When is an AFL premiership not really a premiership?

Running the AFL has never been easy and it's certainly never been a more difficult job than right now.

There's no product as such but ongoing costs to maintain. There's all manner of logistics to be worked out, but with the landscape upon which those plans are being made continuing to shift. It's a sea of uncertainty.

All the AFL Commission, chief executive Gillon McLachlan, football operations manager Steve Hocking and Co. can do is plan for the widest range of scenarios possible and be ready to enact them at the shortest notice. And that they seem to be doing capably enough.

Flexibility has been an essential component of those plans, obvious in the AFL's repeated line about having to play another 144 matches to complete the already re-scheduled 2020 season, as opposed to talking about 17 rounds as such.

That's a pretty strong pointer that so crammed may the program end up, that it could well be nigh on impossible to distinguish just where one supposed round begins and another is completed.

All sorts of bases are being covered - except what might end up being the most important of the lot. And it's one with which no amount of vision, forward planning or inventiveness can possibly help.

Already, understandably, the likes of McLachlan and Hocking are going out of their way to insist whatever sort of AFL season we have in 2020 won't be compromised to the point its legitimacy is in serious doubt.

They, the AFL clubs and the thousands of people actively involved in the have a desperate, vested interest in the belief of the integrity of however this year's premiership race is run and won.

But they won't have the final say, nor the coaches, players or even media fraternity already actively engaged in the business of making nothing look like something, with predictably self-indulgent results.

It's the football public which will decide whether the 2020 premier is worthy, or will forever carry an enormous asterisk beside its name like some sort of scarlet letter. And to date, the signs aren't necessarily encouraging.

That bizarre first round of the season played in front of empty grandstands seemed to have an immediately deflating effect on even the most fanatical football supporters.

It's not like there wasn't enough what we'd generally call "thrillers", with three games decided by a goal or less. But even the closing minutes of those were played out in an air of sterility, the only audible sounds beyond the commentary the yells and whoops of players which lent the air of a suburban park game ... the only element missing was the sound of car horns.

Actual premiership points were won and lost, but it never really felt like it without the masses there to express joy, relief, frustration or disappointment. The post-game reactions of the players were muted, in all honesty absolutely no different to how they seemed at the end of the Marsh Series practice games.

That, mind you, came after dramatically altered playing conditions - shorter quarters, reduced interchanges, the opening salvos of a football year already by necessity reduced from 22 home and away games per team to only 17.

Who knows how many more times those fundamental playing rules may need to be altered in order to accommodate more games quickly in an ever-shrinking window?

Rules on the run, altering the playing conditions of matches midway through a competition in any sport, doesn't do a lot for integrity. Let alone in football. Remember the bollocking McLachlan received from virtually the entire football world for publicly hinting the AFL could trial new rules in games late in the season a couple of years ago?

But it's not just about the rules. It's about the aesthetics, and again, that is something the AFL simply cannot control.

Going by that original potential resumption date of 31 May, which already seems fanciful, there's 29 more weekends available until the last weekend before Christmas. If there are 16 rounds still to play, plus, say, four weeks of finals (though that is another not-insignificant detail which is still open for negotiation) there superficially seems to be still a bit of wriggle room in which to move.

But I can't be the only one who is really struggling to embrace the possibility of a Grand Final played in December. To be blunt, it seems ridiculous. Not to mention potentially compromising the quality of next season as well.

If there's an arbitrary line of a tolerable amount of change to the normal season format, that, in my view, certainly crosses it. And I'm having more than a few misgivings about most of the other compromises being mooted, or already in effect.

The AFL can try arguing that this could be a very special and noteworthy premiership win given the amount of logistical obstacles in the way and the amount of adaptability teams will have to display to get there. But that's about novelty as much as testing the limits, isn't it? You could mount the same sort of case for 'The Rampage' - so-called 'premiers' in last year's bizarre AFLX tournament.

Perhaps the biggest 'pub test' of whether the football public will accept this year's premiership won under these circumstances as legitimate comes when you ask supporters of those clubs who've waited the longest for a taste of a flag triumph, Melbourne and St Kilda.

My Footyology podcast co-host Mark Fine is as fanatical and devoted a fan of the Saints as I have met. This week, he volunteered he'd much rather St Kilda didn't salute in 2020, such is the level of scepticism he already has about plans to play out the rest of the season.

Finey is a man who I suspect would willingly sacrifice a limb if it ensured he could witness a second St Kilda premiership. That declaration from someone of his ilk doesn't bode well for an AFL not only trying to get this season happening, but then convince its public that it will actually mean something.

You can read more of Rohan Connolly's work at footyology.com.au