Amidst all the media coverage of Tony Liberatore’s claims about Carlton ‘tanking’, it’s surprising that no-one in the media seems to have quoted from our own expert on this, Melbourne University Professor Jeff Borland. Here’s his summary, from a 2006 paperÂ (gated, sorry):
research on the AFL National Draft appears to suggest that adverse incentive effects are minimal. Borland, Chicu and Macdonald (2006) compare team performance in the draft and pre-draft eras (1968-1985 against 1986-2005) to test whether either the reverse-order draft or priority pick system has affected the performance of teams which are unable to make the finals or which are eligible for a priority choice. Their strong finding is that for teams unable to make the finals, or eligible for a priority selection, there is no evidence of a negative effect on the probability of winning matches. It is speculated that the difference between findings for Australian Rules football and the NBA may be due to several factors. One factor is the more muted incentives to obtain high-order draft selections in Australian Rules football due to larger team size, difficulties in assessing player talent in the early years of the AFL National Draft, and the more extended upper tail of the distribution of talent in the United States with a larger population.
With regard to the effects of priority selections, the main explanation would appear to be the relatively small number of teams that have ever been eligible for priority pick selections in the AFL National Draft compared to the larger number of teams eligible for top selections in the NBA Draft so that there is just much less scope for teams in the AFL to â€˜lose to teams they should have beaten’.