The AFL has warned clubs they face $100,000 fines if they breach new rules regarding poaching of players.
The AFL has tightened its rules on a player signing with a new club in a bid to prevent the code going down the same path as the National Rugby League.
In the NRL, a player can complete a season with one club despite having already signed with another club for the following season.
AFL clubs had been unable to reach a binding agreement with a player before he had finished the season with his current team.
However, clubs were permitted to make contract offers in advance, in the “off-season window”, before the start of the last year of their contract.
Under the new rules, players can no longer be signed during that window.
Any discussions during that period must be specified as non-binding.
Clubs can be fined up to $100,000 for breaking that rule.
“Free agency will place a new test on the rule which prevents clubs from signing opposition players during the course of the season,” AFL football operations manager Adrian Anderson said on Tuesday.
“Free agency is likely to increase the focus on compliance with Rules relating to the Total Player Payments (TPP) Limit, the Draft and the system for Player movement between Clubs.
“Following a review which lasted several months, the AFL has taken a proactive approach to maintaining the effectiveness of these rules, which are essential for ensuring competitive balance in the competition.
“This rule has served the competition well over the years by ensuring the AFL has avoided the situation which occurs in some other sporting codes where someone plays out a season for a club having already signed with another club for the following year.”
No AFL player has admitted to signing with a rival team in advance, although Phil Davis announced he intended to negotiate with Greater Western Sydney while still playing with Adelaide.
There was also strong speculation over whether Gold Coast’s Gary Ablett or the Giants’ Tom Scully had committed to their expansion teams a year ahead, although both maintained throughout their final seasons with their first clubs that they were yet to make up their minds, the AFL’s website reported.