The expected reduction in club list sizes from 44 (including rookies) to as few as 35 over time would reduce the numbers of 18 year olds selected in the draft, because clubs would have fewer spots available for raw youngsters and would be less inclined to pick speculative teenagers in the hope they will develop.
As a consequence, AFL sources said, many fewer players would be drafted in year 12, when they were sitting VCE, with a significant number able to continue playing as 19 year olds in the elite NAB League if that league allows 19 year olds. The AFL had under 19s within their Victorian clubs for decades until the early 1990s, when the under-18 competition was established.
The AFL has long had an issue with – and faced criticism for – the fact that their draft heavily disrupts the year 12 studies of teenagers in Victoria, the state that provides more than half the players.
The situation is somewhat different in Western Australia, where the under-18 colts are a little older, since they are able to play until they are 18-and-a-half.
The AFL’s potential revamp of the pathway into the highest level of the game has been hastened by the financial crisis that has encouraged the league to reduce list sizes and also to make changes to second-tier senior competitions, such as the VFL and NEAFL.
It is unclear whether there will be AFL reserves teams fielded in the VFL next year, which would require a large number of additional players – top-up players – if the AFL senior lists are cut back to as few as 35 or 36.
If the NAB League becomes the under 19s – featuring the same clubs such as the Northern Knights, Geelong Falcons, Oakleigh Chargers, Sandringham Dragons, Murray Bushrangers and several other metropolitan and country teams – the view is that those players who play as 19 year olds and who do not get drafted will drift into the state leagues, hopefully strengthening those competitions.
Conversely, some recruiters and officials do not want the feeder competition to become the under 19s, since they are concerned that the large number of older players would reduce the overall talent level of the NAB League.