SUPPLEMENTING a reduced 2020 season with more matches next year appears unlikely, with AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan casting doubt over the League's ability to fit more games into future schedules.
There has been a widespread view that additional matches will need to be played from next season in order to help both teams and the League recover from the financial pitfalls of the coronavirus crisis.
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The current campaign has already been reduced to just 17 matches per side, with the season in the midst of a suspension period that will last until at least May 31 due to the global outbreak of the COVID-19 virus.
However, speaking in a Zoom call with reporters on Thursday, McLachlan said there were a number of issues that could hamper the AFL's ability to expand future seasons beyond the traditional 22 matches.
"It is challenging to think of going beyond 22 rounds for a few reasons," McLachlan said.
"There is venue availability, there's challenges around the ability of the players to cope with an extended season and we've got commitments and contracts with venues, broadcasters and others that are challenging to roll into different seasons.
"It might be possible, we'll have a look at it. But instinctively, there are some structural challenges to doing that. But right now, there aren't bad ideas. It's incumbent upon us to look at everything."
Here are the key takeaways from McLachlan's expansive and wide-ranging press conference:
ON WHEN THE AFL WILL DECIDE ABOUT THE RETURN OF PLAY …
"We've been working towards making a public announcement by the end of April. That would contemplate having narrowed down all of the alternatives to a way that we would resume our season. We'll be clear about in what form our resumption would take and I'm optimistic that it would have a return-to-training date and a season resumption date. That's the intention. We flagged that some weeks ago and we're still confident we can get to that position by the end of April."
ON THE POTENTIAL OF PLAYING IN HUBS …
"It's incumbent upon us to look at every option. That ranges from playing the way we have historically, to various levels of quarantine. We are working with the right people, the government, security experts and the right medical officers to get a considered view about the right way to take us forward."
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ON WHAT THE DRAFT WILL LOOK LIKE THIS YEAR …
"I'm very confident that the draft will go ahead. Clearly, there's a possibility that it will be in a different form. But we will need a draft. The draft age is being discussed by working groups. I know there are various views on all of that, but one thing I've heard in the last 24 hours from various people around football – and, again, this is trying to help without being definitive – is that the best 18-year-old kids are walking straight into very good teams and are having an impact straightaway. People are looking for the whole draft class to be more mature, but they certainly don't want to have less access to the best 18-year-olds. Hopefully that gives you a level of direction."
ON HOW THE MATCHES WILL LOOK UPON THE RESUMPTION OF COMPETITION …
"The shorter quarters, we've already seen. Certainly, the reality is that we'll be starting without crowds. That gives us flexibility with the scheduling. I don't have an answer on interchange, but I know Steve Hocking is looking at it at the moment. The reality is that we need to be agile and flexible and we've said that right the way through to get this season away."
ON WHETHER THE 30-DAY SUSPENSION IF A PLAYER TESTS POSITIVE TO THE CORONAVIRUS WILL CONTINUE IN THE FUTURE …
"The 30 days applied when we didn't have the protocols and the resilience measures that we have now and will certainly have in place with our players. With all of that stuff we are increasingly aware of as individuals about how we put resilience measures in place to protect ourselves individuals, families, work forces … we're optimistic it will be shorter than that (the minimum 30 days) going forward."
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ON WHETHER CUTS TO LISTS WILL HAPPEN THIS YEAR …
"No, there's certainly not anything I'm aware of where it would happen this year. For reasons that are obvious, all aspects of football are under review going forward. List sizes have come up, but I have no information that it would mean it would have any impact this year."
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ON THE MINIMUM NUMBER OF GAMES NEEDED THIS YEAR …
"I've talked about integrity. Our focus is on getting 144 games away. At the moment, we're not looking at doing anything other than that. We're not looking at shorter seasons or anything else. Today, in mid-April … it feels possible."