THE NAB AFL Draft is usually held in late November following the conclusion of year 12 exams around Australia.
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But there is genuine uncertainty around this year's draft format due to the coronavirus outbreak that has put the AFL – and world – on hold.
Clubs have been banned from interviewing draft prospects for the next couple of weeks. They were planning to do interviews via Skype, Zoom etc but AFL has blocked that for now. More in @AFLcomau's rolling blog. https://t.co/Dy1py0P6bK— Callum Twomey (@CalTwomey) March 22, 2020
Over the weekend AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan told Fox Footy he was confident there would be a draft, but that recruiters may have to select players based on their form in 2019.
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Scouts are hopeful there will be an under-18 championships in some form later this year, but do have the resources, vision and capabilities to use study older games once they are back on deck (recruiting and list management teams have been stood down across the AFL as a result of the financial fallout from COVID-19).
The AFL, clearly, has more pressing things on its mind than the draft, and the football landscape may shift significantly within two months let alone eight when the event is usually staged.
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But here are some of the options available to the AFL for its draft plans.
A SMALLER DRAFT POOL
If list sizes are going to be cut across the competition, there will be less of a need to use picks at the draft. Under current rules, clubs must make at least three additions to their senior list via the draft every year (which can include upgraded rookies).
But with a reduction in list spots looming, a smaller draft pool could be on the League's agenda. For instance, if there was only two rounds of the draft (a total of 36 picks) that would serve several purposes: ensure the top talents that are ready to play in 2021 get to clubs, give teams a chance to replenish their lists, but also not overload them with a stack of new faces while also reducing overall list numbers.
RAISE THE DRAFT AGE
Former Melbourne and Sydney coach Paul Roos and ex-North Melbourne coach Brad Scott have been vocal supporters of lifting the draft age to 19. Some will see this as an opening for that to happen, particularly with Scott now at the AFL in a game evolution role.
The AFL has long discussed a change in the draft age with some believing prospects have too much on their plate as they finish schooling to also have the pressure of being drafted thrown on top. The theory behind it this time is so all prospects can have the chance to shine fairly against each other next year, and to skip this year's draft.
But after McLachlan's comments, and the fact the AFL commissioned a research paper into lifting the draft age several years ago that didn't recommend changing the status quo, such a move would appear radical.
ACCESS TO ACADEMY AND FATHER-SONS
Some clubs have noted that with a high proportion of this year's draft class already tied to clubs as Next Generation Academy, northern Academy and father-son prospects, clubs will be in a better position to select those players given they would have seen them through their own programs in the past few years.
One idea thrown up by a list manager was to allow clubs two picks each and then on top of that have access to at least one – or a variation – NGA, Academy or father-son selection per club to allow them to head to the clubs that have spent time and resources developing the prospects.
UNDER-19s COMPETITION IN 2021
If a smaller amount of picks looms this season, then the AFL would likely consider opening up the under-18 competitions around the country to be under-19 leagues.
It would deny bottom-aged players much of a chance to shine ahead of their draft season, but would give opportunities to prospects who could have been taken in a normal draft but missed out if a limit is placed on how many selections can be taken.
… AND WHAT ABOUT THE DRAFT ORDER?
It has been a question we've heard over the past two weeks and it has merit: in the worst case scenario and there is little football this season, how does the AFL approach its draft order?
The lottery system, like the NBA runs for its draft, has been floated many times in regards to the AFL draft, and nobody would begrudge the League for looking at novel ways to try things this season given the circumstances. Here's an idea if a satisfactory level of games is not reached – use the 2019 ladder and allocate a certain number of balls to the bottom four sides, and then less to the sides in the next four positions and so forth.
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The Grand finalists would get the least number of balls in the lottery to decide the order. As for future traded picks that were swapped last year, well, we'll leave that one to the AFL.