Brock McLean says tanking was behind his decision to part ways with Melbourne in 2009.
Photo: Getty Images
When the AFL removed the priority pick after the 2011 season, CEO Andrew Demetriou and his executive must have hoped they had finally ended the tanking debate.
Remove the reward and you'll remove the temptation for clubs to carefully manage their on-field performance - or so the thinking goes.
But to the League's undoubted dismay, the issue shows no signs of abating.
The latest media flurry was sparked by Carlton midfielder Brock McLean's declaration that he left Melbourne at the end of 2009, in part, because of the club's commitment to maximising its position in the draft.
"Circumstances in the second half of the year never really sat well with me," McLean told Fox Footy's On the Couch on Monday night.
Asked to confirm whether he believed Melbourne was tanking, McLean replied: "They don't call it tanking. We would call it experimenting or whatever it was."
The irony of McLean's subsequent move to Carlton - a club that had two years earlier been accused of "experimenting" its way to defeat against Melbourne to gain a priority pick - was lost on no one.
Putting any perceptions of hypocrisy aside, McLean's words have had an immediate and profound impact.
Melbourne is now the subject of a new investigation by the AFL's integrity department into the circumstances that surrounded its finish to the 2009 season. The results - and the AFL's response to the findings, including possible sanctions - will make for fascinating viewing.
Melbourne is the current target du jour of the League's battle to maintain its public image but the Demons are far from the only candidates worthy of closer inspection.
Carlton's heavy loss to Melbourne in the final round of 2007 came with the prize of a priority No.1 pick, used to select champion under-18 ruckman Matthew Kreuzer.
From the outside, the only difference between Carlton and Melbourne's bids for draft picks is that one club has had a credible former player dump his ex-club firmly in the mire.
Former Carlton assistant coach Tony Liberatore made noises to the same effect shortly after he left the club but he softened his stance when questioned by AFL investigators. Former Melbourne coach Dean Bailey did the same when he was quizzed after declaring he had no hesitation in ensuring the club was well placed for draft picks.
It is yet to be seen whether McLean will do the same, but the strong stance he took when grilled on TV suggests he is unlikely to change his point of view.
Should the investigation into Melbourne determine that the club has a case to answer, the AFL faces a dilemma.
If the League levies sanctions on the struggling Demons, the calls to do the same for Carlton will be deafening from all but those of the navy blue persuasion. And where does the League draw the line after that? If Carlton and Melbourne might be guilty, what about Hawthorn and Collingwood - two clubs who have won premierships with star players gleaned from priority picks? It is a slippery slope.
If they take a softer approach, critics will say the AFL has failed to act on an issue that strikes at the very heart of the game - the integrity of the contest that is played out every weekend during the season.
And if the investigation comes to the same "tanking doesn't exist" conclusion that was reached after earlier probes into Carlton and Melbourne, the mutterings of outrage among football fans and the media will become a roar.
Regardless of its course of action, the League risks upsetting some of its stakeholders. There is no clear way to keep everyone happy.
One thing is certain - the AFL will make sure that no club is ever again faced with the temptation of losing a game in order to win at the draft table. The ensuing controversy that has enveloped the game outweighs any tangible benefit the club might reap.
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of BigPond Sport.
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