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The father-son rule is a rule that allows clubs preferential recruiting access to the sons of players who have made a major past contribution to the team in Australian rules football, most notably the Australian Football League. The rule was first established in the late 1940s. There have been more than ten amendments, most recently tightening of eligibility criteria in 2003 and refining of the draft selection process in 2007.
The father-son rule was established during the 1949 season. The first player officially cleared under the father-son rule was Harvey Dunn Jr, who was recruited to his father's old club, Carlton, in 1951, instead of being recruited to North Melbourne under zoning rules.
The original rule is thought to have originally come into place as a result of successful lobbying by the Melbourne Football Club, which had wanted the young Ron Barassi to follow in the footsteps of his father, Ron Barassi, Sr. who had been killed during World War II. Barassi was officially cleared to Melbourne under the rule in 1953.
Incorporation into the National Draft
Prior to 1997 the rule allowed the son to be recruited by his father's club, bypassing the draft entirely. West Coast's Ben Cousins, for example, was recruited in this manner, without the Eagles parting with any draft picks. In 1997 the father-son rule was altered to force clubs to use a second round draft selection for their first father-son selection. If two players were to be drafted by the same club in the same year, then a third round selection was used for the second player. Geelong used this rule in 1997 to draft Marc Woolnough with their second selection and Matthew Scarlett with their third round pick, whilst Collingwood chose to not select Marcus Picken. In 2001, the rule was changed to only allow a single selection per year, costing the club a third round selection. Notably, this rule allowed Geelong to draft All Australian and Brownlow Medalist Gary Ablett Jr. to the club in 2001 using only their 3rd round (40th overall) draft pick. In 2003 the rules were changed again to allow multiple players to be drafted in a single year, with a third round selection used for the first player and a second round selection being used for the second player. Collingwood drafted cousins Brayden and Heath Shaw using their second and third round selection in 2003.
In 2007 the AFL made a major amendment for the father-son rule, establishing a bidding system to determine which draft pick a club must give up to secure the potential recruit. The current system works as follows:
- 1. Individual clubs are free to nominate potential father-son recruits within the eligibility guidelines below.
- 2. A meeting is held on the Monday before the start of trade week where clubs can bid for the nominated players. Each club has the option to bid, in reverse ladder order, for the nominated players.
- 3. If a bid is made, the club that nominated the father-son player must use its next available selection if it wishes to retain its hold on that player. If a club nominating the father-son player declines to match the selection nominated, the club with the successful bid must use that selection at the Draft to select the player.
- 4. Any club that makes a successful bid on a father-son selection must commit to pick the player they nominate.
- 5. If no bid is made by another club, the club that nominated the father-son eligible player will forfeit its last selection in the draft to select the player.
For example in 2008 the Western Bulldogs had to use their 1st round selection, #14, to secure Ayce Cordy after St Kilda bid their 1st round selection for him. Ayce's father, Brian, played 124 games for the Bulldogs in the 1980s.
As of March 2011, eligibility of players differs depending upon the home-state of the team making the selection.
A player is eligible if their father played 100 or more senior games for the Victorian clubs.
The two interstate clubs with historic links to Victorian Football League teams, namely the Brisbane Lions and the Sydney Swans, can choose the sons of players who have appeared 100 times for either themselves or their Victorian predecessors: the Fitzroy Lions in the case of the Brisbane Lions; and the South Melbourne Football Club in the case of the Sydney Swans.
West Australian and South Australian teams
These four clubs have a modified rule in place, valid until the club has been in the AFL for 20 years, with eligibility to be determined by a certain number of games played for specific sides in state league, if those games were played prior to the club entering the AFL. Specifically:
- Until 31 October 2007, the West Coast Eagles could select any player whose father had made 150 WAFL appearances prior to 1987 for Claremont, East Perth, West Perth or Subiaco.
- Until 31 October 2010, Adelaide could select any player whose father made 200 SANFL appearances prior to 1990 for South Adelaide, Norwood, Glenelg or Sturt.
- Until 31 October 2015, Fremantle can select any player whose father has made 150 WAFL appearances prior to 1995 for East Fremantle, South Fremantle, Perth or Swan Districts.
- Until 31 October 2017, Port Adelaide can select any player whose father has made 200 SANFL appearances prior to 1997 for the Port Adelaide Magpies, North Adelaide, West Adelaide, Central District, Woodville or West Torrens.
These rules have been frequently criticised by non-Victorian AFL club officials as a "grandfather-son" rule  that is biased against them. For example the Adelaide Crows have not had a single Father-Son selection in 21 years, and missed out on Bryce Gibbs despite his father's 253-game career with SANFL club Glenelg from 1984–1994. Gibbs was subsequently selected by Carlton with the first overall pick in the 2006 AFL Draft.
Former eligibility rules
Under previous rules, the sons of a senior administrator, such as a president, vice-president, general manager or senior coach, with a tenure of at least five years at a club, would be eligible to be drafted under the father-son rule by that club; and Brisbane Lions and Sydney were previously able to recruit players whose fathers had met eligibility criteria in the Queensland Australian Football League and the Sydney Football League respectively. Neither of these rules is in place as of 2012.
More than one eligible team and player choice
If a player is eligible to be selected by more than one team the individual player may choose which one of these teams is able to pick him under this rule. For example Darcy Daniher's father Anthony Daniher played 118 games with Essendon and 115 with Sydney. Darcy selected Essendon.
Alternatively a player has the right to decline to be selected under the father-son rule and instead be eligible to be drafted by any club. An example of this was Marc Murphy who declined to sign with the Brisbane Lions despite his father, John Murphy, appearing 214 times for the Fitzroy Football Club. Murphy was instead selected as the first pick in the 2005 National Draft by Carlton.
- de Bolfo, Tony (29 Sep 2011). "Carlton a Dunn deal for Harvey & co.". Carlton Football Club. Retrieved 29 Sep 2011.
- Niall, Jake (2 November 1997). "10 things you need to know about the draft". The Age.
- Niall, Jake (20 June 2003). "Cats want AFL rethink on father-son rule revamp". The Age.
- The Father-Son Rule, AFL Official Website
- AFL amends Father/son rule ABC Sport, 25 April 2007
- Sportal.com.au Oct 2007: Three father-son nominations
- AAP (6 October 2008). "AFL Bulldogs have Ayce up their sleeve". The Age. Retrieved 2008-10-08.
- "Australian Football League Player Rules". March 2011. Retrieved 4 August 2012.
- Heavy Hitters: Steven Trigg, Adelaide Crows Official website
- Len forthright as ever, even from his grave, The Age.com.au
- Harvey, Darryl (12 January 1998). "Australian Rules Football Frequently Asked Questions 1/4". Retrieved 4 August 2012.
- Darcy Daniher worth early pick Herald Sun