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COMMENT: Fix the fixture, Gill, forget 'wildcard weekend'

Matt Thompson  May 19, 2017 11:30 AM

AFL 2016 Toyota AFL Grand Final - Sydney v Western Bulldogs

The Western Bulldogs celebrate their 2016 Grand Final win after finishing seventh on the ladder. Picture: AFL Photos

Whichever way HQ has attempted to splice things up in recent years ... there are winners and losers from the inequitable draw - and that's not fair

'WILDCARD weekend' - the latest concept being considered for round 23 - may indeed provide fans with plenty of thrills and spills at the end of a long home and away season, but there is no escaping that it is just a massive distraction from the main game.

And what exactly is the main game? Fixture reform. To be precise, fixing the compromised draw.  

The only way to really do that is to have a 17-game season where every team plays each other once – and the commercial reality means that's never going to happen.  

As a way of moving towards some form of equity in the draw, the AFL again went to the table with its 17-5 model this week, and instead the CEO, Gillon McLachlan, emerged with what really is a wild idea.  

A proposed 'wildcard weekend' – where 7th plays 10th and 8th plays 9th for a shot at the finals – which on the surface offers no boost to equality in the competition whatsoever.  

It theoretically offers more teams a chance of September glory, but ultimately makes it harder for any team finishing below sixth to reach the Grand Final.  

It would effectively extend the finals out to a 10-team system, with no real gain apart from two extra games in an already very long season and – let's be frank – provide the AFL with a massive cash windfall.    

But all of this takes us away from the conversation that counts – and that's making the competition as fair as possible.  

Whichever way HQ has attempted to splice things up in recent years, with complicated formulas and the like, ultimately there are winners and losers from the inequitable draw – and that's not fair.  

The clubs are against 17-5 because they're thinking with their pockets.  

Club administrators appear unwilling to open their minds to what a fixture would look like with only eight or nine confirmed home games going into the start of the season.  

Their main argument is about membership and corporate packages, and the need to pre-sell 11 home games. But that's such a simplistic attitude.  

In recent weeks the conversation has turned to an 18-4 proposal, as some kind of compromise with the clubs, primarily to allow cross-town double-ups in the non-Victorian markets.  

But again, as McLachlan concedes, that wouldn't fix the problem and would still leave us with an unfair system.  

How would you determine which team in your pool of six you don't play?  

It means 17-5 is the only viable option.  

Imagine the next round of 'upgrades' you could sell once the fresh fixture comes out for the top six, middle six and bottom six.   Imagine the bottom six actually playing for draft picks or maybe a cash bonus.    

The excitement would be palpable for fans, with all games still having significant meaning.  

The new storylines it would generate from a media coverage perspective would be huge, and the game itself would be the focus.  

The rejuvenated end to the season could also provide a genuine lift in media rights revenue, something 'wildcard weekend' is unlikely to do on a long-term basis.  

As an industry, we need to have an open mind in this fixture debate.  

And as is so often the case – and is their right – the clubs hold the key to changing things for the better.