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How to stop ‘tanking’

At the end of every AFL season lower-placed clubs are invariably accused of 'tanking' in order to attract better draft picks. As Michael Pell reports, a NBA-style 'lottery draft' system would provide clubs with incentive to push for higher ladder positions.

Every season in the AFL the dreaded  topic of ‘tanking’ finds a way to rear its ugly head. Clubs may not intentionally try to throw games, nor do players go out and play with no intention of winning because, as players know, once they cross that white line there are no thoughts of losing.

However it is quite obvious that the rewards for winning as few games as possible are enticing and potentially very lucrative. When finals are no longer a realistic option, clubs choose to rest older, more experienced and capable players and look to blood young players who may not be ready for the rigors of AFL football. This tactic reduces their chances of winning games.

When pulling apart this issue there is no doubt that the AFL has cause for concern. They need to have a serious look at introducing a fairer and more appropriate system – a system where the clubs’ performances do not affect the order of draft picks as much as they currently do. Calls have been ringing loud and clear for a National Basketball Association (NBA) style ‘lottery’ draft system to be introduced.

Under the current AFL draft system, a team that wins fewer than five games in a season will receive a priority draft pick between the first two rounds of the next season’s draft. If a team wins fewer than five games in two consecutive seasons, then their ‘priority selection’ is taken before the first round of the next draft.

Despite finishing ahead of Richmond in 2007, Carlton were entitled to pick one (Matthew Kruezer) with Richmond taking Trent Cotchin at pick two and Carlton trading pick three to West Coast as part of a trade to get Chris Judd. Last year’s draft saw Melbourne given picks one – as their ‘priority selection’ – and two – for finishing the season at the bottom of the ladder. With these picks they selected the most talked about draftee duo in AFL history, Tom Scully and Jack Trengrove.

The NBA’s ‘lottery’ draft has been tinkered with over time, but as it currently stands the lottery is only available for the first three draft picks. Each team that misses out on a playoff opportunity is given a percentage chance of receiving picks one to three. The remaining draft picks are decided according to the team’s ladder position, as in the AFL draft system.

A lottery draft in the AFL could mean that, instead of rewarding the team who finishes last, the team who finishes just outside the ‘eight’ will get the greatest chance of receiving the number one draft pick. After the first three picks have been allocated, teams from sixteenth to ninth are then, in order, given the lowest picks possible in each of the drafts rounds. This will ultimately see teams continually trying to win and talk of “tanking” should disappear completely.

If teams are committed to winning, they will either be rewarded with a prestigious top eight spot or compensated for just missing out. Therefore, teams who finish at the bottom of the ladder will essentially be embarrassed and demoralised rather than satisfied to be left with the opportunity to draft the country’s best young talent. Supporters will also not be able to use the draft as an excuse for their side finishing last and being content with the wooden spoon.

We shall see whether the introduction of the Gold Coast and West Sydney teams will lead to a reduction in the number of young players given unwarranted debuts. The new teams will take up a large portion of the ‘quality’ picks in the upcoming drafts to allow for a successful introduction into the league. Gold Coast is to have the first pick in each round and further selections two, three, five, seven, nine, 11, 13 and 15 in round one of the 2010 national draft.

Calls for change sometimes ring on deaf ears, but the AFL must realise that this is one issue that is worth working through. The changes would benefit the AFL and its clubs and ensure that teams continue trying to win for the duration of the season.

Michael Pell is in his first year of a Bachelor of Journalism. This is his first piece for upstart.

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