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Much a-tank about nothing

By SportAugust, 2009December 13th, 20233 min read

The annual news cycle for the The Age AFL news probably looks something like this:

Period Story
Pre-season big player moves, who will and won’t do well this year
Round 2-4 who might actually do well this year
Round 5-9 coach sacking speculation
Round 10-14 coach replacement & re-signing speculation
Round 15-16 Caroline Wilson concocts a story about nothing
Round 17-18 annual tanking controversy
Round 19-22 focus on finals

And so, again, we find ourselves in the annual tank-talk time of the year. It started with West Coast looking like they were playing to lose, it gained momentum with comments by Terry Wallace on his conflict of interest when coaching at the end of the season before Richmond picked up Cotchin as the number one draft pick, and reached a crescendo after last weekend’s bizarre game between Melbourne and Richmond.

I was at that game, and it was certainly one of the worst games of footy I have seen. It must have set a record for kicking and handball inefficiency. I can understand why Melbourne, who are clear $1.37 favourites for the wooden spoon, might want to stay there. Richmond are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. Either the fans are bagging them for not winning, or for not tanking. Yet given their recent success with new coach Rawlings, their motivation for losing was not as apparent.

But back to the issue of tanking itself. There are two main tools used in team sports as equalizers: salary caps, and a draft system. If we have a look around other sports, they have been quite effective in ensuring that success is shared around slightly more than before they were introduced.

Everyone complains that the draft system leads to tanking toward the end of each season. There is tough talk by current and previous coaches (usually of successful teams) of banning coaches for life if they are “caught” tanking. Of course, how on earth can anyone prove it? Then there are the suggestions of changing the draft system to eliminate tanking. Well, that’s just as unlikely. In any system that seeks to equalize by offering something to underperforming teams, there will always be a point where the balance is tipped in favour of losing a game. Whether it’s to finish bottom, or in the bottom four, or bottom six, there is always such a turning point. Current draft systems are not perfect, they are better than having it come down to a lottery, or no draft at all.

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