Our AFL experts have considered some of the burning questions heading into the suspension of the 2020 season, and, as always, fierce debate ensued.
Was the decision to play Round 1 the right one?
Niall Seewang: In hindsight, probably not. Nearly all other sporting leagues across the globe had already shut down and while the AFL hadn't received advice that it had to bring things to a halt, the 'show must go on' mentality wasn't a good message to send to a confused and panicky public. In saying that though, this is an unprecedented situation that changes by the hour and mistakes will be made.
Jake Michaels: Absolutely not. I said last week the AFL was selfish to go ahead and that I would give it just two weeks before the competition would be halted. It only took one week. The coronavirus pandemic was never going to disappear in a week or two and Gillon McLachlan and the AFL's misguided beliefs they could carry on as normal, and with immunity to the virus, have quickly been disproved.
Matt Walsh: It was fun while it lasted, and myself as well as hundreds of thousands of others are happy we got to see some form of football. The more bizarre call was West Coast and Melbourne still having to play after the season was suspended. If there's an immediate and indefinite hold, just finish the round when the season restarts!
Is it time to just draw a line through the 2020 season?
NS: I think it's too soon to assume that. I can't see games being played in the forseeable future but there's nothing wrong with sticking to a postponement status, rather than a cancellation. If the coronavirus threat is diminished enough for a resumption in say July or August, we could still squeeze in a shortened season and finals campaign. And considering the bleak outlook that most of the world faces in the short-term, the glimmer of hope that one of life's joys may be back one day can only be a good thing.
JM: While I do think it was silly to start the season last week, I'm not ruling out a return later in the year. So much has changed in the past two weeks and while we are likely heading towards more difficult times, it's clear we're facing an ever-changing landscape. Say football returned in June, the 16 other rounds could still be played by the end of September with a finals series to follow. It's not impossible, just yet.
MW: Not yet, but the way things are evolving, I wouldn't be surprised if they can it. Whether that's when they realise they won't fit 17 games in before Christmas, or if stadium availability is an issue due to the T20 World Cup or summer of cricket, or simply if -- even after 'flattening the curve' of the coronavirus -- people are still becoming infected in lower numbers six months down the track. It just seems like a cursed year, unfortunately.
Will 16 minute quarters be here to stay?
NS: I think so. The league was already looking at ways to reduce the length of games, and I think the shortened quarters might be the answer. There were multiple positives to the shorter quarters, including being able to keep the best players on the field for longer, and power/burst athletes shining thanks to a lower premium on endurance. I'd suggest most viewers also appreciated the more condensed TV broadcast, too.
JM: I really don't understand why the AFL implemented this change. I don't hate the 16 minute quarters but certainly don't see it as being a masterstroke. If it was up to me, I'd prefer to revert to 20 minute quarters. Players are still going to get injured playing 16 minute quarters!
MW: It certainly will. The AFL is using 2020 as its guinea pig season for a number of things, and anything that works will get the tick of approval. I have doubts we'll see a 17-game season going forward (the AFL will need all the revenue dollars it can get coming out of this financial hole), but 16 minute quarters work. It didn't affect the quality of play, and may even have benefits - athletes aren't as tired, closer games, easier for neutrals to stay engrossed in a game not featuring their team ... I rate it.
Would any 2020 premiership be tainted?
NS: No way - imagine telling a fan whose club has never tasted the ultimate success, or one experiencing a lengthy premiership drought that a flag this year wouldn't mean as much - they'd take it in any shape or form! Of course a shortened season won't be the same, but there'll still be 18 clubs battling it out, so the winner should receive all the plaudits as any other premiership winner.
JM: In the short term, yes, but not in the long term. Think about it, 2020 will be ancient history 20, 30 or 50 years from now and the premier will be viewed just like any other. However, I think in the short term there might be a few more question marks on the eventual champion (if we even get one!). Having said that, if every team plays each other once, perhaps this premier is the one which shouldn't be tainted at all.
MW: You can say what you want to justify it, but any flag in 2020 will always come with the caveat 'but it was the coronavirus season'. From pubs, to backyard barbecues to history lessons, no one will be able discuss the 2020 premier without following it up with "but", no matter how 'legitimately' any flag is won.