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The McKinsey Report

In 1983 the VFL appointed the international business consultancy McKinsey & Co. to look into its administration. The League had been plagued by clubs reporting financial issues and the league itself wasn’t in great shape.

Amongst the report’s conclusions were that the VFL Board had never really had a clear and binding authority to take control of the game and make the necessary decisions on methods to arrest the financial decline of the league and possible collapse of some clubs.

The McKinsey report proposed that the VFL change its management structure, and adopt an independent commission.

By October 1983 a taskforce under David Mandie had been set up to investigate and make its own recommendations into the VFL’s governance.

Elliot and the Macedon summit

On 4 September 1984, at Sefton in Mt Macedon, Carlton president John Elliot led a meeting that proposed a national competition, and a change in the way the game was managed. According to Ross Oakley, Elliot was even prepared to leave the VFL in charge provided they became an independent commission.

One of the key points of Elliot’s proposal was “the establishment of a four-man board that would include a commissioner and three other members, with the commissioner having, effectively, autocratic powers, tempered marginally by the other members whose role “constitutes an Appeal Board function to decisions made by the Commissioner”.

Elliot’s proposal was eventually folded into the the existing Mandie taskforce which finally reported on 1 October, 1984. On 7 November the VFL Board endorsed in principal the recommendation that the existing VFL Board of Directors structure be replaced by the appointment of a full-time Commissioner and four part-time Commissioners, to conduct the administrative affairs of the VFL on a trial basis.

A subcommittee of Tony Capes (Footscray), Ron Cook (Hawthorn), Leon Wiegard (Fitzroy), Greg Sewell (Essendon) and Bob Ansett (North) was appointed to choose the commissioners. The subcommittee made Ansett, North’s president, its chair.

The VFL Commission

At the board meeting of 21 November 1984, Ansett had tabled the subcommittee’s recommended terms of reference for the appointment of the VFL’s inaugural commission, noting it favoured “retention by the board of all policy and strategic decisions”.

The sub-committee had given detailed consideration to the proposed amendments to the League’s Articles of Association and Rules and also the Terms of Reference for the operation of the proposed commission, specifically:

(a) The VFL establish a Board of Commissioners to be called “The Commission”.
(b) The Commission comprise five Commissioners, one full-time and four part-time; the full-time commissioner to be called “the Commissioner” and the part-time Commissioners to be called “the part-time Commissioners”.
(c) The Commission have such powers as the League may from time to time delegate to it on the basis that any delegation of power may be revoked or made subject to conditions at any time by a resolution passed by a simple majority at a meeting of the League.
(d) Initially, the League should delegate to the Commission for a period of one year all powers exercisable by the League other than the specific major powers referred to in the draft resolution annexed to these minutes.

The subcommittee also put forward the names of the four men to sit on the first commission: Graeme Samuel, Peter Scanlon, Peter Nixon (all newcomers to football administration) and Dick Seddon, once CEO of Melbourne and a long-time club delegate on the VFL Board. They would be joined by Ross Oakley and Alan Schwab.

December 4, 1985 is one of the most significant dates in the history of football because it forever changed the way football is administered.

On that date the VFL Board of Directors voted to appoint a commission with specific powers to run the competition. Before that historic vote, the competition had been run by a board of directors consisting of a representative from each club.

The vote by the board of directors referred all powers and responsibilities to the Commission to run the competition with the following exceptions where the clubs retained the power:

  • to admit any club, or expel or suspend any club
  • to amalgamate or join any other league
  • to take over the administration of any additional football club
  • to approve the move of clubs out of Victoria
  • to provide any financial assistance to any club (other than by payments of advances of dividends) or to guarantee the obligations of any club
  • except as expressly authorised in any budget approved by the Board of Directors, to purchase or dispose any capital asset with a cost of more than $100,000
  • except as expressly authorised in any budget approved by the Board of Directors, to borrow any money otherwise than for the ordinary purposes of the league or give any security for any such borrowing.
  • to undertake any major capital works (including major works in relation to existing assets of the league) involving a total expenditure of more than $100,000
  • to exercise any of the powers of the League in owning any television or radio station<
  • to appoint representatives of the league on the National Football Championships Pty Ltd to amend any laws of the game.

An independent review

That structure continued until 11 August 1992, when the AFL Board of Directors accepted a recommendation from the AFL Commission to conduct an independent review of the AFL administrative structure, examining specifically:

  • the respective roles and responsibilities of the Commission, Board of Directors and management of the AFL
  • the structure of the Commission, Board of Directors and management of the AFL
  • the relationship between the Commission, Board of Directors, management of the AFL and the clubs

Mr David Crawford, a senior partner of KPMG was subsequently appointed to conduct the review.