AAP AFL

AFL officials ready for big call on season

By AAP Newswire

A seemingly inevitable decision looms for the AFL on its self-imposed deadline late this month.

As the time draws nearer, it appears increasingly likely the competition shutdown - in place until May 31 - will be extended as the coronavirus pandemic drags on.

But Gillon McLachlan remains hell-bent on completing a reworked 153-game season as the AFL, which is desperate to generate broadcast revenue, attempts to fight off an existential crisis like never before.

"I'm optimistic at some point that we will open up and we'll go back to work and that will give an opportunity for footy to be played," the AFL chief executive told ABC radio this week.

"I reckon after a few months our community is going to need it as well."

An extended time frame means the AFL season could still be run and won this year, even if the competition resumed as late as August.

The renegotiated pay deal with the AFL Players' Association saw the players commit to competing right through to December if required.

That situation would pose its own problems, putting football on a collision course with cricket over the rights to premier venues around the country.

Of course, football is no guarantee to resume in 2020. Nathan Buckley this week conceded that situation remained "a very real possibility".

The Collingwood coach also declared he would have no issue with an asterisk sitting next to this year's premiership, as long as his Magpies won it.

But there are bigger issues at play than the 2020 season and the AFL was given a massive boost this week when it secured a line of credit with banks, reportedly worth up to $600 million.

The lifeline could ensure that the AFL and all 18 clubs survive, and perhaps thrive, beyond the coronavirus crisis as headquarters takes greater control of club finances to steer the ship.

McLachlan has repeatedly stated his intention for all clubs to keep their current locations despite reports that a North Melbourne relocation to Tasmania remains on the league's agenda.

The reports were angrily refuted and howled down by key Kangaroos figures, both past and present.

The public stoush was one of many as the football media industry turned stir-crazy.

Ross Lyon had Gold Coast in his sights, suggesting the club was an unnecessary financial burden on the league, and Suns chairman Tony Cochrane responded by calling the ex-Fremantle and St Kilda mentor a "failed coach".

Collingwood president Eddie McGuire had an on-air bust-up with a Channel Nine journalist, while AFL legend Leigh Matthews riled players by suggesting they weren't acting in the best interests of the game during pay negotiations.

But they were all just sideshows to the main issues the AFL faces.

The pay negotiations were branded 'ugly' when in reality they were not.

A process that usually takes months was completed within a week as players agreed to a significant pay cut.

About 80 per cent of AFL and club staff remain in limbo after being stood down and there are no guarantees on how many will retain their jobs long-term.

Cutbacks will be necessary.

All player contract negotiations are on hold, and there is uncertainty over the national and rookie drafts.

The AFLW competition is another consideration.

Now in its off-season after the 2020 campaign was cut short, the women's competition hangs in the balance as McLachlan and his administrators attempt to work out what sort of resources can be afforded to it.

There is plenty of work left to be done, but the financial lifeline from banks might just allow the AFL to find some acceptable solutions in a dire situation.