A wildcard round before the finals proper looks increasingly likely to appear in the 2018 fixture with AFL chief Gillon McLachlan saying he was surprised by the level of support for the concept at a meeting of club chief executives on Thursday.
However, wholesale fixture reform in the form of a 17-5 or 18-4 model remains unlikely for next season, with McLachlan conceding that change may never eventuate due to significant obstacles.
While the impending collective bargaining agreement and women’s league were both also on the agenda, it was the fixture that McLachlan said took most of the attention at Thursday’s meeting in Melbourne’s CBD.
McLachlan said that about 12 different fixture options were tabled. The most attractive, according to McLachlan, was the prospect of a wildcard weekend, which would be held instead of the total pre-finals bye which was introduced last year.
Several different compositions are being considered for the wildcard round, which McLachlan said would likely feature two matches. One option would be for the seventh-placed team to play the 10th placed side, and eighth to play ninth, with the winners advancing to the elimination finals. Perhaps the most radical proposal is a wildcard round in the 17-5 or 18-4 model, in which teams are split into three pools – top six, middle six and bottom six – after 17 or 18 rounds, with the winner of the bottom pool getting a berth in the wildcard weekend. That would conceivably allow a team with the 13th best record in the AFL after the home and away season entry into the wildcard round.
McLachlan joked that if he had his way the wildcard round would even feature this season. But he may only need to wait 12 more months to get his wish anyway. “There was more interest in a wildcard round leading into finals than I thought there would be,” McLachlan said.
“That had, I wouldn’t say universal, but a significant level of support. That was the thing that was probably most surprising.
“17-5 [or] 18-4 I think’s unlikely for 2018. There was a view that you could do a wildcard for 2018.”
McLachlan said that while the competition was overall going well, he remained keen to obtain greater equity in the fixture, with a reset after each team had played each other once – the ideal scenario from an equalisation perspective. “Equity’s the key. That’s where it started from,” he said.
“[However] It may not be better to come up with a system that’s better than where we currently are now.”
Fairfax Media reported on Monday that there is a push for the fixture to reset after 18 games rather than 17, which would guarantee marquee match-ups like the Showdown and Western Derby were played twice. But McLachlan said that wasn’t ideal either.
“As soon as you go to 18-4 from 17-5, you put the equity aspect at risk, and that’s the primary reason we’re looking at it,” he said.
“That’s why it’s hard to get to an obvious solution.”
McLachlan wouldn’t provide a major update on CBA negotiations, other than confirming the AFL’s pledge to clubs to cover increased costs in total player payments and additional services agreements. “Negotiations are ongoing,” McLachlan said.
“Really it’s a pretty confidential process and it’s not something I can really talk to until we’re done.”
He also said that prospective AFLW expansion clubs had until June 16 to prepare their bids for a place in the expanded 10-team competition in 2019.