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A UNIFORM player points system will roll out across Victorian football leagues next season, and a salary cap as early as 2017, as part of the battle to stem escalating player payments in community football.
AFL Victoria confirmed the statewide PPS would be implemented from 2016 last week as part of the Community Club Sustainability Program and is also working on a cap for payments.
It follows recommendations from an AFL Victoria working party developed to address rising player payments, after it emerged as a key concern at the 2013 Victorian leagues conference.
About 90 per cent of surveyed clubs believed escalation was a major issue, with findings indicating 63 per cent paid every player in their senior team and seven per cent paid reserves players.
With regard to a spending cap, 83 per cent of clubs supported the introduction of a statewide player contract.
“Feedback from leagues and commissions was comprehensive and overwhelmingly supportive of a system that addresses equalisation concerns in community football and tackles escalating player payments,” AFL Victoria community football and engagement manager Brett Connell said.
“The working party will continue to work with leagues and clubs on the formation of a comprehensive salary cap policy and envisage it to being operational in the vast majority of leagues by 2017.”
Recent testing of the draft PPS framework, which has been filtered into Gippsland football competitions over the past 10 weeks, has reinforced already strong support for the initiative from clubs and leagues.
Gippsland’s football leagues have employed their own tailored PPS for several years, which has by and large evened out playing resources, but payments remain largely unregulated.
The new PPS will continue to reward retention or re-enlistment of junior players with ‘home players’ receiving the minimum allocation of one point, while at the other end of the spectrum AFL players will have a six-point attachment.
However, club loyalty will see a point reduction per year; for example Brad Fisher has been at Dalyston for three years now and is moving toward becoming a one-point player despite his history in the AFL.
A ‘premium player’ system looms as a cornerstone of the new system, designed to limit en masse movement of stars all at once.
Players who finished in the top five of their club’s best and fairest, top 10 in the league best and fairest, or led club goalkicking in the past three seasons are set to be ranked at four points when moving clubs.
TAC Cup players would be on par with premium players, while footballers with state league experience over the past five years would receive a five-point price tag.
Local commissions appear set to lead the way in determining point caps for each team.
AFL Gippsland region manager Travis Switzer said local feedback had been generally positive surrounding both a points system and salary cap, though admitted there would be challenges surrounding implementation.
“The biggest challenge that we’ve got is AFL Victoria is trying to come up with a statewide model that includes metropolitan footy and country footy,” Switzer said.
“Some of the leagues in Gippsland have done a lot of work around getting their points (systems) to a place where they’re pretty happy with them, and
there is a reasonable competitive balance in some of the leagues in Gippsland.
“Nonetheless, the leagues know this is bigger than just their league.
“We’ve done a fair bit of testing and we’re now working with the leagues to set what the caps might look like for each league next season.”
Exceptional circumstances will also need to be taken into account, for example Bairnsdale in the Gippsland League.
The Redlegs senior side draws on players from the East Gippsland Football League and lacks a traditional junior system from which to develop “home” players.
“In Gippsland we’ve got some clubs who are a little bit disadvantaged, so they don’t have juniors, probably don’t have infrastructure or a school where they are, or they’re not a massive town,” Switzer said.
“There’s definitely some unique situations where we’ve got to be mindful… there might have to be some leniency for clubs that have to go from outside their base to get players.”
In conjunction with the PPS and salary cap phase-in, AFL Gippsland has been collating data from the past decade to inform where current inequalities in its competitions lie.
“What we’ve seen is some leagues are fairly even, then there’s a couple of years where they aren’t, so it’s a bit inconsistent at the moment,” Switzer said.
“We want to see like clubs playing against like teams, we want to see the average point margin of wins, we want to see that reducing in leagues, that just shows how competitive the league is.
“We want to get to a point where the competitions are fairly even and also to a point where when the salary cap comes in we’re starting to at least put a cap on that inflation of spending.”
Next season looms as a trial ground for the PPS with education at the forefront.
Switzer said a lack of administrative infrastructure at most community clubs prevented an earlier phase in of any salary cap system.