AFL Round Table: Should the AFL experiment with its finals structure?

There's no action on the field but there's still plenty to debate during the shutdown. Our AFL experts answer some of the burning questions.

Should the AFL experiment with its finals structure (assuming footy returns)?

Niall Seewang: Absolutely. This is the season for the AFL to experiment with anything and everything - once (fingers crossed) footy returns, the season will be completely different to any others previous, so why not tinker and see how things pan out? I'm all for experimenting with a wildcard weekend, or expanded finals series or even a best-of-three Grand Final! If it's no good, then scrap it for 2021.

Jake Michaels: No, they shouldn't. The current AFL finals series has worked well for years and there's no need to change it now. The season has already been shortened to 17 games and if the shutdown lasts until July, August, or longer, then pull the pin on the whole season. Don't ruin the integrity of the competition by trying to cram everything into a couple of weekends.

Matt Walsh: Yes, but understand it'll forever be looked at as the 'finals series with an asterisk', though I suspect it would be that way even if they keep the finals structure the same (off fewer games, like a 15-game season). It's already a bit of a dumpster fire, so the AFL might as well tinker.

If footy doesn't return in 2020, which team does it hurt most?

NS: This shutdown obviously hurts all clubs, but I think the older teams whose premiership windows are wide open will be most impacted. Premierships are so rare that it'll be terrible to miss out just when you're poised to strike! In terms of average age, Collingwood has the most mature list in the league, so they're an obvious candidate, while West Coast and Geelong are also up there. If the season doesn't return, those three will be devastated to miss out on a premiership assault.

JM: A year with no football will really hurt Gold Coast. To say the Suns are struggling financially is an understatement, so a 12-month period with massively reduced revenue will be tough to take, even with the AFL's handouts. Not only will the year off have an impact from a financial standpoint, but their promising youngsters will also suffer by missing out on games, training and development. Yet another setback for the Suns.

MW: I agree with Niall that while it would be easy to say Gold Coast, or some of the financially-compromised Victorian clubs, there were a number of teams gearing up for a premiership assault. To me, this was Geelong's last chance before the window closed. Does Ablett return in 2021? Does Selwood? How will 32-year-old Tom Hawkins, Harry Taylor, and even Jack Steven fare?

Was the pay cut AFL players took fair?

NS: The pay cut -- 50 percent to the end of May and up to 70 percent if games are postponed for longer than that -- is significant, and the AFL must be relieved to finally have an agreement in place. So on that end, it seems fair. The only aspect I query is the fact there's no sliding scale involved, so players on small wages are hit just as badly as those on mega-bucks.

JM: Players shouldn't be praised for taking this pay cut, it's something which had to be done to preserve their clubs and the sport itself. I actually think they can consider themselves reasonably fortunate to be guaranteed at least 30 percent of their already high salaries, all while not having to work. Many people around the country aren't guaranteed a cent in these trying times.

MW: I think once the gravity of the situation was explained to the players, they all seemed to come together with a fair solution. It's not ideal, nor perfect -- as I understand that players on bigger bucks do live to a higher standard of living with mortgages, rent, school fees etc. -- but it's an admirable move nonetheless.

Should the Tassie AFL push be scrapped in the current climate?

NS: Nope - it should absolutely still be on the table, because the Tasmanian bid is based on the belief a standalone team would add value to the league, not be a financial drain. Of course, any negotiations should be on the backburner at the moment due to current events but considering the Tassie bid earmarked 2025 as the earliest entry date, there's no reason that timeline shouldn't still be on the cards once normalcy resumes.

JM: It shouldn't be scrapped but it's going to fall a fair way down the priority list, which is a shame because it never seemed to be super high. The AFL has far bigger issues to deal with at the moment and the coronavirus could ultimately set Tasmania back another three, four or five years. Who knows...

MW: While Gillon McLachlan has come out and said that all 18 teams will emerge from this crisis, there's no doubt a lot of pressure to keep teams like the Suns afloat during this time. The lack of cashflow hurts the idea of bringing in yet another club, but as Niall said, time is on the AFL's side, and it would be silly to throw the idea out the window at this stage.