A SECRET formula is the AFL's latest weapon in the battle against perceptions of ''tanking'' regarding priority draft picks.
The league announced yesterday that the system would be scrapped immediately, and new, much tougher criteria adopted, which AFL football operations manager Adrian Anderson said would make it ''extremely difficult and rare'' for clubs to win a priority pick either before the first round of the draft or after only one year's poor performance.
The new criteria will take into account factors such as recent performance, percentage, recent finals history and the impact of injury on team performance, but the decision to award priority picks will rest ultimately at the discretion of the AFL Commission.
And the AFL plans to keep the exact measuring sticks it will use a closely guarded secret in order to help defuse speculation about the possibility of teams tanking in order to receive prize draft selections. ''We don't want to encourage speculation around if a particular event happens or whether three or four wins or whatever may lead to a priority pick,'' Anderson said.
''There's a very legitimate policy reason not to make the precise workings of the formula public, as happens currently with compensation for players lost to the Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney.''
Anderson, who said the changes had been greeted with unanimous approval by the clubs, will appoint a panel to help put the new criteria together, but said it was the commission that would be the ''ultimate check and balance'' on the process.
He denied that the change was a concession that clubs had rorted the system, nor was it a reaction to former Melbourne coach Dean Bailey's comment after he was sacked last August that he had had ''no hesitation at all in the first two years in ensuring the club was well placed for draft picks''. But Anderson admitted part of the rationale was to defuse ''an unhealthy obsession in some quarters'' with the concept of teams deliberately throwing matches.
He said the new system ''should reduce the volume of speculation'', but conceded the dreaded ''T'' word would not vanish from the football lexicon. ''We'll hear that word again, no doubt,'' he said.
Under the old formula, any side which accumulated 16 points or less in a season was entitled to a selection before the second round of the draft, and after two years of four wins or less, a pick before the first round.
Priority picks have been awarded 26 times in the past 14 years using that formula. Three times in the past decade, clubs with a nominal first selection of No. 4 in the draft had been pushed back to No. 7 because as many as three clubs had earned priority selections.
Anderson said a study by professor Jeff Borland, from Melbourne University, had shown that teams that received priority picks under the old system had, over the ensuing four to six years, outperformed teams that were only just ahead of them on the ladder at the time. Some of the AFL's biggest stars have come into the competition as priority selections, including three club captains - Carlton's Chris Judd (with West Coast), St Kilda's Nick Riewoldt and Hawthorn's Luke Hodge - along with Brownlow medallist Adam Cooney, Luke Ball, Ryan Griffen, Dale Thomas and Marc Murphy.
Anderson said the move towards a fully uncompromised draft would not adversely affect strugglers such as Port Adelaide. ''Receiving picks one, two or three really is a powerful thing to help clubs rebuild. What we're saying is only in the most exceptional circumstances should you receive something on top of that.
''As clubs become better at utilising draft picks, providing a club with pick one and two at the start of the draft is a massive free kick to that club, and works to the disadvantage of the clubs that are pushed back in the draft as a result.''