AFL says it is open to fixture thoughts

The AFL is open to ideas about next season’s fixture as opposition grows to the pre-finals bye weekend.

Tuesday’s release of key dates for the 2017 season has heightened the debate around how the full fixture should look.

The league has put a week off between round 23 and the opening weekend of the finals.

That followed North Melbourne and Fremantle resting large groups of players last season immediately before their finals series.

But there is plenty of disquiet around the new initiative, with concerns it gives top teams too much time off during the finals campaign.

The pre-finals bye has also prompted some talk that it dilutes the benefits of finishing in the top four.

The AFL Players’ Association wants two byes that would split the regular season into thirds.

“This is being driven by the players and because of the demands of the game; they are very strong of the view they need two (mid-season) byes,” said players’ association chief executive Paul Marsh.

“Without speaking for all the clubs … I don’t think there’s a helluva lot of support for having this bye (after) round 23.

“There’s a strong view around the industry we need two byes, because the game has gotten that taxing for the players, but also the coaches and those off the field.”

“The second (bye) now is only potentially benefiting eight of the 18 teams and even players and coaches from those (eight) teams are actually raising questions around whether it’s a real advantage.”

AFL operations manager Mark Evans said all they had done was use the template of the 2016 season to lay out next year’s key dates.

He noted the league had called for submissions on next year’s season structure.

“Obviously, there are still some issues that are to be debated,” Evans said.

“We’re in strong contact with the players’ association and when we do our consultations out to clubs, some of that is with leadership groups – so we hear those messages.

“If someone wants to throw up alternatives … then we are happy to listen.”

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