AFL to hold off on releasing 2021 fixture

AFL boss Gillon McLachlan says the 2021 home-and-away season will revert back to 22 rounds, but the fixture may be released as late as February.

GILLON MCLACHLAN, Chief Executive Officer of the AFL speaks with media during an AFL press conference at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, Australia.
GILLON MCLACHLAN, Chief Executive Officer of the AFL speaks with media during an AFL press conference at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, Australia. Picture: Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images

The AFL could delay releasing its 2021 fixture until February as it navigates the challenges of a COVID-19 affected world.

But league boss Gillon McLachlan has confirmed next season will revert back to 22 rounds, instead of the 17 in 2020.

Reigning premiers Richmond will kick-off the home-and-away competition on March 18 with their traditional clash against Carlton.

But past that locked-in blockbuster at a hopefully bustling MCG full of supporters, most things about the 2021 campaign remain unclear.

"The later we can release the fixture, the more certainty we can give our clubs, our players and supporters," McLachlan told reporters on Friday.

"The conversation is primarily around our footy departments and our supporters, what do the clubs think is the latest we can release the fixture?"

"Is it February, is it January, that's the question we've asked."

"I think our supporters, hopefully, understand that we're discussing this to provide the greatest level of certainty."

The fixture has traditionally been released in whole, just weeks after the grand final.

Clubs were forced to adapt to rolling schedules during 2020, but the trick will be pleasing supporters who fly interstate to watch their teams play and usually book their trips well in advance.

While a fixture announcement is a long way off, McLachlan said locking in quarters lengths will come as soon as next week.

Game time was slashed this year, but the AFL's experiment with 16-minute quarters is over.

The league is weighing up whether to switch back to the traditional 20-minutes plus time-on, or meet in the middle at 18-minute quarters.

The majority of clubs relocated for much of the 2020 season, but McLachlan is hopeful quarantine hubs won't be needed again.

The AFL chief executive has also defended implementing three rule changes, which included cutting interchange rotations from 90 to 75, this week.

"We have a competition committee that met regularly through the year with representation from the vast majority of the clubs," McLachlan said.

"I certainly have had feedback from the comp committee that there were no surprises in the decisions (the rule changes) to them.

"Everyone sitting in the calm light of day wants less congestion and they're working through that in the way they think is the best way."