This week, the Herald Sun carried a back-page article (read here on Fox Sports) revealing a desire in some player circles, such as player agents and the Players’ Association, for the consideration of a soft salary cap. This would mirror the cap in the American National Basketball Association and help teams keep players, like Collingwood are trying with Travis Cloke.
For the uninitiated, here’s a little background as to what happens in the NBA.
There is a salary cap but there are many exemptions allowing teams to exceed the cap to keep existing players and sign players from other clubs.
High above the salary cap sits a threshold and once teams exceed that, they must pay a dollar for dollar penalty, known as a luxury tax, for paying above this threshold. But teams can even exceed this total.
It is easy to understand why players want to make a much money as possible. Compared to other sporting stars around the world, AFL footballers are lowly paid. To my understanding, no AFL players earn as much as $1.25 million per year. That would be a basic salary for a veteran player in any of the major American sporting leagues.
The players are barking up the wrong tree, or to be more specific, seeking to emulate the wrong league with their plans for a cap restructure.
In the NBA, there are a number of franchises that have been poor performers for a long period of time. Teams that come to mind are the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Clippers and the Washington Wizards.
While these teams have occasionally made the playoffs, They have not got past the first round too often and none of them have made the NBA Finals in quite some time.
In fact, between 1999 and 2011, the only teams to make the finals from the 15 in the Western Conference were the San Antonio Spurs, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Dallas Mavericks. Make it 1994 to 2012, and that only adds the Houston Rockets, the Utah Jazz and the Seattle/Oklahoma City franchise.
Across in the NFL, where a hard salary cap was introduced in the early 1990s, things seem to be a lot more even.
Perhaps the two worst performing franchises of the 20th Century in NFL football were the Arizona Cardinals and the New Orleans Saints.
The Saints won a Superbowl in 2010, and the Cardinals lost the Superbowl narrowly the year before.
While the NBA’s Western Conference produced six champions over a 19-year period, over the same period, each NFL conference produced at least nine different champions, with the NFC providing 13.
That’s nearly every team in the conference (for those scoring at home the teams who didn’t make the Superbowl from the NFC were the Detroit Lions, the Washington Redskins, and the Minnesota Vikings, who had a 15-1 season during that period).
The NFL is often held in high regard as having the world’s best practice in this area but also for the AFL, it is also the most appropriate practice in many ways.
The nature of the sport, the number of games and the number of players on a list/roster indicates many the similarities between the two leagues.
And while the AFL did have a great era of parity between 1990 and 2001 (no team won more than two premierships), in the last 11 years, we’ve seen periods of dominance, consecutive premierships, long winning streaks, greater extreme winning margins, and two dynasties.
So the AFL has some work to do to regain the equity it was achieving just over a decade ago.
So, given the NBA’s example, it’s clear that a move to a softer salary cap would only benefit the players and would be a retrograde step in terms of the equality of the league.
Here’s hoping on this occasion the AFL sticks to its guns and keeps a hard salary cap.