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Kelty getting mixed messages on academies, but draft purity remains key

AFL Commissioner Bill Kelty arrives at AFL House in Melbourne for an AFL Commission Hearing for cases involving the Adelaide Crows Football Club, Adelaide Crows’ Chief Executive Steven Trigg, Adelaide Crows General Manager Football Operations Phil Harper, former Adelaide Crows General Manager Football Operations John Reid and former Adelaide Crows listed player Kurt Tippett. (Photo: Lachlan Cunningham/AFL Media)
Bill Kelty says clubs vary greatly on their desire to have an academy directly linked to them
There's parts of Australia where, just geographically, we've not been
Bill Kelty is seeking to broaden the AFL base

FORMER AFL Commissioner Bill Kelty says academies and recruiting zones for all clubs have merit, as long as they don't "distort" the purity of the national draft. revealed last month that the League was discussing developing recruiting zones and academies for every club in a bid to increase participation and build the talent pathway in line with AFL teams.

But Kelty, who is leading a wide-ranging review of football at lower levels around the country, said the NAB AFL Draft needed to be protected under any such plan. 

How the northern football academies work

"It is worth exploring. AFL clubs can be very, very good in linking to communities. And when they link to communities then they want something out of it," Kelty told

"But the last thing you want to do, having finally got the position where the draft rules are fair and the salary cap is fair and … about as uncompromised as you can reasonably expect it to be, [is to] introduce a system in which you introduce more compromises."

The high profile union figure, who departed the AFL Commission in March after 17 years, is undertaking a comprehensive review of second-tier competitions and football at under-18 and community levels.

Views have been canvassed from clubs about the zones concept, with some offering support and others concern about the impact such a proposal would have on the purity of the draft.

Kelty said introducing club-based academies had clear advantages, but could not be allowed to hurt the integrity of the draft or benefit only the strong clubs.

"You cannot kill off the draft system and the salary cap, that's the source of the equality," he said.

"To upset the draft and salary cap and to introduce another competitive advantage which is a function of finance, it's going to be very difficult to sustain the clubs." 

Some clubs have told Kelty they would not invest in academies unless they received a tangible benefit through the draft, such as Isaac Heeney's attachment to the Sydney Swans academy which saw the midfielder join the club at last year's draft.   

Others have indicated the costs associated with developing and maintaining an academy may be too high.

"Some have said they would [support having academies without access to players], some have said that they wouldn't," Kelty said.

"Some would say 'We don't make any money, if it's going to cost us 1-2 million dollars a year to run it and we get no competitive advantage then why would we do it?'" 

Another idea has been to link academies to non-traditional football areas in Australia, such as remote and regional sectors, and to also use the zones to hone in on multicultural areas.

Kelty, who plans to have developed recommendations out of the review by the end of this year, thinks the AFL could better reflect the diverse nature of society.

"There's parts of Australia where, just geographically, we've not been. Other games have been there," he said. 

"You want to broaden out the game, and you can do that in a number of ways."

He said building 'high skill centres' for local players in communities to improve as footballers should be a goal, and pointed to St Kilda's likely move back to Moorabbin as an ideal scenario.

The Saints are set to re-establish a training and administration centre there as part of a redevelopment within the precinct, which will include facilities as a sporting hub for TAC Cup side Sandringham Dragons, its standalone VFL team and other local sides.

Kelty said recruiting zones for every club were a realistic option as they canvass many ideas for the future. 

"I think it's a chance. It's got to be considered," Kelty said.