Essendon have admitted that players facing AFL anti-doping charges would be crazy to risk potential back-dated suspensions by playing in the NAB Challenge.
Club officials and the AFL are negotiating what to do about Essendon’s pre-season games, given the anti-doping tribunal is yet to hand down its verdict.
Essendon football operations manager Rob Kerr also said if all the players on their list in 2012 were to sit out the games, they would have to find up to 20 replacements from lower leagues.
Kerr told the club website on Wednesday that a decision from the league is likely in the next week, with an AFL Commission meeting scheduled for Monday.
The anti-doping tribunal, which is a closed hearing, will sit again on February 16.
No verdict is expected before Essendon’s March 7 match against St Kilda in Morwell and the March 13 against GWS in Sydney.
The tribunal is hearing charges against 34 current and former Essendon players, relating to the club’s 2012 supplements program.
The charged players are on provisional suspensions, which started when they were served infraction notices on November 14.
If they are found guilty, any suspension would probably start from that date.
But if they were to play in the pre-season before the verdict is handed down, then that would become the start of a ban.
“Those players would probably be crazy to risk any of that (provisional suspension) period not being accounted for from a back-dating point of view,” Kerr said.
It is understood 17 or 18 current Essendon players are facing charges.
They are supposed to stay anonymous during the hearing.
One proposal is that all 25 current Essendon players who were on the 2012 list would sit out the challenge games.
“That’s a solution that the playing group has fairly much bought into,” Kerr said.
“For the sake of the NAB Challenge, players are not prepared to risk that (anonymity).”
But that means finding replacement players so Essendon can field a team.
And Kerr said there are several issues around bringing top-up players into the team.
“We’re thinking you probably have to find in the vicinity of 15-20 players to be able to compete,” he said.
“At the very least, you’d have to be allowing extra numbers to allow for additional rotations.
“You quite simply couldn’t expect those players to play the normal … games times.
“It just wouldn’t be fair.”
Kerr added the negotiations had not involved what might happen if Essendon forfeit the games.
“To date, there’s been no tabling ‘well, if you couldn’t play, this is what a penalty would be’,” he said.
“Both parties are trying to find a solution.”
He also admitted the complicated problem will affect Essendon’s preparations for the regular season.
“We’re clearly not going to have the same pre-season of the other AFL clubs,” he said.
Kerr was confident the league would make an announcement soon.
“More than likely, within the next week, there will be a clear decision made as to what the NAB Challenge looks like for Essendon, maybe sooner,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Western Bulldogs will meet with former Bomber Stewart Crameri to discuss whether he also sits out the start of the NAB Challenge.
Fellow ex-Essendon players Angus Monfries and Patrick Ryder, now at Port Adelaide, reportedly will miss the opening pre-season matches.