Fixing the broken AFL Draft

The AFL is embarking on a journey that will take them into a new era. What that era will look like is unknown, but what is known and clear when reading the tea leaves at AFL house is that there is a thirst and appetite for change at an unprecedented level.

Bringing our traditional game into a modernised age is first and foremost on the agenda of AFL CEO Gillion McLachlan and his new head of football, Steve Hocking. A new women’s competition and match review panel system have already been implemented, while a new fixturing system, reserves competition, and mid-season trade period appear to be on the agenda as well. Add to that a stack of on-field changes, and the AFL is a workplace in the midst of change.

The winds of change are blowing stronger in the millennial-driven, entertainment and sporting worlds and the AFL have begun adjusting their sails as opposed to dropping anchor and staying put. One only needs to have caught a glimpse of the shortened form version of the sport trialled in February on soccer pitches to see that this administration is not afraid of change. Grounds littered with superimposed sponsors logos, with 10 pointers, silver-cum-yellow footballs and T20 comparisons were just the start. Everything is open to change with Gil in charge, and a radical reconfiguring of certain elements of the competition are no longer a taboo subject.

The AFL’s newest project is the AFL Draft. The plan is to make it a more broadcaster-friendly, two-day affair in a similar vein to many professional American sporting competitions. If the AFL’s plan comes to fruition, the first round will take place on one night with the remainder of the draft transpiring on the following day. Live trading of picks would be introduced throughout the event.

The introduction of live trading will be a welcomed inclusion to draft night as the increased excitement will no doubt add to the affair and broadcast appeal. It could also mean that a draft pick’s value will rise once more and the strategically savvy clubs will gain another advantage. The power to use draft picks (and future draft picks for that matter) as bargaining chips throughout the trade period and on draft night, coupled with the fact that recruiters have never been better positioned to identify potential superstars means that in the right hands – draft picks can be a club’s weapon of mass destruction.

The draft is no longer the lottery it once was. Supporters of clubs (some more than others) should be able to have some degree of confidence that a high draft pick will more than likely be a successful player for the club. Obviously, there are several examples to the contrary but the selecting of draft picks has never been more sophisticated than it is today and will only improve along with the accuracy of the recruiters.

That is why the AFL must overhaul the farce of a system in which clubs are allocated draft picks. The current draft system is fundamentally flawed as it rewards teams for losing matches causing a ‘tanking’ loophole and some very poor late season games. However, the AFL is stuck on this one – the draft must reward suffering teams as the whole point is the draft is equalisation. In fact, we need a system that supports clubs that have made the bottom end of the ladder home for far too long such as Carlton, Brisbane, St Kilda and the farcical Gold Coast Suns, more than it does now. We need a system that eliminates tanking, rewards teams for winning games and helps suffering teams more. That’s a tough ask but I think this radical proposal has the answer.


1 – The top 10 picks are given to the 10 teams that did not play finals during the previous season.

2- The order is determined by the teams that have missed out of the finals for the most consecutive years, eg. the team that has not played finals for the longest period of time receives pick 1 (as the ladder currently stands this would see the Brisbane Lions receive Pick 1 as they have not qualified for finals since 2009).

3 – If more than one team has missed out of the finals for the same consecutive years, the team that finishes HIGHER on the ladder is given the higher pick. Therefore, giving teams that cannot make finals gain some incentive to win ‘dead rubber’ games late in the season. (This would see the 15th placed Gold Coast and the 16th placed St Kilda compete to WIN more games in order to receive Pick 2 or Pick 3 – as the Saints have not made finals since 2011 and the Suns have not competed in the finals since their opening season in 2011. That would have made St Kilda’s 2-point win against Gold Coast worth significantly more than just pride).

4 – Picks 11-18 are given to the teams that made the finals.

5 – The teams that have made the finals for the most consecutive years receive the lowest pick. (This would currently see Sydney receive the lowest first draft pick out of all the teams as this season is set to be the ninth consecutive season of finals for the Swans).

6 – If more than one team has made the finals for the same consecutive years, the team that finishes HIGHER on the ladder (including finals) is given the higher pick. (Slightly more incentive to win finals – not that this is exactly needed!)

This proposal will more effectively support the teams that it fulfilling the core purpose of the draft which is equalisation. Teams that have been out of the finals for a decade need more support by way of draft picks than a team that may have just had one stinker of a year.

Long suffering teams need young talent desperately and this proposal provides it for them. Tanking is eradicated under this system unless a club plans to throw the next five or six years in order to be compensated by a better draft pick. In fact, clubs are actually encouraged to win games to receive better draft picks. How about that for a novel change? Finally, there will be a point to these flat end-of-season games besides a ‘who can more subtly tank competition’.

While, the AFL should pursue a much needed revision of the style of draft, the draft’s substance must also be put under the microscope. There’s a common saying amongst disgruntled AFL fans that goes something like ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

The AFL Draft system is broken. Please, AFL… fix it! 


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