In what’s both sorely overdue and deeply out-of-character decision, league officials at the AFL appear to be conceding defeat on they hyper-expensive and deeply baffling AFLX project in favour of actually giving the AFLW the time and resources it needs to properly thrive.
Over the past two seasons the league has used the men’s pre-season schedule to trial the fledgling AFLX format; a truly strange, abridged format of the game designed to be played on rectangular fields with most of the actually fun elements of Australian Rules Football pared away in favour of a flood of corporate sponsorship.
The half-baked format attracted miffed ire and outright derision from those curious enough to watch it – like football-starved moths caught in the hypnotising blue hue of a February bug zapper – but now it would appear league bosses have raised the flag of surrender on the AFLX altogether.
AFL Football Operations boss Steve Hocking reportedly told club executives of the league’s decision to shelve the AFLX in 2020 at a two-day league summit in Nagambie.
Hocking stated the decision was made in order to give the elite women’s competition the time and resources it requires to grow, particularly given the arrival of four new clubs in what’s expected to be a significantly expanded 2020 season.
There are four new clubs entering the AFLW competition for 2020, and the AFL’s on-field priority next year is to ensure the right emphasis and resources are in place to ensure the women’s competition continues to build on the success of the first three seasons.
In addition, the AFL is assessing the full pre-season program for clubs and ways we can ensure the players and clubs are in the best condition in the lead-up to the Premiership season. This was a constant message in our recent mid-season reviews with the clubs.
Richmond, Gold Coast, West Coast, and St Kilda will all enter sides in the top tier AFLW for the first time next season, bringing the total number of clubs in the league up to 14. Only Hawthorn, Essendon, Sydney, and Port Adelaide are yet to have teams entered in the AFLW.
Next year’s AFLW is expected to feature an expanded 11-week season in 2020, consisting of eight regular season rounds and a three-week finals series. The league will retain the controversial conference system implemented this year, but the door for a wild card-like finals qualification system has been left open.
So there you go. The AFLX, mercifully, appears to be dead and buried. And probably not a moment too soon.Image: Getty Images / Michael Wilson