EVERYTHING is on the table.
List sizes, quarantine hubs, football department spending, substitutes and quarter lengths… they're all being discussed as football grapples with the fallout of the coronavirus crisis.
SMALLER POOL? FUTURE PICKS? How will COVID shake up the draft?
What about lifting the draft age to 19?
Callum Twomey and Mitch Cleary debate the issue and have your say in the poll below.
THE CASE FOR
With list sizes expected to be cut heading into 2021, adding the next batch of 18-year-olds will only see more current players lose their jobs. And that's with no guarantee of any underage football being played for recruiters – many of whom have currently been stood down – to assess the best talent for their clubs this year.
By pushing it back 12 months permanently beyond that, 18-year-olds will get another year of development in order to prepare for the rigours of AFL.
Under a change, the Victorian system could see the NAB League increase the age to 19, which is already partly in effect with a handful of 'overage' players at each club. Tasmania is included. The push to play draft aspirants at VFL level would only increase, as was planned heading into 2020 before the pandemic hit.
Seeing draftees playing against senior bodies has never affected the chances of SA or WA kids being drafted. Some would argue it only helps. Kids from those states would continue with their state-based clubs that offer the chance to play colts or senior football.
Elsewhere, northern state AFL clubs would continue their junior alignments and kids in the NT would again strive towards a berth in the National Championships. Even that carnival and the Draft Combine – held on the eve of exams – would be flexible with no school to be factored in.
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In WA and Queensland, kids already finish school at 17 and have a year out of the system. It allows them to devote time to football, while starting work or outside study.
In other states, most draftees go straight from school to football. When they arrive at a club, the focus is on settling into the football environment. Many are just learning to cook. And resources around fresh draftees will inevitably take a hit with football department spending to be cut by 30 per cent into 2021. How often do we see 19 or 20-year-old mature-age draftees roll out the "I wouldn't have been ready at 18."
It's only when a player enters their second or third year do they start thinking about part-time work or study. That's if they last that long.
It's fine for the superstars. Sam Walsh and Connor Rozee will make enough off football to set them up for life. But what about their teammates who are in the system for a handful of years, commit everything on a base wage around $80,000-$120,000 then find themselves back in society as a 22-year-old? Their schoolmates are already three years into work life.
With at least a year out of school at 18 – like WA and QLD – they would have a taste of the real world.
Using the NAB League as an example, 41 players got drafted last year from 600-odd players, the majority of which are in their 18th year. A large portion have to put football before school to achieve their dream. Lifting the draft age would ease the burden … and that's before everything else for life as an 18-year-old is factored in. - Mitch Cleary
THE CASE AGAINST
The arrival of the coronavirus, and its wide-ranging impact on the globe and game, shouldn't change the AFL's long-held reluctance to lifting the draft age.
On the surface, raising the draft age to 19 next year and not even staging a draft this year may have some merit if no under-18 games are played in the back half of 2020. But dig deeper.
The AFL has always been resistant to changing the under-18 competition to an under-19 competition in part because of the financial model that would be required to make the jump.
With a focus on how every dollar is spent due to the fallout of COVID-19, it is hard to see this move making the bean-counters happy.
Some will say that separating a draft year from the players' final year of schooling allows for their education to flourish and then for them to focus on football the following year. This is problematic in a few ways.
Firstly, the educational argument is anecdotal. There is just as much of the opposite view: how players enjoy the release of school work from footy, and that having the draft can also take their mind off the pressures of year 12. Ask around, you'll see.
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As Sydney list and recruiting manager Kinnear Beatson, told AFL.com.au last week: "I don't think you can put everyone into the same basket that it impacts significantly on their studies."
Plus, taking COVID-19 out of the equation, if the push for a draft age raise is purely in the interests of the physical and mental development of prospects, then the AFL-commissioned research paper from several years ago stands true.
After interviewing countless current, former and future players, as well as parents and officials, it didn't find enough reason to make change.
Then there's the question on what players will do in their 'footy gap year' between finishing school and getting drafted. Are the domestic junior competitions resourced enough to make them semi-professional environments? It's doubtful in the current climate.
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Will they study or work? Or just get caught waiting for the draft and experiencing the lifestyle of their peers away from football?
There are many views that development would in fact be stifled, and that school offers a regulated, disciplined structure which is a good stepping stone into an AFL club.
Of the 2018 top-20 picks, 15 played in their debut season last year (two of the five who didn't were dealing with significant injuries). Most made big impacts as well. Most years will provide the same.
Even with lists likely to reduce in 2021, the game needs a fresh batch of top-end talent each year. Given the circumstances, a smaller draft pool would be a reasonable outcome, and then allowing players who missed out on the draft to play as over-agers in the under-18 competition next year. – Callum Twomey