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Sewell: Why we need the byes

The second bye round is here, and there’s no shortage of people who are unhappy with it.

Your team’s not playing this weekend, it messes with your routine and the flow of the season, it makes Supercoach a nightmare when finals are around the corner. The list goes on.

It’s also opened up the fixture debate once again, with a number of alternative solutions suggested, but before I weigh into that I think it’s important to touch on what the bye has meant to players this season.

In short, we need the byes.

You only need to consider the players who haven’t been able to play out the 2014 season – premiership heroes such as Jonathan Brown, Darren Glass, Domenic Cassisi and Nick Maxwell – to realise how strenuous the toll on players’ bodies has become.

For those who will play out the year, the opportunity to rest up twice throughout the season is invaluable. Footy is a brutal, demanding game – now more than ever. But that’s why we love it.

To play the game the way it should be played, at our optimum, we need a break. It’s that simple.

‘To play the game the way it should be played, at our optimum, we need a break. It’s that simple.’

There have been suggestions that it should be up to clubs to manage their lists and rest players when they think they need it, but don’t we all want to see the game’s best players on the field each week?

More than this, we want to see the best players at their best each week.

If you follow this line of thinking, you can end up wondering about the prospect of a shorter season – as North Melbourne President James Brayshaw and Richmond coach Damien Hardwick have this week.

There are a number of reasons why such a change might make sense.

For one, it might enhance the interest – and subsequent revenue – in the game. The NFL, one of the biggest sporting competitions in the world, is made up of 16 regular season games and four weeks of finals. This means the importance of each and every game on the fixture is heightened; one unexpected loss (or win) has a far greater impact than it does in the current AFL format.

A shorter season would also lead to a draw, as opposed to a fixture, that’s fairer for all 18 clubs. The ladder is compromised as a result of the imbalance that currently exists within the fixture. A draw in which each team plays every other team only once would ensure a certain amount of integrity come finals time.

There is, however, an argument to be made that such a draw would compromise the potential earnings of the competition. It’s no secret that blockbusters such as the annual Anzac Day clash between Essendon and Collingwood bring a lot of money into the competition – it would be foolish to discount the commercial factors. Similarly, there are commitments to broadcasters that need to be considered.

The Players’ Association is currently in discussions with the AFL about the compromised start to the 2015 season due to the Cricket World Cup, and there’s no doubt the topic of fixturing will be one that’s hotly debated in the near future.

But there’s one thing I know for sure. Having had the bye last weekend, the Hawthorn boys will run out to face Sydney at the MCG on Saturday with an extra pep in their step. Our boys are refreshed and ready for the run into the finals, and I’m sure the Swans feel the same way. With both teams coming off a bye, Saturday night’s match should be a great game of footy.

In the end, isn’t that what we all want to see?