THE AFL is set to phase out clubs' access to leading Next Generation Academy draft prospects after changes to the program.
The League last week announced that it would take control of the Next Generation Academies with the assistance of the clubs as part of a range of modifications to the talent pathway.
Since 2016, the NGAs have been club-run (with an annual financial contribution from the AFL) with the incentive to develop multicultural and Indigenous talents and then get first access to them in the draft.
TALL, ATHLETIC AND VERSATILE 25 of the best draft prospects
But in what will be a significant shift to the NGA rules, clubs expect that at least the first round, and possibly the second, would be made 'protected' from NGA bids.
This means there would be no ability to match bids on NGA players within that protected part of the draft, making for a less compromised pool given the clubs will not have invested as much resources and development in the players.
However, after the protected part of the draft has ended, it is expected that clubs will be able to list their NGA talents with later picks as normal with the AFL keen to continue its drive for more diversity within its playing ranks.
The changes will not come into effect before the 2020 NAB AFL Draft.
But for example under that model the Western Bulldogs would not get priority access on Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, who is tipped as the possible No.1 pick this year but is linked to the Dogs under the NGA rules.
It also means top-end graduates of the program such as Collingwood's Isaac Quaynor, North Melbourne's Tarryn Thomas and Fremantle's Liam Henry in previous years would have been available to all clubs given they were first-round selections.
But the likes of Collingwood's Atu Bosenavulagi and Melbourne's Toby Bedford, who were taken late in the 2018 draft, would still be free to automatically join their NGA clubs.
Clubs have been notified of impending changes to the Next Generation Academy system but a timeline on when – and how – the phasing out of access to the top prospects will begin has yet to be detailed.
Some have proposed that players who have already signed up to their NGA programs who are aged 15 and over should be tied to the club under the current bidding rules, which is the same as father-son and northern Academy players.
They have suggested that players were lured to the AFL code from other sports as teenagers because of the Next Generation Academies and that they should be able to have access for them if they are deemed good enough to be selected in the 'protected' part of the draft.
The AFL still wants clubs to have a role in the implementation of the NGA programs, knowing that the attachment of a club brand is important for juniors coming through.
This year looms as the biggest in NGA history, with Ugle-Hagan, Lachie Jones (Port Adelaide), Reef McInnes (Collingwood), Connor Downie (Hawthorn), Cody Brand (Essendon) and Joel Western (Fremantle) all possible top-25 picks as NGA products.