From the grandstand: Should the AFL abolish the draw?

19 April 2011

Written by: Ben Waterworth

Disbelief always sweeps an AFL venue when two teams go to war for 120 minutes and can’t be separated at the end of a match.

When the final siren sounds and scores are tied, everyone involved – players, coaches and fans – freeze, as if they’ve just heard the worst news of their life, unsure of what to do next.

It’s a surreal feeling. An empty feeling.

Should you be relieved and glad your team didn’t lose? Should you be shattered your team didn’t come away with a victory? Should you be glad you just got through those last five or so minutes without suffering a cardiac arrest?

Carlton and Essendon played out another thrilling draw on Saturday, making it the third game in four weeks where a match has ended with level scores. Normally AFL fans are lucky (or unlucky) to witness just one draw in a season, let alone three in just under a month.

There have been three or more draws in a season on 14 occasions in AFL/VFL history. Only three times have there been four in a season and just once has there been five.

But with the competition now as even as ever, drawn matches seem to be occurring on a more regular basis. Since Round 12 in 2010, there have been six draws, including the infamous first Grand Final between St Kilda and Collingwood in September.

So should the AFL avoid these awkward post-game situations and scrap the draw altogether?

Some argue a game of footy deserves to be decided right there and then, especially for the athletes’ sake. Players work harder than ever on a footy field these days, so imagine the feelings going through their heads when they look up at the scoreboard at the end of a match and see 87-87. It’s a waste.

The AFL has changed and introduced a host of new rules over the past decade. The ‘hands in the back’ rule, the deliberate rushed behind, the extended ruck centre circle, and the more recent substitute rule. While they’re at it, why can’t they change the draw?

The NRL has changed it and done it with great success. When two teams can’t be separated at the final siren, the game heads into extra time, with the winner determined by a ‘golden point’. Five minutes are played, teams swap ends and then a further five minutes is played. Any score, whether it is a try, penalty goal or field goal, during that period secures a win for the scoring team, thus ending the game.

There is no reason why the AFL can’t take on a similar approach. Extra time and a ‘golden goal’, for instance, would truly add to the theatre of the game. Yes it would be putting players under even more physical and mental pressure, but the end result – a winner and loser – is what all parties are after.

However some say if you want theatre, head to the Princess Theatre on Spring Street in Melbourne’s CBD, or even to your local community arts centre for an amateur production.

Modern-day footy games take so much out of players. To go another 10 to 20 minutes in order to decide a winner is a massive ask for players. Yes fans wouldn’t be getting what they want, but players’ safety is of utmost importance and their general wellbeing must take a higher priority on this occasion.

To have three draws in four weeks is unbelievable – almost freakish. But they don’t happen too often. Yes the game has gone through an astonishing run of luck over the past 10 months, but with the amount of scoring opportunities players have, coupled with overall game time, a result occurs 99 times out of 100.

The awarding of two points is also a sacred tradition in the AFL. Teams share the result, therefore it’s only fair they share premiership points as well. Why change an idea so realistic and simple?

The draw has created so many great moments in AFL history. We’ve had three drawn Grand Finals in VFL/AFL history, with the most famous arguable being the 1977 clash between North Melbourne and Collingwood. Mind you 2010’s draw between St Kilda and Collingwood was just as enthralling as the ’77 encounter.

Ask footy fans what they remember from the 1977 or 2010 grand finals, and the majority of them would draw your attention to the fact there were drawn games in those years. Yes the Kangaroos and the Magpies came back the next week and won the respective flags for those seasons. But in general, most will remember those two years as the year when teams couldn’t be separated at the final siren of the grand final.

There are both strong cases both for and against the eradication of the draw in the AFL. At the moment it’s hard to see the AFL budging, but if another couple of draws happen over the course of this season, there will be strong calls for the draw to be abolished.