A RADICAL proposal to slash traditional AFL list sizes to as few as 30 players is one option being discussed at club level.
AFL teams typically each have roughly 45-man squads, comprising players on the 'primary' and rookie lists, including those with Category A and B status.
Changes to two state leagues announced in November last year could prove the first plank in the eventual shrinking of AFL list sizes.
One idea, which is very much in its infancy – and with no decision imminent – is for the primary and rookie lists to be combined and overall playing numbers per club to be cut.
Among the other suggestions is a less drastic reduction to 40.
There remains fluid dialogue between AFL headquarters and clubs on the topic, after several informal proposals were made mid-last year.
Category A rookies became eligible to play senior football in the last collective bargaining agreement in 2017, while clubs increasingly use the rookie draft to recycle their own players and save money in the salary cap.
Rookie-listed footballers' wage does not count in the cap.
Even reducing a playing list by five could save each team about $500,000, although that excess money may just spill over to the remaining players.
It's understood part of the thinking is with an eye to the AFL's next broadcast rights deal, with the current one expiring at the end of 2022, along with the competition's CBA.
There is still uncertainty, this far out, about whether the next deal will be as lucrative as the six-year, $2.5 billion one the AFL and the AFL Players' Association signed off on in 2015.
The average player wage will rise to $389,000 by 2022, and each club's annual salary cap will balloon to $13.54m.
An AFLPA spokesperson told AFL.com.au: "Currently, the AFLPA must agree to any changes made to list sizes under the CBA, which doesn't expire until 2022."
In another proposal to clubs, there would be 35 players on the primary list, plus five rookies, while the most extreme scenario would result in only 30 footballers being on the main list.
Any such slashing would require a readymade support mechanism, in case of clubs suffering bulk injuries, for example – and that's where the state leagues come in.
The AFL re-introduced the mid-season draft last year and initiated the pre-season supplemental selection period (SSP), where previously listed or overlooked players can train and sign directly with clubs.
Both added greater flexibility to the League's player movement system but drew the ire of some state league clubs, which – in many cases – lost key contributors.
An extensive review into the VFL and NEAFL competitions resulted in a series of rule changes for this year, designed to make the two state leagues more similar.
NEAFL clubs' salary cap will climb from $275,000 to about $325,000 this year, while non-AFL aligned VFL teams' salary cap will drop from $380,000 this season to $350,000 in 2022.
List sizes have also changed, on top of AFL-aligned NEAFL clubs being able to play up to two mature-age and five Academy players outside their AFL-listed members.
On the flipside, all VFL clubs must name one development player and another under-21 footballer in a 23-man squad.
The belief is greater list consistency across the state leagues, including the SANFL and WAFL, would be required if the AFL was to adopt 'two-way' players, like the United States' NBA.
NBA teams can sign basketballers to a two-way contract, where they play or train with that club for up to 45 days in a season and spend the rest of their time with the affiliated lower-level, G-League side.
Those days can be used at any time within the season but it's unlikely there would be a game or day restriction if the AFL implemented such a rule.
The early stage of discussions means there are few details on what a two-way AFL contract would potentially look like.
However, it's probable that player would sign a two-way deal and play for that club's state league team but be able to be called up at any time for AFL duty in, say, the case of a long-term injury.
This set-up could supersede or run alongside the mid-season draft, as clubs wouldn't have to wait to fill a vacancy but also may not have a two-way player in the position they need help in.
Any AFL equivalent could also be compared to Major League Baseball's 'farm' system, where players are competing in and can be promoted from various minor leagues across the country.