Cast your mind forward to the year 2028. Will there be as many changes in the next twenty years as there has been in the past? The AFL will never be set in stone in terms of participants, locations and such as it is now a business and not â€˜merelyâ€™ a sport.
I believe the draw as we now know it will become a thing of the past, perhaps within the next decade. The purest form of the draw is that everybody plays each other twice at home and away. Such a draw became impractical once the league grew beyond the 12 teams that made up the old VFL back in 1987.
Despite the fact that many nations have started to play Australian Rules Football at an amateur level, I donâ€™t foresee teams representing other nations participating in the AFL in the next twenty years. Eventually this will happen I believe, but not in my lifetime.
I believe that there eventually will be five divisions (as the word â€˜conferencesâ€™ would not be a palatable alternative for the Australian market) geographically based in such a manner..
AFL North (Brisbane Lions, Sydney Swans, Gold Coast Sharks, Penrith Panthers)
I believe that eventually there will be a Western Sydney and SEQ presence in the league. A Gold Coast team would precede the Western Sydney team supported by expatriate Victorians and South Australians initially, then by residents seeking an alternative to the Lions in SEQ, one of the fastest growing regions in Australia.
The Penrith Panthers might surprise many people. The Panthers have a lucrative set up and have purchased a number of leagues clubs in Western Sydney and the Panthers brand name could be quickly adopted to the rival code (AFL that is). You couldnâ€™t possibly name a third team in the league â€˜Westernâ€™ anything as the Bulldogs and the West Coast already have that in common. By having a Rugby League team add an AFL team list to its business interests you would be adding a familiar brand name to an less familiar code in Western Sydney and thus provide a selling point to an area which is currently strictly NRL territory. Both the AFL, the Penrith Panthers and perhaps the NRL itself could benefit from this. Imagine the AFL paying the NRL the rights to use the â€˜Pantherâ€™ moniker. It could be the beginning of a new era of co-existence between Australiaâ€™s two most significant winter codes.
AFL West (West Coast Eagles, Fremantle Dockers, Peel Thunder, Broome Bandits )
Western Australian readers are probably on the floor laughing about now at the prospect of the battling Peel Thunder and remote Broome taking part in football in the highest level. Peel and Broome could represent the far North and South West of WA. Already Peel has a good junior program in place even if current results do not make for pretty reading. It is not unreasonable to expect traditional football states to supply more teams to the national competition in two decades time. Perhaps the mining boom will provide funds and population to boost the game in Northern WA, an area that currently has no AFL presence. Iâ€™m tipping that in the future this area will be a potential growth area for the league, although admittedly Broome Bandits is a suspect name for any football team ha ha.
AFL South (Adelaide Crows, Port Power, Central Districts Roosters, Southern Redlegs)
Such a set up would probably doom the SANFL, which would probably need to amalgamate with Amateur football or become like the VFL is today, a glorified reserves competition to the AFL. With such an â€˜Americanâ€™ model you need to be aware that in the US there isnâ€™t an amateur or senior second tier system in place unlike Australia. SANFL fans would be horrified at such a prospect but rural South Australia could not sustain a national presence in the AFL, even in 20 years. You need to remember that Adelaide dominates its state more than any other capital city in Australia, hence the apparent metropolitan over-representation in the league of the future.
The logical third and fourth teams would be Central Districts, the dominant side of the SANFL this decade representing the cityâ€™s north. They would have to drop the Bulldog moniker just as Port dropped its famous Magpie but a national identity is the bigger prize than multiple SANFL premierships. Centrals could be aided in their quest with an amalgamation with SANFL club, the North Adelaide Roosters. The fourth side would represent the South East of the city on behalf of Norwood, Sturt, South Adelaide and perhaps Glenelg. At the moment, the fastest growing areas of the city are not represented in the AFL unless you buy the â€˜team for all South Australiansâ€™ line that Adelaide are trying to sell.
Harrison Division (Melbourne, Richmond, Collingwood, Carlton, Kangaroos)
Wills Division (Geelong, Hawthorn, Western Bulldogs, Essendon, St Kilda)
The ten Victorian teams would be divided into two divisions that are named for two of the key figures in the development of Australian Rules football, Thomas Wills and Henry Antil Harrison.
The draw would work as follows. Each team would play their divisional brothers twice a season every year. This is a sound business decision as this would reduce the amount of times each team would be forced to travel. Teams from AFL South would therefore get to play in Adelaide six times each season before home matches are even factored into the draw. Ideally AFL South sides would get to play 14 matches in SA each season.
However, not all divisions are the same size. This allows a more flexible programming schedule and allows for the programming of blockbuster matches so that Essendon could still get to play Carlton or Collingwood twice a year for example. Some things would remain unalterable in the draw but other matches could be programmed based on earnings potential, possible ratings figures or on emerging rivalries. I see the 22 round season remaining. You play everyone else at least once so that makes 17 matches with 5 teams to be played twice (i.e one spare for Harrison and Wills and two spare for North, South and West). During the extra second meeting round in the Harrison and Wills divisions the AFL would program an additional home and away clash between teams that make up the Western, Southern and Northern divisions.
The top eight would remain as would the current premiership table. This means you wouldnâ€™t have automatic qualification to the finals if you finished second in your division. The top eight would be decided on the same win/loss and percentage basis with no separate ladders for each conference, except for the statistically curious. The finals would be an improved event as any team that can finish 8th in an 18 team comp is not as mediocre as a team who finishes 8th out of 16.
Bring it on.
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