Sport AFL Nathan Burke: AFL should scrap its momentum-killing pre-finals bye

Nathan Burke: AFL should scrap its momentum-killing pre-finals bye

Western Bulldogs grand final victory
The Doggies' run to a premiership was helped by a week's rest before the finals. Photo: Getty
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The AFL pre-finals bye week is still the biggest over-reaction in Australian sport.

The league has a well-earned reputation for over-reacting to isolated incidents.

The rules around interchange, studs up and contact below the knees are classic examples of headquarters reacting to perceived problems and implementing supposed fixes.

Still, as we sit and twiddle our thumbs this week waiting for the finals to roll around, there’s no doubting the pre-finals bye is the biggest mistake of all.

The reason why we have a week off is due to the audacity of Fremantle and North Melbourne putting large numbers of players on ice in the last round of the season way back in 2015.

Not surprisingly, the Kangaroos lost by seven goals to the Tigers and Fremantle lost by 12 goals to Port Adelaide.

It is hardly stunning form in which to enter a finals race and that could well have been the end of it.

Despite the lack of finals success by either of those clubs in 2015 it was enough to send the honchos at AFL House into a panic.

The questions the AFL posed were: What if all eight teams decided to rest players in the last round? What about the integrity of the competition? What about the gamblers and bookies?

While these are perhaps all valid questions, the problem came when the answer wasn’t, let’s wait and see if there’s a problem.

Instead, the AFL panicked and invented the biggest momentum killer since the mid-season split rounds were introduced.

Forget this rubbish about the bye ensuring all the best players are available for the finals.

In 140 years of football nobody ever suggested we needed a bye before the finals for this reason.

If it is indeed the reason, then again it is the AFL is simply trying to manipulate the game.

It is not its job to help teams get players on the field.

It is up to the clubs to look after their players and make sure they have fit players going into the most important part of the year.

If they can’t do that, then they have to rely on their depth of talent. If they haven’t got the depth, they don’t deserve to win finals.

In any case some of the finals teams could also have rested players in the final match of the home-and-away season anyway.

By giving everyone a bye you are potentially taking away one team’s advantage over another team.

That isn’t the AFL’s job.

In fact all you are doing is disadvantaging the top teams who could end up playing one game in four weeks if they win in week one.

That’s hardly a great way to generate momentum or match fitness. It does nothing for the “integrity of the competition”.

In any case it seems the debate over the week off has been superseded by when and where finals should be played.

This year the league finally admitted that maximising crowds (and executive bonuses) is the prime factor in determining where finals are played. At least it is now being honest.

Personally I would rather be locked out of a stadium if it meant my team would have a home-ground advantage.

Any advantage, even as small as 5 per cent may be all it takes to get your team to progress.

Isn’t that more important to a real supporter than being at the ground?

In my opinion, if Geelong deserve a home final then it should get one. The same goes for Greater Western Sydney and any other team whose home ground holds less than 50,000 fans.

We have unfortunately become obsessed with tinkering and trying to even up the competition.

Even when we have only the best eight teams left we are still doing it.

The AFL should get back to letting teams play on their merits.

A football season is a marathon. It is survival of the fittest.

The suits should stop trying to make it anything other than that.

Nathan Burke is a former St Kilda captain who played 323 AFL games for the Saints, winning three Trevor Barker Awards as best-and-fairest player.

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