The 17-5 Model: How not to ‘fix’ the fixture

With AFL teams beginning their 17th game of the 2018 season, the beast that is the 17-5 fixture concept has once again raised its ugly head. This week Sam McClure and Eddie McGuire, amongst others, have expressed their support of the idea that would see the AFL split into three conferences after each team had played each other once. AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan is another on the record in support of the misguided approach to the eradication of ‘dead rubbers’.

On Tuesday, McClure provided the most bullish case for change. While acknowledging the AFL’s efforts to resolve congestion and other such issues, McClure is of the view that the fixture should be agenda item number one. “While a lot of us applaud the AFL at looking into all possibilities, it is my belief that it’s the fixture that should be changed first,” he told listeners on SEN on Tuesday.

“We’re coming into the 17th round this week so let’s have a look at how much better our system would be if the 17-5 model was live and active,” McClure said. “It means Essendon v Fremantle this weekend would be playing for 12th position. What a game and what a spectacle that would be, basically playing for the chance to compete with teams to make it into the eight.”

With apologies to those of you who agree with McClure that the answer to all of the AFL’s problems is Essendon playing Fremantle for 12th place on the ladder, this isn’t even the most ridiculous claim he inflicted on the SEN listenership.  “It would also eradicate any remaining dead games,” he asserted clearly not having watched the FIFA World Cup where three game group stages still produced dead rubbers.

With a head of steam up he then rattled off nine ‘dead games’ across Round 19 & 20 all bar two involving teams fighting for a top eight or top four spot. Having exaggerated the problem he then made his outrage clear.  “This can’t happen. The competition is even enough now where we have to make every single contest and every game worth something,” he expressed like a man who only watches the last two minutes of a basketball game.

If I can get you to again put aside the undeniable positive that is the mouth watering contest between Essendon v Fremantle for 12th place which makes McClure’s position so appealing, the 17-5 concept creates more dead rubbers than it eliminates. Given the dubious prize on offer for teams 13-18 it could be argued that all their games in the new model are dead rubbers.

Even if we take the position that the prospect of winning the number one draft pick is enough of an interest for these teams and their supporters, depending on results this weekend, it still wouldn’t resolve much this year. With six weeks to play, there is the potential that Carlton could be seven games behind 13th, Gold Coast five, Brisbane four, St Kilda three and a half and the Bulldogs three. I’m not very good at maths but that looks like a race that is already over for most, if not all the teams. Does that sound like a better situation than the one we have now?

What if they start the points all over again at the group stage you ask? Good question. While it would definitely make the last six rounds a little more interesting, you would be eliminating all the stakes currently on offer in the Collingwood v North Melbourne game this weekend. In fact, if results go a certain way, there would be a chance that no other team placed higher than Essendon and Fremantle would be playing for anything this weekend either.

If sides play each other once and then the teams in the conference once, it’s at least a fairer system though isn’t it? On face value yes, but the way the system operates there is no guarantee that teams will place the same number of home games. For a non-Victorian team especially, playing just 10 home games would be a major disadvantage and could be the difference between making the top four or top eight altogether. Then there is the small matter of the top six sides playing a mini-final series before the real stuff starts which could soften them up for the teams that sneak into seventh and eighth spot.

While The Pinch Hitters wholeheartedly supports moves to make the fixture more even, we less than respectively suggest that the 17-5 concept is put in the backseat of the Batmobile with Angry Anderson in the list of bad AFL ideas. Rather than resolve the problem it is being suggested to resolve it exacerbates it and brings a few more to the table. So unless you are really sure that the Essendon v Fremantle game is really worth the effort can we please stop talking about the 17-5 model?


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