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Inside local footy's new salary cap


This article appears in SEN Inside Football's February Issue – on sale now at major supermarkets, 7-Eleven stores and newsagents. Subscribe today!

AFL Victoria is playing the long game.

Its moves to rein in spiralling player payments and ensure club sustainability in community football may not take their full effect for the best part of a decade.

Nevertheless the state’s governing body is following up last year’s introduction of a player points system with the imposition of a salary cap in 2017.

While it remains a softly-softly, consultative, education-based approach, there is a clear determination to turn off the reckless cash flow that has blighted the game for more than a generation.

“The club volunteers needed to have some regulation (of wages) so that they could say no to player demands,” said Darryl Collings, AFL Victoria’s club sustainability manager.

“The framework is based on giving tools and mechanisms for officials to operate within some boundaries and not have that unlimited (money) approach that had been occurring previously.

“They can now say ‘we can’t do this because it’s against the rules’.”

Collings stressed that the entire response had been born out of ongoing complaints from clubs about burgeoning player payments.

“The process itself has been well-received,” said Collings in light of the feedback garnered from 19 questions put to the clubs at the end of last year about all elements of the player points system.

“There was 90 per cent or greater support in 16 of the elements and the remaining three had greater than 80 per cent support.

“So it’s actually exceeded our expectations … particularly given the amount of work involved in establishing it.

“It’s something we want the leagues and commissions to adopt rather than have it imposed on them so we’ve done our consultation pretty heavily as a cross-section working party (of administrators across the state).”

Well in excess of 20,000 players had to be assessed for a points value across Victoria last year.

“That was no small task in itself and the work of the leagues and club volunteers has been enormous to get it up and running,” Collings said.

“That’s a workload we know will reduce over time.”

The maximum points tally allowed in 2016 was a generous 50—and a lot of leagues took a conservative approach by using the full amount—but AFL Victoria has lowered the ceiling to 48 in year two.

“After assessing how many points were being used across the state we thought 48 was a reasonable maximum this year,” Collings said.

“And a lot of leagues are going below that. Northern are running out with 45, the Eastern’s at 47 and the Western is going with 45 as well. So they’ve done their own analysis.”

At this point the evidence of any overall impact remains anecdotal, but AFL Victoria has a formal look at the measurables slated for the end of the 2017 season.

“We’ve got a review in the pipeline,” Collings said. “We wanted to give the points system a couple of years to get fully bedded down.

“So we’ll do a study based on two years’ worth of data.”

While the player points system has elicited little rancour thus far, the more contentious part of the two-pronged program is the salary cap.

In recent seasons there has been chatter about the annual outlays on players starting to head in the direction of $500,000 at certain metropolitan clubs with the situation aptly dubbed an “arms race” by Keilor’s respected veteran coach Mick McGuane.

“You hear stories of $300,000-plus in some of the big suburban competitions while other clubs that they’re competing against are around the $150,000 mark,” Collings said.

The Essendon District League’s premier division will carry the highest cap number in the state at $250,000 while the Goulburn Valley League will have the top spend in country competitions at $185,000.

“The clubs admit they’ll be stretched in trying to meet the cap (50 per cent of a player-coach’s wage is included) so they’ve asked that we give them time to bring it down progressively and not cut them off at the knees,” Collings said.

There was some argy-bargy with neighbouring competitions when the Essendon District League set its bar that high, but in the end the Northern, Western Region and Eastern leagues settled on the figure of $225,000, while Southern went with $200,000.

Collings said that in the end the other metro heavyweights were “comfortable with a 10 per cent variation”.

“We anticipate that the different competitions will continue to communicate,” he said.

“The leagues and region commissions are strong in their approach to ensuring consistency.”

The biggest discrepancies are in the lower divisions, with the Essendon District’s third tier allowed to spend $100,000 more than its Western Region counterpart.

“There is some variation among the lower divisions, but that’s probably reflective of what the current circumstances are,” Collings said.

“We’re trying to have a model that can meet all circumstances, but at the same time have a progressive approach to getting things back to a more equitable level.”

“Headquarters” isn’t keen to be issuing edicts far and wide.

“I wouldn’t expect it (player points and salary cap numbers) to be driven from a central area,” Collings said.

“We intend to let the competitions run the competitions as they see fit.

“Obviously we need to intervene if there is a huge discrepancy between neighbouring leagues, but generally there’s a negotiation process and we’d only arbitrate a solution as needed.”

In a utopian football world there would be a one-size-fits-all salary cap, but that’s unlikely to ever transpire.

“I don’t think it’s in the vision at this point in time to have everyone at the same level with one figure because there is such a variation between competitions,” Collings said.

“It’ll depend on where the competitions are at. We have to have something in place that’s relevant to each.”

There is also no mythical end-goal operational figure to be achieved.

“We’d be reluctant to go to a final dollar figure,” he said.

“It probably gets back to how much a club can generate (certain clubs have poker machines and other revenue streams).

“Some competitions are now almost semi-professional in their approach both on the field and in generating revenues.

“While an Aberfeldie or Strathmore in the EDFL, or a Balwyn or Vermont in the EFL, can be very good at generating dollars, other clubs in lower socio-economic areas might not have that luxury.”

Where the bank balances are full of zeroes, clubs will be encouraged to sell a better setting to potential recruits rather than a larger pay packet.

“What we would like to see over time is if there is additional money at clubs, that it’s invested in junior development and the facilities,” Collings said.

“If there are the excess funds they can be used to create a better environment for everyone from a community point of view.

“That’s where we’d like to see those dollars spent, not the duress we’ve experienced in the past of clubs getting themselves into financial difficulty simply to pay players.

“It would be great to see club volunteers and committee people being able to afford a cleaner—instead of a centre half forward at $200 a game—so that they don’t have to clean the rooms after a match day.”

The other issue when it comes to money is that it’s human nature to become prickly about amounts being disclosed and recorded, whether that be in the workplace, to the taxman or even at home.

“No one likes to shout from the rooftop how much they are getting paid,” Collings said.

“We had to me mindful that we’re not just lodging contracts in paper that anyone can get their hands on, so we’ve got a solution.”

Player contracts will be lodged online through an iCloud application. It will be a secure, password-protected portal.

“If a document is accessed there is a trail of who did it and when,” Collings said. “It will all be monitored.

“The only time it would be looked at by anyone outside the club would be under an investigation via a formal process.”

The salary cap has been overlaid on what is current operating procedure in terms of compliance requirements for clubs under the incorporation act in lodging financial statements.

The cap also relies on the existing use of player contracts, which determine the obligations between player and club.

“Everything has been set up with the mindset of making things easier for the club volunteer in order to minimise additional burdens,” Collings said.

“There has been concern about any additional workload and so we’ve developed some templates to assist clubs, including how to do their budgets.”

As with the specific policy settings on player points and salary caps, AFL Victoria wants the leagues and regional commissions to wield the big stick when there are breaches.

“It will be the leagues themselves that initiate any investigations,” Collings said.

“They’ll be drawing from a pool of trained investigators that we have here at AFL Victoria.

“But because it is operating under their rules it’ll be a league or region-based investigation.

“They’ll also apply the penalties to their affiliated members.”

Some probes occurred within AFL Barwon’s ranks last year, which was trialling the process.

“We understand the first year is a big learning curve and if there is any breach that we believe is simply an administration error or oversight then education will be a key part of the process,” Collings said.

“We need to make sure the process of investigation is consistent and formal across the state so we’ll have that locked in.”

Of course the elephant in the policy-making room is the deeper question of equalisation or, in simpler terms, a levelling of the playing field.

Lopsided matches have always been part and parcel of community football, but in more recent times the three-figure margins of victory and streaks of six flags in seven seasons have become endemic.

“That’s something the working party grappled with to begin with: Is it the role of this framework to go beyond just assisting with player payments?” Collings said.

“We feel it’s not an equalisation measure in its own right; it’s there to prevent the mass recruitment of players and those moving from club to club year after year.

“It doesn’t stop recruitment; clubs just have to be more selective in their approach.

“The key concern is to stop the upward spiral in player payments and start moving it downward; that’s our immediate aim.”

Player retention and junior development may be the foundations of the policy, but closer scorelines and premiership races would be a welcome extension of that.

“They’re may be a spin-off over time from an equalisation point of view,” Collings said.

“We want clubs believing they can be competitive. There are no guarantees of premierships, but if clubs go in feeling they have no chance that’s when the disenchantment starts.

“Obviously we want clubs on an even playing field as much as possible.

“And as the playing lists turn over this system will have more and more of an impact. We look at this as a long-term solution.”


Eastern League

Salary cap – $225,000 (div one), $150,000 (div two), $100,000 (div three), $75,000 (div four)

Player Points – 47

Southern League

Salary cap – $200,000 (div one), $150,000 (div two), $100,000 (div three)

Player Points – 48

Northern League

Salary Cap – $225,000 (div one), $150,000 (div two), $100,000 (div three)

Player Points – 45

Essendon District League

Salary Cap – $250,000 (premier div), $200,000 (div one), $150,000 (div two)

Player Points – 48

Western Region League

Salary cap – $225,000 (div one), $100,000 (div two), $50,000 (div three)

Player Points – 45

Geelong League

Salary Cap – $145,000

Player Points – 40 (clubs able to make a case for extra points)

Nepean League

Salary Cap – $150,000

Player Points – 39 (clubs able to make a case for extra points)

Peninsula League

Salary Cap – $150,000

Player Points – 39 (clubs able to make a case for extra points)

South East League

Salary Cap – $150,000

Player Points – 39 (clubs able to make a case for extra points)

Goulburn Valley League

Salary Cap – $185,000

Player Points – 42

Ovens & Murray League

Salary Cap – $160,000

Player Points – 38

Murray League

Salary Cap – $150,000

Player Points – 42

Ballarat League

Salary Cap – $140,000

Player Points – 44 (clubs able to make a case for extra points)

Riddell District League

Salary Cap – $110,000

Player Points – 42 (clubs able to make a case for extra points)

Bellarine League

Salary Cap – $100,000

Player Points – 40 (clubs able to make a case for extra points)

Geelong and District League

Salary Cap – $80,000

Player Points – 40 (clubs able to make a case for extra points)

Kyabram District League

Salary Cap – $85,000

Player Points – 43

Gippsland League

Salary Cap – $160,000

Player Points – 40 (clubs able to make a case for extra points)

Bendigo League

Salary Cap – $160,000

Player Points – 40 (clubs able to make a case for extra points)

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