AFL’s bold American plan to shake up finals

The AFL is reportedly considering a radical proposal that would shake up the finals series following the American sports model.

AFL: On the Couch’s Jon Ralph explains that this week the AFL will consider adding a wildcard round to the finals, expanding the play-offs to 10 teams.

That Herald Sun reports incoming AFL chief executive Andrew Dillon will raise the idea with all 18 club bosses when he meets them in Melbourne on Tuesday.

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On the agenda is a discussion around fixture innovation, placement of byes and potential changes in the finals system.

The AFL has yet to give any indication it will change its current eight-team finals system, but is said to be open to discussion on how it can “maximize” the finals series.

That’s what Herald Sun reporter Jon Ralph said on Fox Footy’s On the couch: “One of the items on the agenda is inventory innovation. He (Dillon) will throw up this wild-card weekend — what would that look like, what would the bye situation look like.

“The league says it’s just a thought bubble, but they’ve just brought it into the VFL this season. It’s taken off in the NBA.

“At its simplest – 8th vs. 9th playing each other – the winner enters September in the pre-final bye. Massive attendance, massive ratings.”

Teams like Essendon and Carlton are in the running for finals this year. Photo by Michael Klein.

A move to a wild-card round would follow in the footsteps of a similar system recently introduced in the NBA.

Created by NBA boss Adam Silver, the play-in tournament has proven successful since its introduction in 2020, as teams ranked 7th through 10th in each conference compete for the final two playoff spots.

The specific model for an AFL wildcard round is unclear, but it could see the eighth- and ninth-placed teams meet during the pre-finals bye for the final spot in the finals.

The AFL could host two ‘wildcard’ finals, between 7th and 10th and 8th and 9th, putting those teams into the traditional final eight.

In the NBA play-in tournament, the seventh seed plays the eighth seed—the winner advances directly to the playoffs, and the loser gets one more chance against the winner of a matchup between the ninth and 10th seeds.

With six rounds remaining in the home-and-away season, just eight points (two wins) separate fifth-placed Geelong and the 14th-placed Sydney Swans.

Nathan Buckley said on Fox Footy: “When the ladder looks as tight as it does, it kind of guarantees you’ve got to win the last one on a wildcard weekend.”

Jonathan Brown added: “This year would be set up for that. It would be a great test.”

A wildcard round would allow the AFL to draw the race for the top eight and maintain interest during the pre-finals bye, which has become a dead zone since it was introduced in 2016 to prevent teams from resting half of their team in the last round of the season.

A wildcard round would shake up the AFL finals system. (Photo by Will Russell/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Adelaide Crows veteran Paul Seedsman backed the wildcard idea.

“Love this. Hopefully it works out sooner rather than later,” he tweeted.

“Imagine if that came into this year going 5-14 within 2 games of back-to-back. Would be an unreal start to what looks to be an elite Finals series coming up.”

It is far from a done deal, but the reaction from AFL fans and commentators was mixed, with many opposing the proposal.

The ABC’s Brett Sprigg tweeted: “The majority of AFL fans hate the idea of ​​a wildcard round before the finals, so there’s nothing more certain that the concept will eventually come up.”

Jon Ralph wrote: “Leave the game alone…. But the Gather Round was new this year and it was a triumph. Worth talking about how it would work. It’s a huge hit in the NBA.”

Podcast host Ralph Horowitz said: “Could there be an AFL finals wildcard round that nobody wants?

“On the one hand, it will bring extra money into the game, and the managers who will make the call have salary bonuses based on more money coming into the game. On the other hand, there is no second hand.”

SEN’s Matthew Donald wrote: “Gather Round worked because it was a concept designed entirely with fans in mind. This is just an excuse to have more games than can be hyped up.

“If a team is good enough for finals, they don’t need a wildcard round to qualify.”

Dillon has mentioned his desire for the AFL Grand Final to remain in the traditional 2.30pm slot and for more Thursday night games, but a wildcard round would be his first big move as AFL CEO if it is eventually introduced.

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