AFL to experiment in pre-finals bye

A Monday night blockbuster to end round 23 and a Thursday night final shape as two critical features of the AFL’s key fixture changes.

The league will market the new bye week between round 23 and the start of the finals as a celebration of football, with a series of events aimed at maintaining fan interest.

But AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan has ruled out moving the Brownlow Medal from its usual spot at the start of grand final week.

He said round 23 might end with a blockbuster match on Monday night, August 29, to decide top-eight positions.

While the league now shies away from regular Monday night games during the season, McLachlan is confident it would work as a once-off if there was plenty riding on the game.

The September 2-4 bye weekend would also give the AFL more flexibility in scheduling the first week of the finals.

McLachlan said they could play a final on Thursday, September 8 – and then the Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The league has introduced the bye week because of concerns about finals-bound teams resting large groups of players for dead-rubber games in round 23.

“Clearly, there’s risk in this … it’s a bigger risk if you continue to put the integrity of the competition by perpetuating what happened in round 23 this year,” McLachlan said.

“I understand the coaches doing that – they’re there to win grand finals – but it’s our job then to respond to that.

“There’s a huge opportunity in this.”

McLachlan said a Monday night game ending round 23 would work if there was a lot riding on the result.

For example, Hawthorn and Collingwood will play each other and they would attract a bumper MCG crowd.

“We’ve abandoned the concept of it being a regular fixture thing, but this is actually going to be the last game of the home-and-away season,” McLachlan said.

Round 23 is already a “floating” fixture, with no decision on timeslots or venues until later in the season.

McLachlan predicts they will not decide the Monday night game until the week before.

He similarly flagged a Thursday night final, as well as potentially a Sunday final rather than two games on the Saturday.

“We have the flexibility to do whatever we want – don’t rule out Sunday,” he said.

The league has already confirmed the EJ Whitten Legends game will move to Friday September 2, with the Melbourne and Western Bulldogs women’s teams playing on September 3.

The Rising Star and All-Australian awards will also be held in the first week of the bye.

McLachlan said it would be a great opportunity for finals clubs to hold open training sessions and build excitement among their fans.

But there is no way the Brownlow will be part of the bye program.

“I don’t want to move it,” he said.

“It’s a perfect set-up for the (grand final) week, a big event.

“I think that’s where it should be.”

When it was put to him that the AFL would be smashed if it moved the Brownlow, McLachlan replied: “I would have smashed myself.”

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