Footy FAQ: What is the Australian Football League?

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3. What is the Australian Football League? 

The Australian Football League (AFL) is the national league for Australian Rules Football in Australia. It consists of 18 clubs that compete in a regular competition. The AFL is also used sometimes to denote the AFL Commission.

How did the AFL start?

Eight clubs left the original Victorian Football Association to form the Victorian Football League on 2 Oct 1896. These clubs (Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon, Fitzroy, Geelong, Melbourne, South Melbourne and St Kilda) formed the basis of the league, with further teams joining in later years. By 1925 Victoria boasted a 12 team competition widely acknowledged as the strongest state league in Australia. Known as the VFL, it remained in this format until 1982, when the South Melbourne Football Club relocated to Sydney. A new era of expansion came as more teams were admitted, however, these teams were from other states than Victoria. The VFL changed its name in 1990 to become the Australian Football League (AFL).

Why did the VFL admit interstate teams and expand?

Despite the success of the VFL, many teams were suffering financially by the 1980s. Much of this is blamed on "cheque-book recruiting", clubs attempting to buy successful players from other clubs in the VFL or in other states. This led to many clubs being technically bankrupt, with some being investigated by the Department of Corporate Affairs. In addition, crowds were falling, as were club memberships. Transfer fees were excessive and the competition was operating at a loss, while ground facilities were falling into disrepair. The new teams provided income to save the failing Victorian clubs by firstly paying substantial license fees to join the competition, and secondly by providing increased income from television rights. The money from these two areas helped refinance the VFL and its clubs.

Why did the VFL change its name to the AFL?

In admitting the interstate clubs, the view of the direction of the VFL changed. This is best summed up in the first underlying principle of the AFL's first 5 year plan: "... we take a national view of football, simply not an expanded VFL view. The AFL emerged from the VFL and a Victorian focus was inevitable given the beginning. This plan, however, is based on the view that football followers throughout Australia are of equal importance." Hence the VFL became the AFL to reflect the change in focus from just Victoria, to Australia as a whole.

Who runs the Australian Football League?

On December 4, 1985, the then VFL Board of Directors resolved to appoint a Commission with specific powers to administer the competition. The Commission was entrusted with the powers of the League, but required explicit approval by the League (clubs) for major items, such as further Expansion, Mergers, Relocations, Major Capital Works and similar items.

On August 11, 1992 the AFL Board of Directors recommended an independent review of the AFL structure. On March 1,1993 Mr David Crawford of KPMG Peat Marwick presented his report to the AFL Board of Directors and Commission. On July 19, 1993 the Board of Directors approved a new Memorandum and Articles of Association for the AFL, reflecting the recommendations of the Crawford Report. These being:

  • Commissioners - up to 8 commissioners be appointed (minimum 6)
  • Chairman - appointed by the Commission and not being the CEO, to chair meetings of the Commission, as well as those between the Commission and the Clubs, and to act as a sounding board for the CEO.
  • Chief Executive Officer (CEO) - appointed by Commission, must be a commissioner. Role is to be responsible for operating performance of the AFL, for implementation of Commission policy, and to be the public face of the commission.
  • Admission, Relocation or Merger of Clubs - AFL Commission has power to do all three. Can be reversed by a two-thirds majority of clubs within 14 days of decision. Three clubs required to call for meeting to vote on reversal of decision. Clubs cannot be merged unless relevant parties agree first.
  • Expulsion of Clubs - Commission can suspend or expel clubs but the decision must be ratified by a simple majority of clubs.
  • Other Powers - all powers to run AFL transferred to AFL Commission and AFL Board of Directors abolished.

The current AFL Commission is:

Position Year Appointed
Mike Fitzpatrick Chairman 2007
Gillon McLachlan CEO 2014
Sam Mostyn 2005
Richard Goyder 2011
Paul Bassat 2011
Kim Williams 2014
Major General Simone Wilkie 2015
Jason Ball 2015

What Teams are part of the AFL?

For full team details see Australian Football League below.

Admitted Club Name (Current) Notes
1897 Carlton Blues
  Collingwood Magpies
  Essendon Bombers
  Fitzroy Lions (Merged with Brisbane in 1996)
  Geelong Cats
  Melbourne Demons
  South Melbourne Swans (Relocated to Sydney in 1982)
  St Kilda Saints
1908 Richmond Tigers
  University Students (Merged with Melbourne in 1914)
1925 Footscray Western Bulldogs
  Hawthorn Hawks
  North Melbourne Kangaroos
1982 Sydney Swans (ex South Melbourne)
1987 Brisbane Bears (Merged with Fitzroy in 1996)
  West Coast Eagles
1991 Adelaide Crows
1995 Fremantle Dockers
1996 Brisbane Lions (Brisbane and Fitzroy merged)
1997 Port Adelaide Power
2011 Gold Coast Suns
2012 Greater Western Sydney Giants

When is the AFL season played?

Games usually start in the Premiership season in late March, and continue through until early September. The Finals then start, culminating in the Grand Final, normally on the last Saturday in September.

Preseason practice matches generally begin in mid-February. The preseason competition is usually named for its corporate sponsor. For several years, the sponsor was Ansett Airlines, which went bankrupt in 2001. A home loan company, Wizard, assumed sponsorship in 2002, and then was replaced by National Australia Bank (NAB) in 2005.  The previous preseason tournament was a single elimination tournament with games played primarily at night, and was played from late February. The preseason grand final was played 2 weeks prior to the commencement of the regular season with all teams having the following week off to rest up. In previous years, several clubs played preseason games overseas in such places as New Zealand and South Africa.

From 2014 the preseason competition changed to the NAB Challenge and now consists of 18 practice matches over 18 days from late February to late March. Most of the NAB Challenge matches are played at grounds around the country to take the game to the people.

The preseason NAB Challenge competition is used by the AFL to trial new rules. Some are then introduced into the season proper, while others are dropped, and others remain only as part of the preseason competition. Two rules which are exclusive to the NAB Challenge are:

  • Goals kicked from the 50 meter arc (55 yards) or further are worth nine points.
  • If the ball hits a goal post or behind post and ricochets back into the field of play, it remains in play

Regular season games had traditionally all started on a Saturday afternoon at about 2:10 PM, but now AFL games are played on Friday nights, Saturday afternoon, twilight, and evenings and Sunday afternoon and twilight, around Australia. The times were spread out, in part to accommodate television. Games are occasionally scheduled on Monday and Thursday nights and on public holidays, though Monday nights have not proved popular with the Australian public.

How is the draw for the season determined?

Each team plays 22 games in the regular (or Home and Away) Season. The majority of teams will play 11 games at home, and 11 games at away venues. There are some exceptions due to the AFL policy of maximizing the number of potentially large audience games, such as West Coast vs Fremantle or Adelaide vs Port Power "derbies" and special games on ANZAC Day, such as Collingwood v Essendon at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), Fremantle in Perth, WA, and since 2013 St Kilda playing at Westpac Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand.

The resulting season schedule is known as the "fixture". Because the AFL uses it as a marketing tool, the fixture is copyrighted by the AFL, and may not be reproduced without permission.

Ian Collins, the AFL's football operations manager during the period 1993-99, once boasted of being able to sit down at a personal computer after one season ends and schedule the next personally. The AFL now uses software originally developed for the NFL.

How is the Premiership Ladder worked out?

The weekly results of games produce a Premiership ladder. The top eight teams at the end of the 22 Home and Away Games go through to the finals. As of this update of this FAQ, the current AFL ladder (Round 21, 2015) is:

Fremantle Dockers
West Coast Eagles 
Hawthorn Hawks
Sydney Swans
Richmond Tigers
Western Bulldogs
North Melbourne
Adelaide Crows
Geelong Cats
Port Adelaide Power
GWS Giants
Collingwood Magpies
St Kilda Saints
Melbourne Demons
Essendon Bombers
Gold Coast Suns
Carlton Blues
Brisbane Lions

*NOTE: The Adelaide and Geelong game during round 14 was cancelled due to the death of the Adelaide coach during the preceding week. Both clubs received 2 premiership points with no change to their points for, points against, or percentages. This was a highly unusual situation.

The ladder indicates the number of games played (P), the number of games won (W), lost (L) or drawn (tied) (D) and the Premiership Points the team has (Points). A team receives 4 points for a win and 2 points for a draw. This is the first way that teams are ranked on the ladder (according to Premiership Points). If teams have the same number of points, then the teams are ranked according to their percentage (%). The percentage is the average percentage of the oppositions score that the team makes. (A team with a percentage of 200.0 would double the opposition's score on average, a team with a percentage of 50.0 would only score half of what its opponents do.) The percentage is worked out by taking the total points the team has scored (F) in the season to date, and dividing it by the total points that the opposition teams have scored (A) in games against that team to date, and then multiplying the result by 100. The two points totals are referred to as the Points For and Points Against respectively.

* Finals games were committed to the MCG as partial compensation for the use of the ground, under the terms of a controversial 25-year contract with the Melbourne Cricket Club signed in 1990 (since exwhich facilitated the building of the four-tier Great Southern Stand.  Many Australians support the use of the MCG for the Grand Final, as it is located very near the site of the Richmond Paddock, scene of the first official match in 1858.  The MCG is also considered to be the "spiritual" home of footy. Staging games at the MCG maximizes attendance and revenues for the AFL. 

The MCG deal came under heavy criticism several years ago when interstate teams such as the Brisbane Lions and West Coast Eagles were entitled to home finals but were forced to play at the MCG because of the contract. After months of negotiation the following season, the two parties finally came to terms in which the MCG relinquished its hold on preliminary finals with the AFL "banking" finals matches. This allows the AFL to give interstate teams their finals matches, with the promise that, when possible, other finals games will be scheduled at the MCG. In return, the Grand Final is now committed to the MCG until at 2038. The prospect of a Grand Final in 2015 between the two Perth clubs has finally caused fans and politicians to ask why the Grand Final can't be somewhere else, say Perth. However, in a country with only two stadiums seating close to 100,000 that is unlikely for financial reasons as well as the contract.

In the event of a finals match ending in a tie (or draw), two five minute "halves" are added with the teams swapping scoring ends just as they do at the end of each regular quarter. The team in the lead at the end of this extra time is the winner. If the Grand Final ends tied, the teams replay the entire game the following week.

How do the teams acquire players?

There are several ways in which teams can acquire players, but the system is heavily regulated to foster the strengthening of weaker teams. The major ways of being registered with an AFL team are as follows:

The National Draft - Held in late October

The Preseason Draft - Held in late February

Pre-Draft trading - Allowed for one week in October, prior to the National Draft

The Father/Son Rule - players now included in the Draft

The National Draft
A draft compulsory for teams to participate (for at least two picks - more are available if a greater number of players have been 'delisted' or dropped from the team rosters after the end of the season).
Players eligible to be drafted must be 18 years old or older on 31 December of the year of drafting and:
-has been previously registered with the AFL or
-the player has been registered continuously from the 1st June immediately preceding the National Draft meeting and has played at least one game in the season immediately preceding the National Draft Selection Meeting with either the WAFL, SANFL, TFL (Statewide Leagues) or QAFL, or
-the player has been registered continuously from the 1st June immediately preceding the National Draft Selection Meeting with any recognized Club or School competition in Victoria, New South Wales, Northern Territory or the Australian Capital Territory.

The National Draft is primarily used to draft young players from minor leagues in anticipation of starting an AFL career, but that is not a hard and fast rule.

The Preseason Draft
A non-compulsory draft for AFL clubs. Is primarily used for the transfer of players previously delisted from AFL clubs, and is similar to a re-entry draft in American sports.
To be eligible to be drafted in the Preseason Draft a player must:
- not be bound to an AFL club: and
- have attained the age of 18 years at the date of the Preseason Draft; and
- have previously been registered with the AFL; or
- have been previously drafted by an AFL club or otherwise included on a club list and been deleted from such list; or
- have been registered with the VSFL continuously from June 1st immediately preceding the Preseason Draft.
The Preseason Draft seems to be dying a natural death. In the past 5 years the draft has averaged 8 selections per year, compared to about 50 per year in the first 5 years since inception.

Pre-Draft Trading
For a week sometime prior to the National Draft, clubs can trade players as well as picks in the National Draft.

The Father/Son Rule
A club can draft a player as a second or third round selection if his father:
- played 50 or more senior VFL/AFL matches with any one club; or
- served for not less than 5 years as President, Vice-President, General Manager, Football Manager, Senior Coach or elected member of the Senior Grade Committee of any club, and the player has not been registered with the AFL as a player for any club, then the club which the players Father played or served for can select him.

In addition, if a player's father played at least one senior game in the WAFL prior to 1987, or in the SANFL prior to 1991, prior to the above qualifications (50 games/5 years), then an AFL club in the respective States of those competitions can select him under this rule.
This rule also applies to fathers having played in the QAFL or SFL (NSWAFL) at any time (providing it is not to provide entitlement under this rule) for AFL clubs in the respective states of those competitions.

Free Agency
Free Agency for AFL was introduced in 2012, and consists of restricted and unrestricted free agents.
Unrestricted free agents – which include delisted players and players outside the top nine salary-earners at a club, and who have played at the same club for at least eight years - can move automatically to the team of their choice.
Players earning one of the top nine salaries at a club are eligible for free agency the first time they come out of contract having played at least eight years for the same Club.
For example if a player has signed a three-year contract after seven years at a club, he will be eligible for free agency when he comes out of contract after that 10 years.
Restricted free agents - can move to a club of their choice, providing their existing club does not match an offer made. If the player’s current club matches the offer, and the player does not want to stay at that club, he must nominate for the draft.

A player coming out of contract must usually be picked up in the Preseason Draft; however, he has the right to specify his required financial terms and conditions which a drafting club must meet.

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