Three by six: m0nty’s conference idea

I guess I might as well add my two cents to the current debate about the 18-team AFL fixture.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 25:  AFL Chief Executive Officer Andrew Demetriou addresses all AFL clubs during the 2006 AFL Draft at the Victory Room of the Telstra Dome November 25, 2006 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Sean Garnsworthy/Getty Images)

My preference is for a variant of option 2 among the AFL’s list of five options for dealing with the fixture after the introduction of the 17th and 18th teams.

Dividing the 18 clubs into three conferences – play all teams in the same conference twice (10 games) and the teams in the other two conferences once (12 games). After the end of the home-and-away season either two or four teams from each conference qualify for the finals.

I don’t think, however, that you need to tie qualification for finals to conference standings. I like having one single AFL ladder. Everyone does. When you have six teams per conference you’re going to have weak and strong conferences, and it would be unnatural in AFL fans’ eyes for a team with 8 wins to qualify over a team in another conference with 12 wins, as could happen. The key point to dissociate conference standings with finals qualification is that you need to have a balanced and equitable draw, which is where I think the conferences need to be strictly managed.

The concept is to have rotating conferences, which will produce a series of draws across a six-year period that will produce an equitable outcome for all teams in terms of opponents, travel and income while still maintaining the important historical and geographical derbies.

In short:
– The 18 teams are paired off into groups of two for the purposes of determining conference groupings. These pairings can be reassessed after each six-year period.
– There are two pairs of teams that are core for each conference (we shall loosely call them west, east and south)
– Core west teams are WCE/Freo and Adelaide/Port; core east teams are Brisbane/GC and Sydney/GWS; core south teams are Collingwood/Essendon and Carlton/Geelong (Geelong included due to their current high crowds and special Melbourne-based fan situation).
– The other groupings (for argument’s sake) are Richmond/Melbourne, North/Bulldogs and Hawthorn/St Kilda.
– Each core grouping spends four years of the six in their core conference, and two in another.
– Each non-core grouping spends three, two or one year in each conference, for equitability reasons that will be explained below the example.
– On the names of the conferences, to underline how they are not tied specifically to geography, instead of giving them names after compass directions each AFL team gets one opportunity per six-year period to name their conference after a former great player or administrator.

Example conferences:
2012
Doig: WCE/Freo – Adelaide/Port – Hawthorn/St Kilda
Barassi: Brisbane/GC – Sydney/GWS – North/Bulldogs
Richards: Collingwood/Essendon – Carlton/Geelong – Richmond/Melbourne

2013
Reynolds: WCE/Freo – Collingwood/Essendon – North/Bulldogs
Cornes: Sydney/GWS – Adelaide/Port – Richmond/Melbourne
Parkin: Carlton/Geelong – Brisbane/GC – Hawthorn/St Kilda

2014
Glendinning: Adelaide/Port – Carlton/Geelong – North/Bulldogs
Baldock: Sydney/GWS – WCE/Freo – Hawthorn/St Kilda
Matthews: Collingwood/Essendon – Brisbane/GC – Richmond/Melbourne

2015
Mainwaring: WCE/Freo – Adelaide/Port – Richmond/Melbourne
Merrett: Brisbane/GC – Sydney/GWS – North/Bulldogs
Davis: Collingwood/Essendon – Carlton/Geelong – Hawthorn/St Kilda

2016
Whitten: WCE/Freo – Carlton/Geelong – North/Bulldogs
Blight: Brisbane/GC – Adelaide/Port – Hawthorn/St Kilda
Sheedy: Collingwood/Essendon – Sydney/GWS – Richmond/Melbourne

2017
Ricciuto: Adelaide/Port – Collingwood/Essendon – North/Bulldogs
Dyer: Brisbane/GC – WCE/Freo – Richmond/Melbourne
Kennedy: Carlton/Geelong – Sydney/GWS – Hawthorn/St Kilda

The grouping distribution is as follows:
– Hawthorn/St Kilda, North/Bulldogs and Richmond/Melbourne are never grouped together.
– North/Bulldogs are grouped with all other pairings twice.
– Hawthorn/St Kilda and Richmond/Melbourne are matched with all non-Victorian groups twice, plus one south group thrice and the other once.
– Non-Victorian groups meet their other regional group twice and the non-core Victorian groups twice, then the other four groups once.
– The core south groups meet their other regional group twice, one non-core group thrice, one non-core group twice, and all other groups once.

The groupings within this framework are entirely arbitrary, of course. It may actually suit the AFL to have Collingwood/Essendon in the North/Bulldogs position of playing every other grouping twice, to quieten demands by clubs over favouritism. The fact that one non-core group plays one of the southern groups three times can be exploited by pairing Richmond/Carlton to match up Collingwood/Essendon thrice, for example, to maximise “top four” matchups.

This system would have two years out of six with one all-Victorian conference and two with four interstate sides, while the other four years would have one four-interstate-team conference and two with two interstate clubs. To ensure an equitable situation with travel in a single year, inter-conference games between south conference Victorian teams and non-Victorian teams from other conferences would mostly have to be played in the non-Victorian state.

Take the 2012 example from above, which is the same in terms of state-based club distribution to 2015.

Doig: WCE/Freo – Adelaide/Port – Hawthorn/St Kilda
Barassi: Brisbane/GC – Sydney/GWS – North/Bulldogs
Richards: Collingwood/Essendon – Carlton/Geelong – Richmond/Melbourne

Hawthorn/St Kilda and North/Bulldogs have 12 games against non-Victorian teams, whereas the Richards conference teams have only eight. It would not be fair for the Richards teams to only travel interstate four times while the four other Victorian teams have to travel six times. Given the distribution of matchups, it is a fair outcome for the four core south teams to each contribute one home game to the four Victorian teams in the other groups. This would mean five interstate trips for all Victorian teams save for Richmond/Melbourne with four. (In 2015, Hawthorn/St Kilda are similarly in the position to travel only four times.)

Now, take the 2013 example from above, which is the same in terms of state-based club distribution to 2014, 2016 and 2017.

Reynolds: WCE/Freo – Collingwood/Essendon – North/Bulldogs
Cornes: Sydney/GWS – Adelaide/Port – Richmond/Melbourne
Parkin: Carlton/Geelong – Brisbane/GC – Hawthorn/St Kilda

This time the Richmond/Melbourne pairing is getting screwed with six travels to the four of the others. Again, the four core south teams should give up one home game each, leaving them with five interstate trips. In two of the four years, the pair in the four-interstate-club conference (Richmond/Melbourne once and Hawthorn/St Kilda once) should get two of those home games each to take them to four travels, with the other two to go to the other non-core pairings to give them five. In the other two years North/Bulldogs get two extra home games and the others one, to completely even things up across the six years.

Yes, it’s complicated, but it’s as fair as I can make it. I had nothing to do this afternoon, and it showed! 😉

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