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The Priority draft pick is a term used in the Australian Football League's AFL Draft.


Brief outline of the AFL Draft

At the conclusion of the AFL season, selections in all three AFL drafts (the National Draft, Pre-Season Draft and Rookie Draft) are taken in the reverse order of final ladder placings. The selections are arranged into "rounds," with each team having one selection per round. Selections are usually taken in reverse-ladder position order to help the poorer-performing teams.

Priority Round

In the early 1990s, the AFL decided to provide extra help to teams performing consistently worse than others; the Sydney Swans, who finished last in 1992-1994, are a key example. To provide this help, the "Priority Round" was introduced into the National Draft. The Priority Round was positioned at the beginning of the draft, before the First Round.

Teams would gain a selection in the Priority Round only if they finished the season with fewer than 20.5 premiership points (wins are worth four points, draws are worth two points).

Selections in the Priority Round are arranged in the reverse order of ladder position with the following exceptions:

  • St. Kilda traded their first draft pick to Hawthorn in 1988.
  • A ballot was used in 1990-1992.
  • Fremantle were given the first draft pick in 1994 as they were to compete for the first time the next year; the AFL also permitted them to receive the first draft pick in 1995.
  • West Coast were given the first draft pick in 1996 in a ballot as the team that finished last, Fitzroy, had folded at the end of round 22.
  • Fremantle traded their first draft pick to Hawthorn in 2001.
  • Carlton were barred from the draft in 2002 for salary cap breaches; St. Kilda, who had finished 15th of 16, received the first first draft and selected Brendon Goddard.
  • Richmond finished last in 2007, but Carlton got the first draft pick due to recent performance; both teams received priority picks, however.
  • Gold Coast will receive the first draft pick in 2010 and West Sydney will receive the first draft pick in 2011 as they will compete for the first time in the next year.

Rule Changes

In the early 2000s, it became apparent that a team with reasonable prospects could have an isolated bad season through injury, and finish with five wins, 'inappropriately' earn a player-list boosting priority draft pick. This was deemed to be unfair since the initial raison d'etre of the priority picks was solely to help consistently poor teams to rebuild.

As a consequence, several changes were made to the rules in 2006:

  • The Priority Round was shifted, so that it was held between the First and Second rounds of the draft.
  • Teams would receive a Priority Selection only if they finished the season with fewer than 16.5 premiership points.
  • If a team finished with fewer than 16.5 premiership points in two consecutive seasons, then their Priority Selection is taken before the First Round.

Tanking allegations

With the AFL defining a numerical cut-off point for the priority pick, there is annual speculation that teams deliberately lose games to retain the extra selection, referred to as "tanking." This is difficult to prove as teams who have won only two or three of their first twenty games cannot be expected to win their last two, so their lack of performance is hardly evidence of tanking. However once a team is well out of finals contention and on 16 points (4 wins) there may be a temptation to avoid a further wins.

Media commentators point to the trialling of young players and the resting of champions with niggling injuries as an indication of subtle tanking, but while others point out that these practices make perfect sense for a team with nothing to play for. By shifting the Priority Round from before to after the First Round, the AFL has reduced, but not eliminated, the incentive to tank. Some members of the media have called for a draft lottery, but Andrew Demetriou has stated that there will be no change to the priority system at this point in time.[1]

Whether or not players or clubs actively involve in throwing games, there are problems caused by both the perception that the practice occurs, and the desire of fans to see their teams engage in the practice when the opportunity arises. The latter was never more prevalent than Round 22 2007, when Melbourne and Carlton met in a game where the victor would lose its priority draft pick, while the loser would retain it; many fans at this game openly supported against their own teams.




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