It’s that time of the year once again. Where passionate supporters trawl the pages of football forums, reading rumour after rumour and engaging in fervent discussion about potential trades. Cries of “he barracked for us as a kid!” and “we’re in the box seat!” litter the boards and everyone becomes a recruiting expert. It’s certainly an entertaining and at times exciting time for sporting tragics.
However it is a period that stretches on way too long and overstays its welcome. In total, the free agency and trade period will last for three weeks in which the 18 teams will go back and forth, boasting the plaudits of their trade bait and trying their damnedest to pull off a win for their club.
The length of this trade and free agency block allows for a multitude of player movements, but the reality is that the time does not correlate with the amount of deals that go through. Quite simply, there is a significant waste of time and manpower that could be invested in player development and other opportunities for the AFL.
A reduction or retooling of the current structure could be a very positive move for all parties involved. Simply cutting out the down time that seems to occur every year can bring about an increased level of urgency amongst recruiters. This urgency translates into transparency which is beneficial for the league as a whole. Leaving the period in its existing form allows for too much bravado and stonewalling between clubs.
When you really get down to the base of player movement, removing all the logistics and list management, the most important element of each decision is the welfare of the player themselves. Being bartered over like a piece of meat doesn’t help the confidence and self-belief of players in certain discussions. Take for instance, a fringe player who is being offloaded to another team, how do you think weeks of back and forth bantering would affect their psyche?
So the question is how do we rejuvenate what has become an incredibly strung out trade period?
First things first; the free agency window must be shortened. In its 2015 incarnation the length stands at ten days. In the three years that free agency has existed there have been 41 players that changed clubs. That’s an average of 13 a year, not taking into account the fact that 19 of these movements involved delisted free agents. Removing these delisted players brings the annual average down to seven a year. Surely these deals can be completed in a matter of days. Reducing the time allotted for free agency to less than a week would allow the trade period to kick off sooner.
Secondly, it’s obvious that the actual trade period can be tightened up. Clubs will be forced to cut to the chase and stop over-rating their own players or low-balling their fellow list managers. Bring it back to a single week in which every deal can be completed. The majority of deals occur towards the final days of the block and returning trade week to its original status will remove the dead air that dampens many off seasons.
Overall, a reduction in time and wastage will be a positive for the league and can open up opportunities for other ventures. One option for the time that would have been previously taken up by the trade period is the re-introduction of State of Origin or possibly moving the International Rules to earlier in the year.
Re-structuring and shaking up the off season can only improve the current situation and it relieves clubs, players and the AFL. Supporters will also reap the benefits as they bear witness to a fast-moving and exhilarating trade week, rather than the bloated mess we are currently served up.