CLUBS are anticipating changes to Next Generation Academies for next year as the AFL works through its plans for the talent program.
However, they remain in the dark on whether this year will be the last that highly regarded draft prospects can join clubs under the system.
The 2020 draft pool is the most compromised in history with a high number of NGA, northern Academy and father-son players available, including the potential No.1 pick Jamarra Ugle-Hagan (pictured) with the Western Bulldogs.
The NGA system was introduced in 2016 allowing each club outside of New South Wales and Queensland to have their own Academy zone from which they get priority access over players from Indigenous or multicultural backgrounds.
Among the graduates to the AFL have been Collingwood's Isaac Quaynor, North Melbourne's Tarryn Thomas and Fremantle's Liam Henry.
The system was designed as a joint venture between the AFL and its clubs to grow the game in 'under-represented' communities. The League saw the role of clubs as important in the move, knowing at grassroots level the strong pull of an AFL brand for the sport's newcomers.
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However, with club soft caps stripped back by more than $3 million next year as part of the financial fallout from COVID-19, the ability for them to spend on their Academies has been hit.
The AFL also has contributed $150,000 to each club annually for the development and resources in the Academies but has not yet confirmed to clubs if that sum will return in 2021.
There is a view amongst clubs that the role of the NGAs could be mixed into the restructure of second-tier competitions, which could form greater ties with under-18 clubs in Victoria.
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But with a lower investment at club level, it is unclear if access to top talents such as Ugle-Hagan and Lachie Jones, who is tied to Port Adelaide's NGA and predicted as a first-round pick this year, could be altered.
If it is changed, several clubs have called on it to be phased out over years so that players who have already signed on for Academies and are due to reach the draft in coming seasons remain tied to their clubs.
At the end of last season the AFL begun reviewing slashing the 20 per cent points discount afforded to clubs who match a bid for their Academy players.
The discount was originally included in the system as an incentive to encourage clubs to invest in their Academy programs and select father-son picks, however some list managers and recruiters believe the ability to choose to match a bid is already enough of a perk.
The West Australian and South Australian clubs had been granted access to extended zones in their respective states, with metropolitan areas being included for their NGAs, before this season.
However, as COVID-19 struck, their applications to add more players from metropolitan regions have been left on the back burner.
Bulldogs chief executive Ameet Bains said the discussion on potential NGA changes had several layers.
"There's clearly a lot of focus on the number of players that are zoned to clubs this year under NGA or father-son rules. That's produced a lot of scrutiny so whether that ends up leading to change or not remains to be seen," Bains told AFL.com.au's Footy Feed podcast this month.
"Is this year an exceptional outlier compared to the years gone past? I'm probably a little bit removed from it now to fully answer that question but it clearly is going to be a discussion point."
St Kilda has access to a number of NGA talents next year, including Jack Perris, the son of former Olympian Nova Perris, and Saints CEO Matt Finnis said he expected some operational changes to the NGAs but hoped access to players was untouched.
"I think it's been a terrific initiative and we certainly have been heavily invested in the Next Generation Academy," Finnis told the Footy Feed podcast.
"With some terrific partners whether it's the Sandringham Dragons, a bit of work with the Dandenong Stingrays, and also through the junior leagues through Melbourne's south, it's been a great way to bring that whole football pathway together.
"I'm sure it can be enhanced and improved, but we're really committed to it so hopefully we can continue to all invest and get the benefit out of it."
Reef McInnes (Collingwood), Joel Western (Fremantle), Connor Downie (Hawthorn), Cody Brand (Essendon), Tariek Newchurch and James Borlase (Adelaide) and Cody Raak (Western Bulldogs) are other NGA talents available at this year's draft to their respective clubs.