Top players from independent state clubs will be lost to the AFL mid-season under new rules. (Supplied: SANFL website)
The AFL has gone to ground after announcing the latest blow for state football leagues that has left the SANFL and WAFL fuming.
The AFL Commission has approved a mid-season rookie draft that will allow top players and potential Magarey or Sandover medal aspirants to be plucked from their clubs in order to play out the rest of the season in the national competition.
In a double whammy for state leagues, it comes a week after the AFL Commission announced the Gold Coast Suns and Carlton would have early access to state league players in an effort to give the low-performing clubs special assistance.
The AFL was unable to answer questions about the changes after informing the ABC that its staff would be on leave until Monday.
“We’re opposed to it and we don’t think it’s the correct decision for state leagues and state league clubs,” SANFL football operations manager Tom Hurley said.
“The AFL have made a decision they see as being in the best interests of the AFL competition.
“The question is whether it’s in the best interests of the football industry.”
In announcing the draft, AFL general counsel Andrew Dillon made no mention of compensation to state leagues nor the effect it could have on clubs or their fans.
He said it would allow AFL clubs to fill any unexpected holes in their lists as a result of injury or retirements in the first half of the season.
No certainty for AFL rookies
For a player to be eligible, they must have previously nominated for the AFL draft or previously been listed by an AFL club, and have nominated for the mid-year draft.
But there is no certainty the player will have an ongoing contract at the end of the season, with the associated AFL club having first rights to re-contract the player who will otherwise become a delisted free agent.
“We want to make sure those players are appropriately protected and their welfare is considered, when they’re asked to give up mid-season their full-time work and potentially study, to pursue an AFL dream that might be over in six months’ time,” Hurley said.
The AFL appears unmoved by the popularity of SANFL and has instead sought to poach its stars. (ABC Radio Adelaide: Malcolm Sutton)
Former West Adelaide coach, now Williamstown VFL coach, Andy Collins said he welcomed the change provided it included a rule to prevent a draftee playing against his original club that same season.
“This would include a West Adelaide boy who gets drafted to the Adelaide Crows, for example,” he said.
“For that one club, that one time, I don’t believe that player should be allowed to play against his old club.
“But I would think for any club, it’s [aim] to support the player in being the best footballer he can be.
“There needs to be more opportunity for state league players and not less.”
SANFL and WAFL say warning ignored
The SANFL and the WAFL had warned the AFL Commission against the move and were disappointed their concerns were overlooked.
WA Football Commission chief executive Gavin Taylor said it had created anxiety for the league’s clubs, which fear either losing key players in the lead-up to the season or during the mid-season draft.
“We must also consider how this will impact on the quality of the competition for the thousands of WAFL fans and members that attend games or tune in each week on Channel 7,” he said.
SANFL chief Jake Parkinson said the league wanted players to aspire to the highest level, but not at the expense of a club’s premiership campaign if they were drafted mid-season.
“We have a vibrant state league, as highlighted by the attendance of more than 40,000 at this year’s grand final,” he said.
“That’s something worth valuing and protecting in the football landscape by the AFL.”
The AFL said it would work with the clubs, the state leagues and the AFL Players Association to finalise rules that “support the changes”.