Opinion: 2020 is the time to be bold, really bold

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Andrew Leonard – @Lennytalk

Great news – the footy is back. At least at AFL level and with the restrictions being lifted all the time it hopefully won’t be long before community footy is back as part of our weekend ritual (fingers crossed).

Whenever football returns, it won’t be as we have known it in recent seasons. There will be social hygiene and distancing restrictions and we are obviously going to have a contracted season.

This is the time to be bold, to try something new. With no final verdict from the team at HQ just yet, I thought I would throw out a couple of ideas.

With other suburban leagues already showing their hand and cancelling seasons, the VAFA has a great opportunity to present as a local footy competition of choice for a whole new audience. Given there are thousands of footballers with nowhere to play, I would also be opening up short-term transfers into the competition too. Players from other community leagues that have cancelled their seasons could come and play in the VAFA for the mini-season, and with any luck they might choose to stay long term.

Given the Covid-19 pandemic and the financial challenges that has befallen much of society, both of my options for a 2020 season operate the blanket rule of no promotion or relegation this year. The balance of home and away games is unlikely to be considered fair and, whilst there will be clubs that believe they are primed for promotion, the benefit is they get one more year to hone their craft. Without further ado, let’s take a look at two potential options.

The Obvious Option – with a twist

Each section to play a nine-game home and away season. If we start with Round 1 on 25 July, the final round of the home and away season would be on 19 September. With the deal done between Cricket Victoria and AFL Victoria, finals can be played in October. Now for the twist – with no promotion and relegation, let’s make it an eight-team finals series this year.

Eight teams in the finals would ensure a nine-game season is alive for longer and it only adds one additional week to the finals series, meaning grand finals would be on 17/18 October. Given that some grounds will be lost to preparations for cricket, my suggestion is for there to be no reserves/thirds finals series this year. At best – just a grand final featuring the top two.

At senior level, the two preliminary finals on weekend of 10/11 October would be in daylight savings time. This could see double-header preliminary finals at Elsternwick Park at 1pm and 4pm! You could even play one of the preliminary finals on the Friday night.

The balance of home games versus away games is either 5-4 or 4-5, therefore my suggestion is for the lowest ranked teams in each section to be guaranteed five home games.

The final eight is the boldest component of this proposal. In 1916, with only four teams participating due to World War I, the VFL saw the wooden spooner Fitzroy with only two home and away wins go on and win the premiership in the same season. So, spare me the ‘rewarding mediocrity’ talk, this is local footy and is a one-off season!

Summary:

  • 9 H&A games
  • 8 team finals series
  • No promotion/relegation
  • Finals series for senior teams only
  • Lowest ranked teams from last year to get 5 home games
  • Grand final weekend 17/18 October

The Radical Option – because why not?

Stay with me on this. Let’s give it a working title of the Champions League Model.

Merge Premier and Premier B plus the top 4 sides of Premier C and do likewise with the bottom half of Premier C and Division 1 and Division 2. For Division 3 and 4 they could either be merged or they could play the ‘Obvious Option’ of above.

Create six groups of four teams each to play against each other home and away. The teams would be geographically grouped via a seeding based on finishing position last year. This would give a six-round group stage.

The top two from each group, plus the four next best third-place finishers would progress to the Champions League knockout stage while the remaining eight teams from each group would progress to the Champions Plate.

Round 1 of the knockouts would be a home and away fixture with aggregate points determining if you go through to the next round. This would mean that for half the competition, their season would be over after eight games, concluding on 12 September. Only one game shorter than the above model.

The quarter-final stage – again played over two matches determined on aggregate would conclude on 26 September and the semi-finals would conclude on 10 October.

Grand final weekend would also fall on 17/18 October.

Ground availability might be a concern, so there is the potential to remove the two-leg element for the semi-finals and just play a standard ‘win and you are in’.

I haven’t asked any of the clubs about their thoughts on either of these options, but in a compromised and abbreviated year why not try something out of the box? Knock out cup style football is what we love (it’s finals footy after all) and the chance to play on your home ground over two legs will enhance rivalries, as will the geographic group system.

Summary:

  • 6 groups of 4 teams
  • Top 2 of each group plus 3 best place third finishers progress
  • Knock out phase played over two legs – aggregate points progress through
  • Other teams enter plate knock out
  • Grand Final day for Plate is 3/4 October
  • Grand Final day for Cup is 17/18 October

It’s radical, it’s out of the box and it’s different, but the VAFA and its clubs have an opportunity now more than ever to be bold. Let me know which model you’d prefer on Twitter @Lennytalk or if you have any other suggestions for what 2020 could potentially look like.