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Clubs warming to wildcard

Nathan Schmook - AFL Media  May 18, 2017 5:36 PM

AFL 2017 Media - Gillon McLachlan at the Shanghai Cup

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan

THERE is growing support for a wildcard weekend among club CEOs, with League chief Gillon McLachlan suggesting a playoff round could be introduced for the 2018 season.

The AFL is working on a number of different fixture models, including 17-5 and 18-4 formats, with McLachlan briefing club bosses in "animated" discussions on Thursday.

While a substantial fixture reform is unlikely to be made until the 2019 season, the introduction of a wildcard round, where potentially four clubs would play off for two finals spots, is possible next year.

"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."

It was suggested at Thursday's talks that a wildcard round would fit in the weekend currently reserved for the pre-finals bye.

McLachlan said an example of a wildcard round – under a split-fixture model – would have the team that finishes seventh playing the team that finishes 13th for one spot, and eighth playing ninth for another.

The bottom six teams would be battling each other in the final rounds to finish 13th to earn the right for that playoff spot, keeping interest alive in late season matches that have become a concern for the AFL. 

Finals broadcaster Channel Seven was quick to confirm to AFL.com.au it's open to dialogue on the proposal for an extra two blockbuster games.

"We're always in consultation with the AFL on what can work best for the fans and our viewers and this will be no different," Seven Melbourne managing director Lewis Martin said.

It's unclear if the League would expect additional rights fees for the extra matches.

The League discussed roughly 12 different fixture models with club chiefs on Thursday, including the 18-4 model, which would allow for teams to face their main rival twice before the fixture resets for the final four rounds.  

McLachlan said his preference was for a 17-5 model, which made the fixture fairer but did not guarantee two Western Derbies, Showdowns, QClashes or Sydney Derbies.

"As soon as you go to 18-4 from 17-5 you put the equity aspect at risk," he said. 

"Given that's the primary reason we're looking at [a new fixture], then I'm not sure it (18-4) can work.

"Of the models that we're looking at, my preference is 17-5 because I think you have to be a bit more progressive than that. That's not a universal view."

The future of the AFL fixture has been an ongoing discussion with club CEOs for 18 months and McLachlan said building a fairer system was at the heart of those talks.

"What you're trying to do is have more live games in the back end of the season if possible and more compelling content, but equity is the key, it's where it started," he said. 

"Right now, footy feels pretty good. But this is what these days are about, to challenge where you are currently and see if you can do things better. 

"It may not be possible to come up with a system that is better than where we are now, but that's why we had an hour-and-a-half of really engaged discussion."

Other topics discussed on Thursday were AFLW expansion, the players' collective bargaining agreement, club membership and crowds. 

On the CBA, McLachlan said the League reaffirmed its commitment to pay any increase in total player payments or additional services payments included in the players' new deal.

He briefed the clubs on the criteria clubs will be measured against on their AFLW license bids, also touching on the fixture for the 2018 women's season, venues and the talent pool.     

McLachlan was also pressed on the League's handling of St Kilda's sledging of Carlton captain Marc Murphy, including criticism that that CEO was not strong enough in his condemnation of the Saints' players. 

"Our position has been the same. There are plenty of rules and I don't believe we need a code of conduct to deal with these issues," McLachlan said. 

"In the end the commentary was inappropriate, it's been called out … families and women are off limits, I think that line has been drawn in the sand now."