Sport AFL Nathan Burke: Why the Brownlow still beats the other awards

Nathan Burke: Why the Brownlow still beats the other awards

Tom Mitchell Hawthorn
Hawthorn's Tom Mitchell celebrates after winning the Brownlow for his 2018 season. Photo: Getty
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How do you fill in a week with no football? You use it to hand out the endless amount of AFL awards – for coaches, players and even the media.

The only award we didn’t get this week was the big one, the Brownlow Medal.

But then again, is it still the big one?

Ever since Geelong great Edward ‘Carji” Greeves won the inaugural Brownlow Medal with seven votes in 1924, the Brownlow has been the No.1 award in AFL/VFL history.

Other awards have come and gone but it is still the Brownlow, or as it is more colloquially known “Charlie”, that has been the most prized individual award in our game.

And that’s even though it is awarded by the umpires.

And herein lies the problem. It’s often questioned these days whether the umpires are best placed to decide who is the fairest and best player in our competition.

We know that umpiring is becoming increasingly difficult as they are forced to juggle new rules and new interpretations.

To ask them to concentrate on adjudicating the rules correctly and then choose which player was the best on the ground may have become too much of an ask.

There are some who think the Players Association MVP should take over the mantle as the best award to win.

Who wouldn’t want to be judged by their peers as the best player in the game, just as Patrick Cripps was this year?

Patrick Cripps was the players’ favourite this year. Photo: Getty

The only problem is that the voting for the AFLPA MVP is fundamentally flawed.

For instance, you can’t vote for one of your teammates, even if you think he has been the best player.

I had this scenario in 1998 when Robert Harvey – a teammate who was in my opinion the best player in the league by a long way.

And yet I couldn’t vote for him and didn’t want to vote for anyone who would beat him so I put in the equivalent of a donkey vote.

How can the award be taken seriously when this sort of voting takes place?

Also the voting takes place at the end of the season and media coverage plays a huge part.

If a player has a huge finish to the season the other players will be influenced by this and overlook the player who started the year on fire.

Plus most players don’t watch other games very closely so really aren’t in the best spot to make these sort of judgments.

Don’t get me started on why we let them choose the best captain.

Honestly, they would have no idea on who is a good captain and who isn’t without working under that person every day.

Perhaps then it’s the coaches who award the AFLCA MVP that are best placed to choose the best.

After each game both coaches pick their top five players on the ground.

The votes are given immediately so no media bias. They are based on influence in the game, playing their role and not stats alone.

To me this is the perfect scenario for awarding the best player, which this year was won by Western Bulldogs Marcus Bontempelli.

We know for certain that the coaches are not influenced by the media and they should be best placed to know which player played their role or caused the other team the most headaches.

The problem with the voting is votes allocated from five to one.

There could be very little difference between the best player and the fourth best player, yet one receives a more heavily weighted vote.

In another scenario a player could receive one vote (be in the best five players) for five games in a row and you still only equal a player who was best once and terrible for the next four games.

It’s therefore not a great voting system.

So that leaves the good old Brownlow Medal. Despite its limitations I think the umpires get it right 90 per cent of the time.

And if you ask the players I think most would still rather be known as a Brownlow Medal winner.

There is a long line of legends that have worn Charlie before them.

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