge in Sydney. (This has been addressed via the heritage or knockout cup suggestions.)
  2. Some teams get stuck in a division meaning there is a widening gap between big and small clubs.  (But isn't is the case already? When was the last time Melbourne played finals? When was the last time Hawthorn, Geelong, Sydney and Collingwood missed finals? At least if Melbourne managed to play more games against the likes of GWS, Bulldogs & Essendon - who they beat in 2012 - they might be a better chance of playing off for the Shield, even if they didn't get promoted.)
  3. Loss of revenue due to TV rights. Less games means less money. (Hence the suggestion for additional games that don't compromise the overall integrity of the competition).

 What do you think?

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