AFL legend Leigh Matthews has spoken to the The Age about his radical ideas to overhaul the game post-COVID019.
Key ideas that Matthews has proposed include clubs only spending half as much on their football department as their players, and with the league proposing cutting list sizes to 35 for next year, seizing the change to reduce the number of players on the field to 16 per side.
Matthews said it was “logical to me to have fewer players on the field” as part of the push for reduced lists.
“When you ask that question [about the number of players] the only answer seems to be ‘because we have always had 18 on the field’,” he said.
“The field is the same size as it was 100 years ago and players wore boots they nailed studs into. They are more athletic now, running around basically in spokes. They are faster and bigger.”
“It’s only logical to me to reduce the number of players on the field, it opens the game up. You need two fewer players per game, so it’s an impact on list sizes.”
With the salary caps for both players and football departments set to be reduced due to lack of revenue, Matthews stated that the cap for department spending should be half of the salary cap spent on players.
“One thing I have said as a principle is that whatever the salary cap is, the soft cap should be 50 per cent of that. So whatever you have to spend on your footy department is half as much as you spend on your players,” the former champion player and coach said.
“Some places before the soft cap were spending more on their footy departments than they were on their players, which seemed wrong to me.
“We got to the stage where last year we were spending $13 million on the players and $10 million for the soft cap.
“It’s a good question, if you cut the soft cap do you pay them less, or do you have fewer people?”
Matthews also spoke with The Age on other changes that are being proposed by the AFL for the future.
On shorter quarters Matthews said: “I think the issue is what do they call time on? The question is more ‘how long do you want your quarter to be.’ Thirty minutes? Twenty-five minutes? The game was always 25 minutes and time on but then time on was only called by the umpire when there was a long stoppage or a goal. Now it’s for a lot of things, so I think the real question is how long do you want your quarter to go for? Twenty-five minutes or 30?”
The future of the second-tier competitions has also been discussed in recent weeks, with stand-alone clubs potentially in jeopardy. Matthews sees a scenario in the VFL where AFL clubs have to spread players across multiple clubs as in the SANFL and WAFL.
“If you bring it [list sizes] to 35 it’s obviously impossible to field two sides, so the second-tier competition is critical.”
“If everyone had to spread players who weren’t getting a game among several clubs, well then it’s the same for everyone.”
Raising the draft age would be seen as inconsequential by Matthews, mainly due to the reduced list sizes.
“Apart from your gun 18-year-olds, the players who come in tend to be in that 35 to 45 bracket on your list.
“Everyone in their right mind would say the draft would work better the older you get them. But if you lift the draft age to 19 there are other things to consider, it is a year after the year 12 finishes, which is when it was always tied to.
“It’s a big change to the system to lift the draft age even by a year.”
Finally, Matthews spoke on the need to reduce the wages of both players and coaches.
“What is the average for an assistant coach? $200,000? If they get $150,000 are they not going to do it? But it is all what the market wants to pay, supply and demand.
“There is a fair chance the players will have to take a cut and the salary cap come down. Reducing the list sizes reduces player payments but it is the lower-paid players you are losing.
“If the top-paid player earned $800,000 instead of over a million [dollars], do not tell me they would stop playing.”