AFL Weighted Draw Might Have Vic Fingers on the Scale

In a league that plays 22 regular season games with just 18 clubs, the AFL has to do some jiggering to set up a fixture.

Each club plays the other one time, accounting for 17 games.

It is those other five that create the opportunity for some clubs to draw an easier fixture than another does.

In 2016 and 2017, the club that finished 13th on the ladder in the preceding seasons made it to the Grand Final. In the 2018 Toyota AFL Premiership competition, the Western Bulldogs finished 13th and if recent history serves as accurate precedent, they will be taking part in the last day of the season in 2019.

The AFL uses a “weighted” fixture in order to try to balance the draw. Combine that with free agency, where good players theoretically go to weaker clubs that should have more salary cap room, and you have a recipe for parity.

Try telling that to Gold Coast, Brisbane or Carlton.

A weighted fixture simply means that clubs that finish high up the ladder will see more of those five games outside the 17 with every other club played against other top clubs, while those on the bottom will see other bottom rungers.

Collingwood was 13th in 2017 and when you look at their 2018 fixture, it seemed as though the league had gone far above and beyond the call of duty to hand the Magpies the keys to the premiership.

That may be the theory, but there seems to be a tendency to view the fixture form a subjective viewpoint. Collingwood did have to play Richmond twice, but the other four clubs in their draw were the Suns, Saints, Swans and Western Bulldogs.

Yet, Fremantle, which should have drawn an easy fixture in 2018 after finishing 14th, had a draw that was rated as the toughest in the league.

That sort of thing tends to lead one to the conclusion that Victorian teams seem to get the benefit of finishing poorly, but the interstate clubs do not receive the equivalent consideration.