As another season draws to a close and list management becomes the topic of conversation once more, the draft age debate will inevitably spark again. As the current rules stand, a player is eligible to be drafted by a club in the year he turns 18, meaning players as young as 17 are inducted into the AFL system on draft night.
Although a contentious topic among elite junior ranks, raising the eligible draft age to 19 or even 20 years of age could forever change the game for the better for players and fans alike.
Raising the eligible draft age has drawn support from prominent league figures in Paul Roos, Brad Scott, Brent Harvey, Brendon Bolton, and Matthew Pavlich over recent times.
In the current system, elite juniors are pursuing their dreams of playing AFL football, all whilst concurrently completing their year 12 studies. This simple fact has a flow-on effect on the young athletes, limiting their ability to fully focus and strive for excellence in either field. Recently completing VCE studies myself, I can only begin to imagine the difficulty and pressure that is compounded on our future stars who juggle their studies with training/playing at a TAC Cup level of football. Raising the draft age would ensure these young men have the opportunity to educate themselves for a potential non-football related career, as well as gain valuable life experience that could assist them over the course of their careers.
From a more football-centric viewpoint, raising the draft age will result in more ready-made and mature talents entering struggling football clubs. A year of TAC Cup or State league football post-schooling would allow players to commit themselves solely to their football, allowing greater time for training and development as both a footballer and a person.
19 and 20-year-old players drafted would be able to make an immediate impact, assisting lowly ranked clubs fast-track their rebuilding process by producing quality football in both the short and long term. Clubs who miss finals would be able to climb back up the ladder at a faster pace, as the top end talent available on draft night can be plugged straight into team line-ups and turn the fortunes of the club, as seen regularly in other sports who draft older-aged players. The possibilities of drafting a ‘bust’ (a player who does not live up to expectations) are also decreased, as the older a player is, the more evident their ability to play elite football becomes. Unsuccessful high draft picks can delay a club’s rebuild by years, as seen in Melbourne’s drafting in the late 2000’s, with a return to finals football only now looking like a reality in the year 2017. Decreasing this risk would lead to further equalisation, a hallmark that lays the foundations of Australian sporting culture.
Enhanced fan engagement is another enticing prospect associated with increasing the draft age, as with increased commitment from the players comes increased media coverage of the elite junior competitions. With greater time to take interviews and involve themselves in football media, the fans will be able to follow their club’s potential draftees before they even enter the AFL system.
Draft coverage has gained momentum over recent seasons, with mock drafts and player rankings now commonly published throughout media outlets, including here at Footy Prophet. This increased coverage is good for the game, and exciting for die-hard supporters whose teams aren’t contending for the flag. Imagine following a side in the bottom portion of the ladder, whose season is well and truly buried, but having the ability to follow the next star of your club on television and media platforms.
Albeit, players in the ilk of Ollie Wines, Marcus Bontempelli and Joel Selwood had no troubles of making an impact upon entering the system at the age of 18, yet we could have the opportunity to witness these exciting debut seasons across every club in the land.
More televised games, further draft coverage and ready-made athletes is a captivating pitch, and one that could grow the AFL’s fanbase to a new degree, benefitting all stakeholders of our great game.