The document makes clear that the AFL’s plan for the future of football is not limited to short-term measures over the next two years to help deal with lost revenues and higher debt levels in the game but also for a broader sweep of long-term structural changes.
The AFL asks clubs to take a blank-canvas approach to draw up a new football structure within the parameters of a new football economy that takes into account the devastating impact on revenues of the coronavirus.
The term “new economy” is short-hand for cheaper because the game can no longer fund things the way they have done.
The first focus of the plan was to overhaul list sizes. The AFL asks clubs for their preferred list size, what mechanisms they would use for player movement and requests other club innovations on list- size management or composition.
Clubs expect that lists next year will be cut to below 40 and the rookie list is doubtful to be retained, or at least not in its current form.
The issue of list sizes is intrinsically linked to the issue of second-tier competitions and in particular the VFL and how that could operate as a feeder competition in the event that lists were cut and top-up players had to be accessed by clubs.
Clubs have been asked if they could change the structure of football programs to reduce the hours players are needed at clubs.
“What are the minimum weekly hours required to prepare players to play? Does list size impact these outcomes?” the document says.
Part of this is about player mental health and improving work-life balance, but it is also predicated on a cut to the soft cap, meaning a cut in the number of assistant coaches and allied staff. With fewer coaches and a smaller list how long do you need the players for?
There is also doubt on the future of the next generation academies. The AFL asks for club views on the level of club investment in junior talent in the new economy.
They have also been asked for feedback on lifting the draft age and also about making the talent-pathway program an under-19 competition rather than under-18 but with the draft age remaining the same.
With list sizes reduced, fewer players would be likely to be drafted as 18-year-olds in any event.
“What is the best model for a player across school football, community football and talent pathway programs?” the document asks.
The document finishes by asking for industry priorities for the next five to 10 years and asking what the three most important things are for the industry now and over the next five and 10 years.
Michael Gleeson is an award-winning senior sports writer specialising in AFL and athletics.