The pressure is on the AFL to try and give the competition a more even spread of success heading into the future. After the past two weeks of footy we have seen a number of massive blowout victories by Carlton, Collingwood and mainly Geelong. The Cats have a grand total of 336 points separating them and the teams they have played in the past two weeks, Carlton defeating Melbourne by 80pts and Collingwood defeating Port Adelaide by 138pts. With this in mind, the AFL has confirmed more hand-outs for struggling clubs.
Last year the AFL handed out cash totalling $7.1 million to clubs such as Port Adelaide, Western Bulldogs, Carlton, Sydney, Melbourne, Richmond and North Melbourne. Most of those clubs would be in line for more hand-outs, with the exception of Carlton and possibly the Bulldogs.
This has sparked an instant debate between the big spender clubs – Collingwood and Hawthorn – and the smaller clubs, needing these hand-outs – North Melbourne. Eddie McGuire and Jeff Kennett are of the opinion that those clubs should not be getting “bonuses” because it takes away their incentive to achieve on their own. James Brayshaw was furious at the two of them for sitting high-and-mighty as some would say.
The AFL has a hard salary cap limit, which means clubs cannot go over that cap, however clubs can spend as much money as they wish on off-field acquisitions. This is where the teams that have less money struggle to keep up with the teams that have major cash books. Richmond and Melbourne have been on the bottom section of the ladder for the best part of the past decade because while they have individual on-field talent, they lack the men behind them to work with them, develop them and get them to show unity on-field. Teams like Collingwood, Hawthorn, Geelong and St Kilda have excellent men working with their players off-field to get the most out of them on-field, also they have a far superior number of those men. This is what’s known as a teams Football Department and where alot of the clubs cash goes from its members, once the players salaries are factored and paid for.
Alot of the extra money the top clubs have come from poker machines and if people remember, earlier in the year Jeff Kennett was appalled that the government would think of putting a limit on how much can be put into a poker machine. This from a bloke who heads up a depression awareness charity! Kennett was worried that the forced upgrade to the limit model would see teams hitting the wall and not able to cover these costs, he wasn’t thinking of the families affected by gambling at all, just that the Hawks would lose a source of revenue. Collingwood also own poker machines (as do 9/10 Victorian clubs) and up until last year they also owned five hotels.
Chris Judd made a good observation in the Herald Sun today when he compared the current path of the AFL to the NBA. He said that the only games worth watching in the NBA were the finals because the 82 games of the regular season are usually surrounded by a ho-hum feeling and he didn’t want the AFL to follow that path. This brings me to another point raised by Mike Sheahan, also in the Herald Sun today, about the fixturing and why they don’t change it to each team plays each other twice, once at home and once away. No more choppy looking fixture how you can play the same team twice within four weeks, it was a fixture that shouldn’t have changed in the first place. Sheahan also says this allows for a State of Origin weekend, as well as either an extended finals period or a week off before the Grand Final due to the season being reduced a couple of rounds. Sounds good to me!
This ties into the performances of teams as we reach round 21 of this season. Richmond, Melbourne, Gold Coast and Port Adelaide have all had enough, everyone can see it. Gold Coast is understandable, they are all kids and there first season in the competition was always going to be a long one and they were always going to hit the wall. Richmond, Melbourne and Port Adelaide however, have been in the competition for plenty of time and should know the rigors of a season, this comes back to the Football Departments and the amount of money each club has. None of those three clubs are able to afford to send players to Arizona, like Collingwood has, midseason for a quick recovery and fly them back home again.
This is where the league needs to step in, yes I believe the struggling teams should gain a hand-out from the AFL, no I don’t believe this should be an ongoing strategy employed by the AFL. The AFL should introduce a salary limit on the Football Department of clubs, much the same as they have for the playing group. An AFL hand-out to the struggling clubs to bring them up to this designated limit would be required for the next couple of seasons to allow them to gather their department. This would provide a much more even competition as each playing group would have the same level of support from the Football Department as every other playing group. This then means that other sections of the AFL can be looked at and worked on, such as sponsorship, media exposure, fixturing etc. because they too play an important part in the success of a team and as they are in a continuous cycle themselves, one cannot work without the other.