THE man who oversaw the AFL’s expansion into a national competition believes free agency needs to be tinkered for the betterment of the game.
Former AFL chief executive officer Ross Oakley, in Warrnambool yesterday to promote his book The Phoenix Rises, said the AFL was in a healthy state but that free agency in its current structure was at odds with equalisation.
Oakley joined a growing chorus to voice concerns over the system which is still in its infancy.
Melbourne coach Paul Roos and his St Kilda counterpart Alan Richardson have both spoken about the issue during this month’s trade period.
“I am a little bit concerned about the impact of free agency at the moment,” Oakley said.
“It’s not quite working I think as the league and some of the clubs would like to see it.
“Free agency really was something that was driven by the players to say ‘after a period of time we think we deserve the right to decide whether we want to move from the club we’re associated with’, and that’s fair enough.
“But the way it’s working at the moment is the good players at the weaker clubs are moving to the good clubs in order to try and play in a premiership team before they get to finish.
“I am not sure that was what it was really designed to do. I think we have to maybe take a bit of a leaf out of the American sporting book where they put some limits on free agency.
“There are 18 AFL teams. If the league said ‘you can have free agency but you can’t go to the top four teams’, that way we wouldn’t see the top teams building up a great player base and it would tend to spread the players a little further down the rankings.”
Oakley helped the VFL transform into the AFL during an action-packed 10-year tenure after stepping up as chairman in 1986.
He oversaw the introduction of West Coast Eagles, Adelaide Crows, Fremantle and Port Adelaide, which made its debut in 1997, and was at the helm when Fitzroy bowed out of the competition.
He is happy with the current 18-team structure.
“If the competition gets any bigger there is going to have to be a lot of central AFL support for the new teams,” he said.
“Not only that but the competition standard is going to drop because the players are being spread too thinly, unless we find a new reservoir of players from South Africa or from the Irish side or something of that nature.”
Oakley believes Warrnambool is the ideal place for a pre-season match — if the facilities are up to scratch.
Warrnambool’s premier football ground Reid Oval, long criticised for its ageing facilities, underwent the first steps in a master plan upgrade this year. However, a decision to improve its maligned playing surface, which marred a TAC Cup fixture at the ground mid-year, is yet to be reached.
“What it needs is for a lobby out of Warrnambool to actually put some pressure on the AFL to get a game here but you will have to have a ground that meets the standards. That’s the critical thing,” Oakley said.
“It’d be great to have a game down here in Warrnambool. I think it would get good support and it’s a traditional footy area.
“It’s produced some good players in the past.”
Oakley said the AFL’s support at grassroots level was strong, giving itself the best opportunity to grow and prosper.
“The money they’ve put into grassroots is pretty good compared to most sports,” he said.
“Auskick is a massive organisation and I think they do it pretty well.
“Soccer is the danger. There is a lot of junior support for soccer but it seems once the kids get to secondary school age they tend to swap into AFL because the exposure is greater and their mates are playing it.”