The AFL may consider lifting the draft age, allowing clubs greater access to draft-age players and expanding its elite national academy, as a result of its wide-ranging review of the talent pathway.
The league may also broaden its development programs to cater for more players overlooked at the draft when they are 18 or 19, and investing in them in some form for their next two or three seasons.
The AFL’s culture and football projects manager, Tristan Salter, has gathered draft data and interviewed 50 people as part of the review, including list managers, recruiters, senior coaches, football managers and state talent managers, as well as some player agents and parents.
Around 170 people have provided their thoughts via an online survey, with 100 to attend a day-long forum in Melbourne in mid-May.
The participants will be addressed by Cricket Australia’s national talent manager Greg Chappell, the former Australian captain, national selector and coach of India, before discussing eight key areas identified through the survey and interviews.
The league has received feedback that its programs are effective and well-run, but is keen to examine all possible areas for improvements before determining what changes to make and how to best implement them.
The project is the second major one generated by football operations manager Mark Evans, whose initial focus after starting his new job last year was umpiring.
“The second area for me was talent, what do we do with talent? We believe we have great programs, but we want to have a really good look at where we can take things over the next 10 to 15 years,” Evans said.
“We’re in some parts using club money to drive the talent program, so one of the questions we have is whether we’re spending that money efficiently and getting the best outcomes possible in terms of getting players up to draftable level and then closing the gap between that and what clubs have to do once they’ve picked a player.
“The draft age is just one small part of that, and we’re going to have to do a lot more work before we can execute anything, but I expect that some of the ideas and discussions that come out of the forum will be shaped into recommendations that we can then start to look at executing.”
The draft age will be examined given most draft aspirants are trying to complete Year 12 in their final year of junior football, and lifting it could ensure they arrive at AFL clubs better prepared.
But an increase is just one of many potential solutions, with some stakeholders suggesting the AFL could continue investing in players until they are 21, through representative games or ongoing development programs.
The strong feedback from clubs is that most draftees are arriving underprepared for the demands of the AFL environment, and that this would be improved if they had greater access to them and more input into their development, possibly through more "work experience" opportunities currently available only to players selected in the elite AIS-AFL Academy.
They have also highlighted the need for more sophisticated welfare programs to help draftees build resilience and manage stress; more intensive follow-up and management by AFL staff when players are away from centralised programs; and the delivery of programs that enhance draftees’ communication skills and ability to relate to other people.
The AIS-AFL Academy program - to be rebadged this year as the AFL National Academy - may also be restructured, or expanded to cater for 50 or 60 draft-age players rather than 30.