Weakened teams missing rested players, if not tanking, could become the norm at the end of this shortened, coronavirus-hit AFL season.
That concern was raised on Footy Classified on Monday night, with host Craig Hutchison naming six clubs who already look shot as finals contenders.
Hutchison stopped short of flagging tanking but said that under the bizarre circumstances imposed by COVID-19, uncompetitive clubs may ease up earlier than usual to focus on next season; perhaps within weeks.
It’s a scenario that may give an air of farce to certain games, should severely-depleted sides be fielded.
“Tanking’s the wrong word but let’s look at the circumstances,” Hutchison said.
“Many Victorian teams are already struggling to stay in reach. A lot of under-prepared teams coming into the year.
“You get four weeks out, five weeks out, three weeks out, you can’t make the finals. The season runs late and you know you’re going to be back early, and you may not even be in Victoria.
“Tell me the clubs aren’t going to send players home and call the season off.
“I’m not sure it’s about draft picks this year. It might just be about getting your players and athletes ready for a year you can compete meaningfully in next year.
“Because if this season goes into November, does anyone really want to be hanging on to players who can’t make the eight, playing into late October? I’m not sure.”
Hutchison named Adelaide, Melbourne, Fremantle, Sydney, North Melbourne and Carlton as the sides already doomed.
Port Adelaide great Kane Cornes said that the AFL would need to heavily scrutinise the behaviour of fringe sides who may be tempted to tank.
“Hawthorn can’t win the premiership, in my opinion, and they haven’t had draft picks; they’ve had two first-round draft picks in the last five years,” Cornes said, agreeing with an interjection from columnist Caroline Wilson that the Hawks had “overestimated” their chances this season.
“They did, and there is an incentive for them to finish ninth this year, so they AFL’s going to have to watch this pretty closely.”
Essendon great Matthew Lloyd argued that tanking was counter-productive.
“Who’s it helped over the years? It helps individuals but it destroys your footy club,” Lloyd said.
Six teams gone as finals contenders: Hutchy
Hutchison said that planning for 2021 might be just around the corner for the worst-performed clubs.
“We’re not that deep into the season, we’ve only got 12 weeks to go [of regular season] all of a sudden and I do wonder whether some of those teams start planning for next year within the next two, three, four weeks; which is a concern to the competition,” he said.
“The Victorian teams are not going to make ground away from home [playing interstate on neutral venues].”