THE AFL continues on with salvaging a season, from Thursday, the NRL looks dodgy asking for a bail out from Canberra, and the Champions League could awaken from its slumber in the most exciting way…

1. All of this, all of these decisions, and predictions, and hot takes, are incredibly perishable and to be superseded almost immediately given how quickly this thing changes. Seems just recently this was predominantly something going gangbusters in China, then five minutes ago it was ‘ooooh, Iran’s situation looks real dicey’. Now Italy comes across as the epicenter of the whole thing, but give it a minute, the US might look in real shit, like proper shit. We could be just fine to have sport resume normal programming globally by May, or we’re too far deep living out the apocalypse film to worry about anything that isn’t canned food and our sanity.

2. So that being said, what do we know. AFL has gone down to 17 rounds. Kicking out six rounds, or five games per team, with the ‘ability’ to extend the season deep into Spring if need be, gives the league ‘flexibility’ that even with inevitable disruptions, forced lockdowns, they should/might be able to salvage a 2020 season. Why? Money. 

3. Unlike the American sports on suspension right now, where rich owners are bankrolling casual pay for employees who work in their arenas as in there are still games to be paying them for, the AFL is a not for profit. It’s not built on a capitalist model to exist to make money first and ‘oh yeah, we’re a sport’ second. If the AFL doesn’t run a season and pull in its normal revenue base, the whole thing implodes from within, all the way down, to anything you recognise as being run by, or linked back, to the AFL. Whilst they need to respect the situation they’re in, they need to push the boundaries as much as possible to get some sort of show on the road. It’s a balancing act. Garry Lyon, not that long out of the game, says

Lets have a couple weeks, lets draw breath for a while and see where this is going. I still don’t think any of us have got a handle on what is going to happen with this virus.

Nick Riewoldt though, even less out of the game, says

If we are not in lockdown as a society in general, the show goes on.

4. So we kick things off Thursday? Don’t be so sure. The plan is to go ahead, and the AFLPA vote last night showed, to some sort of majority, the players despite the climate are keen to crack on. But we said last week Richmond vs. Carlton was a long time away, with way too much time for anything to happen beforehand to derail things – and that still rings true. We watch with bated breath.

Richmond captain Trent Cotchin and Carlton captain Patrick Cripps at the MCG ahead of Round One (photo: Michael Klein)

5. One thing’s for sure, AFL season 2020 won’t have a crowd for a long, long time. Even if they manage to get a lot of footy played, we would need to be clearly out the other side of this mess before there’s a whiff of letting fans into the grounds.

6. So format. 17 rounds. The first four rounds will be honoured as per the current fixture with the final 13 rounds to be worked out in the coming month. Long story short, Round 5 won’t happen like it’s currently planned.

7. The AFL, again, in a world where they can actually get some footy played before and/or post a lockdown or a season suspension, from that Round 5 period will aim to schedule games with a higher frequency as the need arises. Gut feel? If we get through four weeks somehow unscathed, the league might continue on as with just weekend matches. I think this idea that they might need to schedule Geelong on a Friday night into the Wednesday the following week to then back up on Sunday, for example, is for playing catch up in trying to get a season finished.

8. Will this all work? Well I admire their bravery. Some will argue, and probably rightfully so, to pursue any sport right now is unnecessary. We are told to practice social distancing, and that all non-essential gatherings over 500 are dissuaded, or in some parts of the country outlawed. Well contact sport isn’t really keeping one’s distance, and whilst there’ll be no crowds at all, sport in these times can came across as quintessentially non-essential. 

9. But the kicker is this. If we have a player test positive. Sorry. When we have a player test positive, to quote Gil McLachlan, it will be “down tools”. That appears to be the whole league stopping for two weeks. You can just see positive test after positive test, and the league having to wonder if the stop-start-stop-start is doing more harm than good.

10. Rest assured, the AFL will follow direction, medical advice, all that. But until there’s a proper lockdown, they are incumbent on extracting as much content out of 2020 as possible. It might look like a bit of a money grab, at one point, it might come across as ‘really, read the tea leaves AFL, shut it down’. But they will do, as ethically as they can, all in their power to avoid an industry going bust. Make no mistake, if Thursday gets postponed and we eventuate with zero footy this year, AFL, SANFL, EDFL, whatever, all of it, the industry goes into administration. Something will rise like a phoenix in due course, it always does, but the damage will be wide spread and largely irreparable.

11. Shit, in the NRL’s world, they’ve had the audacity to publicly proclaim they’d need Governmental support should the situation awry otherwise they’re going to be lost to the pages of history.

An Australia without rugby league is not Australia. The government has to assist us in this crisis because it is not of our own doing.

Spare me, Peter. We like the Storm, we do, but we’re going to be ok down in Melbourne if the Sharkies and the Bunnies aren’t forward-passing and launching into double-movements. Spare me.

ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys speaks to the media in Sydney, Sunday, March 15, 2020. (photo: Joel Carrett)

12. So with the AFL we’ll wait and see. With that much at stake you can see that where the EPL, NBA, etc., are all on suspension (the NHL even who didn’t even have a positive test first) the AFL will try and cockroach their way to a season proper, and a Grand Final, in whatever weird way that might happen. Get something done, by Xmas 2020, and in the distant future, in the record books, nothing will look funny about this season at all.

The players taking a pay cut certainly helps. 20% give or take, and I sense it’ll be more dynamic when it actually rolls out, maybe those at the top give up a little more, let’s see. But the league Executive is giving up a bit, whisper is Gill is giving up a significant amount, but given the charter he is to carry out, in lieu of everything, every little bit counts. Let’s see if the NRL is prepared to do that.  

13.  Now their situation is unclear. The AFL got properly front-foot yesterday and look to have a really clear plan. NRL, not so much. Cameron Smith didn’t help either, a voice who is two things, one, so experienced and acclaimed he is somewhat untouchable, but also two, got nothing left to get out of the game in what surely is his final year. The NRL hasn’t got as much might, and power, in this, it will be interesting to see how they keep their head above water when the AFL at times might only be holding on themselves. Remember, by my count, 13 of their 16 clubs already run insolvent each year, so the financial health of the comp, when the world isn’t in a zombie movie, is pretty dire anyway.

The interesting piece will be the NZ Warriors. International travel is up shit creek, so how long is it viable to have the Warriors essentially playing the 2020 season as an Australian team? Ten bucks says that gets properly stale properly soon, and that might be flash point for their comp then and there.

14.   The A-League is lucky they’re almost at the end of a season, so the situation looks more manageable, the finish line is in sight in contrast to the AFL who is only just starring down the start line. The Wellington Phoenix piece is an issue, and Melbourne Victory only got back from New Zealand last night. The Kiwi team is planning to be a Sydney-based franchise until their season is done, which again, how tenable is that after too long? They have six rounds to go, but it wouldn’t shock me if they realise their predicament and try and expedite a winner to their campaign sooner.

15.   Over to Europe, well, that’s just a mess right now. Talk of maybe picking seasons up again before the Euros with playoffs or just whoever was in the first-placed chair when the music stops being awarded the title. Given there doesn’t appear, medically-trained opinion here of course, any signs that Italy is slowing down, nor that France or Spain to name two examples look like they’re going to be that much better, its hard to see any football of any kind there for months. Seasons are as good as cooked, and if there’s any Euros at all, it’ll be much later in the year.

16. Mind you, if they are able to get a clean go of it, wrapping up the Champions League as a mini-tournament as is being speculated on in the British press, would be way cool. Imagine the knockout stages but over like a two-week period based in one or two cities. Sign me up.

17. The NBA and NHL are earmarking June to resume with ‘something’. Now June could be laughable if the United States issue creeps up to the shit show many are suspecting. But optimism for argument’s sake sees some sort of late playoffs commence when they would otherwise be wrapping up, and you then work out how you best recalibrate normal timings with all the other milestones that follow, drafts, free agency, the start of the new season. Again, if the shit show really kicks off they’ve got bigger problems, but we can sort of see their logic. Long way away though, let’s be brutally francis.

18. Tokyo, is still on, it seems. To be honest, it is in their best interest to plan for it to commence, as planned, with whatever adjustments required then and there, until such a time where it can’t. And that would be as last minute as possible. It’s four months off, who knows, maybe we’ve all got supermarkets with bog roll by then. Let’s see.

19. In these times where social-distancing only forces more binge-streaming than the norm – The Test on Amazon Prime looks a must watch. Sure, it means another subscription you probably don’t need, but its apparently something you cannot avoid. Personally I’m rationing my viewing of things for the long, dark night ahead, but I am looking forward to giving it a lucy very soon, as should you.

20. Shoutout to Altona, my home town (I know, 3018 vs. 3028, but I think amongst a medical pandemic Altona and Altona Meadows need not squabble about whose patch is who). Their IGA’s move to support the elderly with dedicated shopping hours was first-class. Would have been awesome I don’t know, two weeks ago, but better late than never I suspect. Woolworths and Coles are doing something similar and amongst all of the doom and gloom and naysayers, I look forward to footage going viral of our most vulnerable folks swanning around their local supermarkets, at their pace, without neo-Nazi militants prepared to bleed for that fourth-last packet of San Remo penne.

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