18 August 2011
Picture this for a moment. An AFL competition where Collingwood, Hawthorn, West Coast and Geelong dominate every season, without fail. All of the top players are squeezed into their squads, meaning young stars miss out and mediocrity is punished. Clubs run at massive losses, no longer connected to their communities but operated as unsustainable bastions of glory.
It might sound a bit like the English Premier League, a contest defined by the haves, and the have mores. Artery flows of cash, a system of loyalty that is seriously flawed and one-sided seasons. Success must come, literally at any cost.
Millions love it around the world, but fans of most teams know they'll never have a chance of winning a title. Now there is a fear that without league financial assistance to prop up struggling clubs, this very same fate may dawn on the AFL.
It's a nonsense argument.
After a couple of weeks of thrashings it's suggested that Port Adelaide, Melbourne et al will be forever thrust into a quagmire of mediocrity at the bottom of the AFL ladder, all because they haven't got the same cash to throw around their football department.
The financial gap opening the top sides and the bottom sides in the AFL is like a fissure that's panicked people into a reactionary debate about the competitiveness of clubs in the future.
While it's true that spending on training facilities, fitness staff, recovery etc. is becoming more crucial to winning, the answer is not to create some kind of Marxist, overruling system. Like in life, inequity is part of the essence of sport and is what drives us to improve.
The salary cap already acts as a great leveller, ensuring no club can begin hoarding caches of stars, like they do in the EPL.
The AFL may begin by topping up the wheezing bank accounts of lowly clubs, but that strategy is fraught with risk. The league cannot afford to put clubs on welfare.
Like dole workers paid to do nothing, there is no incentive to fight tooth and nail for every cent if the next pay packet is guaranteed.
Nor can it afford to cap football department spending. It seems absurd to block clubs financially in order to make sure their players don't become too good.
By no means should the debate be diminished, in fact it is pivotal the health of the league, but it need not have such an alarmist and emotional tone, as we've seen in recent weeks.
North Melbourne's president James Brayshaw has been crying the loudest; he uses his media stature and experience to win favours for his traditionally over performing but under resourced club.
The “fat cats” he's being referring to (Eddie McGuire and Jeff Kennett) are everything Brayshaw claims not to want to be; the ruling headmasters of privileged clubs with money to burn. In reality they're all not so different. His club just happens to be a little lean.
The fight he shows for North Melbourne is admirable, and sure, the AFL cannot let clubs slip into the abysss to the extent that they can't field competitive sides on an annual basis. But Brayshaw's agenda is to appease fans and stakeholders on and off the field with as little effort as possible.
So, while it's natural for him to argue for handouts, it's not necessarily right. Our penchant for the underdog and regular tall poppy syndrome shouldn't cloud our judgement.
Imagine if the FA suddenly told its mid and low-table teams that they'd suddenly receive compensation to match the support facilities of Chelsea or Manchester United. It would be bedlam.
For a long time in the maturely developed European football leagues investing in a sporting team is like sending your bank balance to the relegation zone. And as the AFL grows, the spending is not going to suddenly end, and soon the league will have an unsustainable situation on its hands.
Before we know it there will be a cap,and wonderful off-field benefits for players will be out of reach, while the hard work clubs have put into their bottom line will amount to nothing.
Collingwood, the highest spending club in the league, paid nearly $20 million on football department spending to inject every sliver of advantage into its playing group. The conditioning trips to Arizona are the boldest measure seen to date and have reaped obvious benefits.
But not only has Collingwood's on-field success been fleeting, but only a decade ago, the club was struggling financially. The efforts to make the Magpies profitable should be exciting, not a reason to fear some kind of lopsided future competition.
Likewise, Essendon have shored themselves up for a future where training and development takes on an inflated sense of importance. Their new $30 million facility is timely, and designed to attract the superstars of tomorrow.
At the moment clubs are spending money to gain an edge on competition, and if suddenly the playing is level the game may just suddenly stagnate.
There is no reason this should happen; the ball certainly isn't going to turn round.
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The Colonel, Bathurst, NSW (22 August 2011 2:21PM) wrote:
Interesting points of view - good read, keep up the good work.