The positioning of the AFLW on the sports calendar is becoming a growing concern after AFL boss Gillon McLachlan fronted the media on Thursday.
The AFLW fixture was discussed in relation to the AFLM pre-season and AFLX.
McLachlan stated that it is preferred that the AFLW Grand Final is played on the weekend of March 17, the weekend between the end of the men’s pre-season and regular season.
“We would like if we could make it work for the Grand Final of AFLW to be in clean air, the week before the opening round,” McLachlan said.
“The challenge with that is you then come forward a week, and you would then have to open that season on the Australia Day long weekend.”
An Australia Day weekend start for the AFLW is only if the league opts out of extending the finals series by a week, which was in high demand by both competing teams and fans alike.
That would mean the women’s season would have to begin on the weekend of January 20.
The foremost problem is the clash with the WBBL, which has extended its season into February for a Sunday, Feb 4 Final.
For AFLW-listed players also signed to the WBBL in Bulldogs Emma Kearney and Kirsty Lamb, Carlton’s Natalia Plane and Collingwood’s Jess Duffin, that would mean missing the first two (of seven) AFLW rounds in 2018 and the first three rounds if their teams make finals.
Considering they would be missing a significant amount of the pre-season, you’d question whether it would be fair for these players to join in an elite competition half-way.
With female cricketers making a huge breakthrough as part of the new cricket CBA, there is even a risk that those players could be lost to the game as WBBL/WNCL contracted players become full-time.
Additionally, the proposed AFLW season launch date would place it in direct competition with the Australian Open tennis for the first two rounds, which McLachlan said he had no interest in clashing with.
“We think that respecting the tennis and getting clean air for the women is important.”
The unwillingness to overlap with any other sports or codes is a huge concern, as it appears as though the Commission has little faith in the league, which was an overwhelming success in its debut season, to succeed against competition.
Maybe even more concerning is the resistance to running the AFLW alongside the AFLM, which is an inevitability with more teams set to join the women’s league.
Surely if the two competitions are fixtured properly, both the men’s and women’s leagues would benefit from feeding off each other when it comes to both scheduling and telecasting.
The powers that be seem to be trying to force the AFLW into a small window, further highlighting the carnival-esque nature of the competition.
What’s most worrying is that this is a comp that is set for expansion as of 2019, meaning the season will have to extend beyond just eight or nine weeks, or be split into a 10 or 12-team competition into two conferences to fit within the current small window.
All things considered, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the AFL has no long-term plan for the AFLW, or the league’s expansion.
With AFLM finals looming, this is a problem that needs to be fixed as soon as possible, otherwise it won’t be addressed until October at earliest.
The inaugural AFLW season suffered in patches because of the AFL’s delayed planning of the competition, with poorly-fixtured matches, unsuitable venues and the major gaff of no locked in Grand Final venue all acting as downers.
It appears we are headed for a similar fate of unnecessary gaffs as a result of poor planning if the AFL doesn’t learn from its mistakes.