If The AFL Was Fair The Grand Final Would Be In Perth
Collingwood undoubtedly has an advantage against West Coast because of where the game will be played.
In any other final, West Coast would be granted the privilege of playing in Perth as they finished higher on the ladder than Collingwood.
But come the last Saturday in September, AFL rules stipulate that the game must be played at the MCG.
In fact, earlier this year the AFL announced that the Grand Final will be played at the MCG until at least 2057.
This is unfair, but it’s one of many unfair quirks the AFL knowingly implements to ensure the code thrives.
The AFL is an imperfect competition. It’s still very much structured as the VFL with some add-ons. It’s highly unusual that a national competition of any sport anywhere in the world would have 10 teams from one state and nine from one city.
This means that inconsistencies abound. While non-Victorian clubs have a distinct home ground advantage, teams based in Melbourne share home grounds with several co-tenants. For example, the MCG is home to Collingwood, Richmond, Melbourne and Hawthorn, meaning when those teams play each other the ‘home ground advantage’ is non-existent.
The same applies down the road at Etihad Stadium where Essendon, Carlton, North Melbourne, St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs play their home games.
But every second week West Coast have a significant advantage, playing teams that have to travel to Perth to play in front of nearly 60,000 fans on a ground the opposition only see once or twice a year.
On the flip side, every other week they have to travel thousands of kilometres to play away from home, which is a significant disadvantage.
Throughout the year the Eagles have played on the MCG only twice. Collingwood, on the other hand, has played there 16 times.
But this is nothing new. The past five Grand Finals have featured a Victorian side against an interstate side where the Victorian side was the lower ranked team on all but one occasion. The Victorian side won each time.
Plus, last year Geelong finished second on the ladder and in the Qualifying Final played a rampant Richmond. As the higher ranked team, Geelong were the ‘home’ team. However, due to the relative small capacity of Geelong’s home ground, GMHBA Stadium, the game was played at the MCG -- Richmond’s home ground. Richmond won and went on to win the flag.
Of course, Geelong has benefited from the unfair finals scheduling in the past. Back in 2004 the Cats finished 4th and played the 2nd placed Brisbane in a Preliminary Final at the MCG. Back then AFL rules stipulated that at least one preliminary final had to be played at the MCG.
Because first placed Port Adelaide had won the right to play their preliminary final in Adelaide, Brisbane had to travel to Melbourne.
They beat Geelong, but lost seven days later to Port at the MCG.
Then there’s the season itself. While everyone plays each other once, not everyone plays each other twice. Some teams have six-day breaks before playing teams who may have rested for up to eight days. Some teams are scheduled to play on numerous Thursday or Friday night games on free to air television, while others play in less friendly television time slots, which impacts the visibility of their brand and overall commercial clout.
Of course, all of these inconsistencies are implemented to ensure revenues are maximised. In 2016 it was estimated that the AFL Grand Final produced a net profit of $19 million for the AFL.
Considering it hands out over $12 million to each of its clubs to ensure the survival of an 18-team competition, that means virtually one and a half teams are paid for from an MCG Grand Final. Would they reap the same financial rewards if the game was moved to another venue?
Plus, whatever way you view it, while not terribly fair, there are very few times in history where you could say hand on heart that the eventual Premiers weren't worthy.
The reality is that while the AFL season and finals are not 100 percent fair or consistent, history shows that it does give each team the opportunity to rise to the top and win the flag if they’re good enough.
And that makes it fair enough.