A RESOLUTION on playing list sizes remains some way off despite the AFL and AFL Players' Association beginning discussions on potentially revising the collective bargaining agreement.
AFL.com.au understands clubs are now prepared for any list scenario, from a reduction to 35 through to no change – however unlikely – to the average of about 45 per club.
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It's believed the starting position in the negotiations between the AFL and AFLPA is 40, whether that's 38 on the primary list and two rookies or a flat 40.
Category B rookies, including international or alternative talent signings, may still be outside those figures.
The 38-plus-two model is the one most list managers, recruiters and player agents that AFL.com.au spoke to expect will happen.
One complication is clubs such as Brisbane already have a high number of players locked in for 2021, while the need to fill second-tier teams is another consideration.
The current CBA was due to run until the end of 2022, but the extraordinary circumstances of this COVID-19-affected season mean players have already accepted significant pay cuts.
The global pandemic's impact on the AFL industry is set to flow into at least next year and has resulted in major job losses at all levels and a large restructure at AFL House.
AFLPA chief executive Paul Marsh has repeatedly stated this year the AFL would need to make a "compelling" case for there to be any list cuts.
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The necessity to resolve the player payment debate earlier in the year saw that process truncated into five days, but it's understood any list size changes, which require a CBA tweak, will take much longer.
That is problematic, given it's almost September, and club list bosses and recruiters were universal in saying the sooner the decision was made the better. There is a possibility any list size changes may not come in until 2022.
They also believe if there are list cuts then the AFL should drop the requirement of making a minimum of three selections at the NAB AFL Draft.
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There could yet be some representative matches played, possibly in October, between the best Vic Metro and Vic Country talent.
More than half, and up to 60 per cent some years, of draftees come from Victoria, so this situation has presented major headaches for recruiting staff.
Some are of the belief non-Victorian prospects' draft chances may be heightened because they will have more exposed form this season, whereas others think it won't make any difference.
The SANFL under-18s and WAFL Colts competitions are considered to be not as strong as the NAB League, so recruiters are having difficulty gauging and comparing performances without a national carnival.
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As a result, clubs may turn to more data scientists or analysts, at least in a consulting sense, in the months to come to help make decisions based on what's available on players from previous years.
However, the expectation is teams will be more conservative at the draft and could be more reluctant to slash their list and instead offer more one-year deals or rookie promotions.