The AFL's eighteen clubs are ranked in order of their points, and when more than one club is on the same number of points, by percentage. In the AFL, a team receives four points for a win, two points for a draw, and zero points for a loss. There are twenty-three rounds in the AFL, with each team playing twenty-two games as well as receiving one bye or rest week. Clubs do not receive any competition points for a bye.
When teams are locked on the same number of points, the position on the table is decided by percentage. Percentage is calculated by dividing the total points scored by a team (up until that point) by total points conceded, and then multiplied by one hundred. For example, if after three rounds the Adelaide Crows had scored 320 points and conceded 250, they would be sitting on 128%.
Percentage becomes a tiebreaker when two teams have the same number of points, with the team that has the higher percentage going above on the ladder. This is especially crucial in the battle for the top eight. All teams aspire to finish in the top eight positions once all twenty-three rounds have been played, as the top eight teams continue on to the finals series. There have been numerous occasions in the past where a team has missed out on the top eight because of a poor percentage.
The finals system currently used in the AFL was introduced in 2000, replacing the McIntyre final eight system that had been used up until that point. The current four-week finals system sees teams 5 and 6 play teams 8 and 7 respectively in Elimination Finals, while teams 1 and 2 play teams 4 and 3 respectively in the Qualifying Finals, all in the first week of the final series. The higher ranked team in each game always plays their final at home, so it pays to finish higher up the ladder. The winners of the Elimination Finals play the losers of the Qualifying Finals in the Semi-finals of week two, before the winners of these Semi-finals play the winners of the Qualifying Finals in week three. These two games are called the Preliminary Finals, and the victors face off in the Grand Final in the fourth week of the finals.
The benefit of this system is that it rewards teams that have finished in the top four, with two of these teams guaranteed to have a bye. However, since the 2016 season, there has been a bye for all eight finals teams after Round 23, in a move that seems to diminish the value of the week's rest for the two winners of the Qualifying Finals.
Whether this pre-finals bye is fair is up for debate. What is certain is that no club wants to be anchored to the bottom of the ladder and pick up the dreaded wooden spoon.