Stevo's Sting - Is it time to revamp the finals system?

Mark Stevens

When the AFL stretched and morphed into an 18-team competition, the finals system should have moved with it.

The league is solid, consistent, but at times too stodgy. As Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson says, City Hall can move slower than government.

Any mathematician will tell you extra teams and no more finals spots and flexibility equals less hope.

More teams were always going to be deemed irrelevant and out of the finals mix earlier.

This year, the obvious has come back to haunt the AFL and it needs to move.

A race for ninth would create an unbelievable spectacle late in the season. Source: Getty

The battle inside the eight has never been better. Seven teams can win the flag. I'm dismissing West Coast because of their lame travel record.

Beyond the jostling for positions at the top end, there is very little sizzle.

If Port loses to Hawthorn on Thursday night and the cosy at home Eagles dispose of North, the top eight is set ... and that is a real shame if the league wants to be a benchmark entertainment business.

LADDER LOGJAM: The top eight is as tight as ever

There at two solutions here. Firstly, there's nothing wrong with a final nine. We've been more than happy with 50 per cent of teams qualifying for the finals before, why not now.

An uneven finals number would also allow for the top team to be actually rewarded for winning the minor premiership ... a rest in week one.

Imagine the excitement if ninth spot was still up for grabs. Richmond fans would still be hoping, Melbourne would finally be relevant at the pointy end of the home and away season.

There would be so many more "live" games. We're heading into "dead rubber" season.

The other easy fix is the 17-5 system AFL boss Gil McLachlan spruiked not so long ago.

It is the best idea to come out of the AFL in years. Why the resistance?

Here is the crux of a potential 17-5 revolution:

Each team plays each other once, over 17 rounds. Massive tick. All fixture inequities gone, you play a team home one year, away the next. Common sense!

After those 17 games, which is a suitable and fair sample, the ladder splits in three for the final five games.

The top six are assured a finals spot and go at each other for the double chance.

The middle six jostle for spots seven and eight on the ladder by playing each other in the final five games.

The bottom six would play each other. Under the scenario that appeals most, a team that finishes on top of that group of six either automatically gets Pick 1 in the draft or gets more balls in a lottery barrel. There goes the tanking debate, but that's another issue.

What is there not to like? Imagine the excitement going into Rounds 16-17 with spots in pools on the line. It would then build towards the final round.

Less meaningless footy, more entertainment.

A final nine or 17-5 has to be better than what's unfolding this year.