WHEN Graham Johncock slotted a goal with 5 1/2 minutes remaining in the preliminary final, Adelaide led the Hawks by a point.
Had the unfancied Crows hung on and then defeated Sydney seven days later, Kurt Tippett would be a premiership hero.
Consider how the Tippett fiasco would be viewed in the sliding-door event of Adelaide winning the 2012 premiership.
Tippett, who did not have a great 2012, was the most influential player afield in the preliminary final, when he grabbed seven contested marks and booted four goals, albeit he did this on lightweight defender Ryan Schoenmakers, not Brian Lake.
Imagine, too, that the Crows have won the flag, Tippett has still walked - as planned - and then the draft tampering- salary cap scandal erupted as negotiations with Sydney stalled.
We would take a very different view of Adelaide's crimes, since the club's decision to keep him, by whatever means necessary, would have helped deliver a premiership.
Doubtless there would have been calls for the Crows to be stripped of the premiership, in the manner of the Melbourne Storm.
Their misdemeanour was minor compared with the systematic Storm or Carlton's rorts from a decade ago, but the question of a tainted flag would be raised nonetheless.
This brings us to the inappropriate, outdated penalties for the Tippett rorts.
The Crows were willing to break the rules to keep Tippett, it seems, because they thought they would struggle to win a flag without him. There was a logic to their ill-fated decision, no matter how desperate and stupid it looks today.
They were taking short-term measures, in apparent desperation, with eyes on a premiership.
But the AFL's draft punishment is a slow burner - and it won't burn them much over the next three years.
They have lost pick No.20 and will lose another double-figure draft pick next year; in an 18-team competition, late second-round choices are what used to be third-rounders. They're like New Zealand dollars.
As rival clubs quietly pointed out, the Crows can still use free agency to improve their list in the short term.
Tippett walking, indeed, will open up room to acquire a free agent or two.
There's no reason why they can't contend for the flag over the next three years.
The penalties won't really bite in that time-frame.
Losing a (very late) first- round pick doesn't hurt a team in premiership mode in the same way that it does one in the cellar.
Other tools can be used to punish teams in Adelaide's position that are capable of winning a flag relatively soon.
One potentially effective way to punish strong teams in the premiership window is to reduce their total player payments by a certain amount.
The NRL uses premiership points as a punishment for cheats.
Influential commentator Gerard Healy suggested that rather than simply stripping teams of wins, the AFL could devise a season-long penalty whereby the guilty club might be playing for slightly fewer premiership points each week, say three points instead four.
The removal of draft picks is a blunt instrument. It does not differentiate between good and bad, young and old teams, and the fact that the loss of picks can be fatal for one club and a flea bite for another.
- SUNDAY AGE