After criticism that some clubs benefited by playing the weaker teams twice this year, the AFL has moved to ease these concerns.AS clubs and supporters begin to analyse their 2013 fixture, the AFL insists splitting the competition into two conferences would not alleviate any concerns.
While releasing next year’s schedule, AFL chief operating officer Gillon McLachlan said the league had investigated several sporting systems.
”The simple message I would say about conferences is that, ultimately, our view is that any sort of structural advantage you may get through that certainty is outweighed by potential inequalities that are created,” he said.
”You can get very soft conferences, ultimately. That means you can get teams missing out on finals who are actually a stronger team than others who are in (the other) conference just because the way the conferences are structured up.
”We don’t think that really works. Ultimately, we think you can get the best bits of conferencing out of our model to try and mitigate the worst bits.”
The AFL claims it has delivered greater fairness and made its marquee Friday night timeslot even more attractive for broadcasters and supporters in next year’s schedule.
After criticism during this year’s campaign that some clubs, particularly North Melbourne and Adelaide, benefited by playing the weaker teams twice, the AFL has moved to ease these concerns.
This year’s top four clubs – Sydney, Hawthorn, Collingwood and Adelaide – will only play the bottom four clubs – Greater Western Sydney, Gold Coast, Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs – once. The exception is the Swans and Giants with their cross-town clash set to be played twice in 2013.
The 10 clubs that did not make the finals will have a maximum of two return matches with the top-eight teams from this year while, where possible, the eight finalists this year will have a maximum of two return matches against the 10 non-finalists.
The season begins with a split round on Friday March 22 when the Adelaide Crows host Essendon. The Dockers and Eagles will stage a derby the following day, while the remaining clubs will begin a week later over Easter when Carlton and Richmond clash at the MCG on Thursday March 28.
AFL general manager broadcasting, scheduling and legal affairs, Simon Lethlean, said he was happy with the overall outcome of a fixture featuring 198 home-and-away matches.
”Every year the average is three clubs come out of the eight and three go in, so you can’t pick who they are going to be. You can’t divorce yourself from those teams that are in the eight because they could be there again,” he said.
”I think we have looked at it as transparently as we ever have about who is playing who twice and tried to assume as best we can whilst still trying to achieve all these things like big match ups, the big crowds, all those contractual obligations and the broadcasts.
”I think it’s the best type of model of fairness and commerciality and everything else that I have done in four or five years. But who knows? Someone might be playing a side that falls well below where we thought they would have been and might get an easier run.”
McLachlan, who said he was particularly looking forward to the historic Anzac Day clash between St Kilda and Sydney in Wellington, New Zealand, said Friday night and Saturday twilight fixtures were stronger.
”Friday night is the strongest Friday night fixture I have ever seen,” he said.
To help achieve this, five of this year’s struggling clubs – Western Bulldogs, Melbourne, Port Adelaide, Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney – will not appear in the most commercially important time-slot of the weekend.
However, the eagerly-anticipated clash between Collingwood and a Carlton team now led by Mick Malthouse will be staged on a Sunday afternoon in round two.
McLachlan said in an ideal world the entire opening round would have been held on the weekend of March 22-24 but the unavailability of the MCG due to cricket commitments – it needs to be available for the final of the Sheffield Shield – meant this was not possible.
He said the AFL was seeking ”constructive solutions” for future seasons with the state government and cricket authorities. Cricket’s contract with the MCC runs from October 1 to March 31 until 2019.
McLachlan said if this issue was resolved it would allow the league to appease its players and factor in two byes.
”Our players are crying out for a rest. In the discussions we have with them, in the conversations, it’s priority one, two, three for them,” he said.
Lethlean said the move to have the top eight teams from this season play each other more regularly next year would not be to their disadvantage.
”I think, for one thing, it’s giving people what they want to see, which is the best clubs playing each other,” he said.
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