In an AFL environment where equality appears to be the buzz word at the moment, it astounds me that the players are the catalysts behind the proposal to change the rules regarding when a player is eligible for free agency.
The proposed change would see restricted free agents become eligible after six years instead of eight, while unrestricted free agents would be eligible after eight years rather than 10.
After years of development by a club, most players start to play their best football around the age of 23 to 25, so if this proposal were to be introduced it would almost certainly hinder developing clubs such as Melbourne, St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs. Six years of development could all be for nothing if a player chooses to move on and play for one of the current powerhouses. How can these lower clubs ever expect to be successful and win premierships when losing one of their top young players after six years is a real possibility?
This proposal only stands to further benefit the powerhouse clubs. The likes of Hawthorn and Collingwood, after clearing their list of players on substantial money in previous years, are in the market for a big signing. It’s no surprise these clubs were linked to players such as Nat Fyfe, David Mundy and James Frawley, players who have been commanding big offers on the open market.
It will also have an impact on the draft. For years we have been told the draft is designed to allow the bottom teams the chance to take stock and get themselves back up the ladder to compete in finals. If the criteria of free agency is changed, the bottom teams, particularly if they are struggling financially, become a feeding ground for the clubs which are financially secure and are able to throw large sums of money at top players. These clubs reap the benefits of six years of development put in by another club, while the feeder club is left with little compensation and is required to go back to the draft to find their next champion who they can hopefully hold on to. This could see clubs forced to picked up discards from other clubs and draft mature age recruits.
While I concede there are some clubs in the league which need to improve their financial situation if they are to keep with these other clubs in many aspects both on-field and off-field, why would the AFL and the AFLPA look to disadvantage them further? They are already fighting to keep their heads above water just to compete with these other clubs who are able to spend excessive amounts of money on facilities, coaches and recruiting, so why provide yet another hurdle for them to try and get over?
The reasons why free agency was introduced in the first place were justifiable. Too many times players have not been able to get to their club of choice during the AFL’s trade period for many reasons out of their control. Free agency gave the players back that control and then some. I can’t help feel if a proposal such as this were to go ahead, then the AFL and the AFLPA will have given the keys of the asylum to the inmates and said ‘go for your life’.
If equality is to exist in this game of ours then the current free agency criteria must remain, or the haves will take control of the competition while the have nots will suffer significantly.
That then would open up all sorts of problems.
Follow John Feeney on Twitter: @johnfeeney24