In its fourth season, the AFL’s bye round that separates the home and away season and the finals continues to divide the football world.
You’re either against it, believing a week off for the finalists after 23 rounds ruins the season’s momentum. Or, like AFL Chief Executive Gillon McLachlan, you believe the bye helps teams better prepare for the finals.
The one thing most AFL fans seem to agree on is that on the eve of the most exciting football of the year, the bye week is boring.
I have a solution which would replace the bye, benefit the AFL and clubs that missed the finals, and best of all, the supporters. Instead of a season building to a crescendo and then halting for a bye, I would implement a round of five games for the non-finalists.
In my plan, I would have teams vying for the best young talent coming into the AFL. For example, the 18th and 17th teams would play for the number one draftee, with the loser receiving pick two. The 16th and 15th teams would play for the number three and four draftees, and so on.
This system would deter teams from deliberately losing in order to get high picks. In 2009, Melbourne Football Club was suspected of “tanking” to secure a priority draft pick and club officials incurred penalties.
Supporters of teams that miss the finals would love matches such as these. Fans would be thrilled to see their heroes playing for the best possible recruit before the long off-season begins. It would also raise the profiles of the youngsters in line for AFL selection.
My idea may be quirky, but instead of a week of silence in Aussie Rules which lets other sports rule the airwaves and newspapers, the AFL would maintain its dominant presence in the Australian sporting landscape.
Footy fans are tribal and have shown time and again they will turn out for games that have meaning to them and their club. For example, in round 23 this year, 33,722 fans packed the stands at the SCG for the Sydney-St Kilda game, where neither side had any chance of making the finals. But it was fan-favourite Lance Franklin’s 300th game and a farewell match for club champions Jarrad McVeigh and Kieren Jack.
If teams were playing for the chance to secure the best newcomers, supporters would surely come to cheer on their heroes.