Shorter games, flexible lists and revised fixtures are all on a list of several options being considered by the AFL as they look to navigate their way through the disruption to the season caused by measures being put in place to combat coronavirus.
Teams might have more players allowed on the bench and add players via special supplementary lists to enable shorter breaks between games in the early part of the season before the coronavirus outbreak reaches its peak and matches are potentially cancelled.
One club source said every option is being on the table including cancelling participation in state leagues and rescheduling fixtures to reduce travel. Clubs understand that locking down AFL programs and then having them interacting and playing with part-time VFL players dilutes the impact of the measures.
At this stage, clubs are planning for such measures to be implemented after round two but with the situation changing so rapidly, no-one is certain exactly what is going to happen in the short-to-medium term.
On Saturday the AFL told chief executives they planned to play and broadcast matches without the crowds in round one while a working group dedicated to football matters attempts to communicate to clubs what the competition might look like as public health restrictions to slow the spread of coronavirus has an impact.
Sources at clubs said they would need up to 60 people including players to conduct games behind closed doors with the AFL emphasising to all football operations staff they need to be extremely vigilant in protecting player and staff health.
Some players have even told family they may need to move out for a short period to maximise their chances of keeping themselves free of COVID-19.
The AFL’s broadcast deal sees them contracted to play 198 games and nine finals a season and they have made it clear to club leaders that achieving that objective underpins all planning.
Fitting as many games in as possible if the season needs to be cancelled temporarily – as many clubs expect – is one focus while plans are put in place to condense the time between games, use bye rounds and creep into October to finish the season if necessary.
Football managers have not yet discussed in detail what might happen if a player from a club is diagnosed with COVID-19 with views varying among clubs as to whether that would mean an instant shutdown of that club.
Clubs have been repeatedly updating staff on measures to take to protect themselves as the situation changes rapidly with all moving towards shutdown in recent days. Players from both the AFL and AFLW competition were tested for coronavirus in the past week but cleared.
The separation of players and non-essential staff has put much of the normal operations of clubs on hold with many community programs temporarily suspended and player appearances banned for the time being.
The AFL has set up a central working group to deal with the overall situation while relevant staff deal with issues such as membership, ticketing, football and sponsorship as they relate to the disruption caused by coronavirus.
At the time of publication, the AFL was continuing to work towards kicking off the season on Thursday night at the MCG with Richmond and Carlton meeting in an empty stadium. The Tigers have deferred unfurling their premiership flag until crowds can return.