AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou has confirmed his league approached anti-doping authorities to ask how players might beat a two-year suspension if found guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs.
The AFL went to the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority in early February, soon after the release of the Australian Crime Commission's report of illegal activity in sport, to get an "immediate clarification" on whether it was possible to get a player's sanction reduced.
Demetriou's admission is likely to anger NRL figures, who are concerned the AFL struck a deal with ASADA that any Essendon players found guilty of doping would be spared penalty while their Cronulla counterparts would be suspended. Both clubs are under investigation.
Demetriou dismissed as a "nonsensical, preposterous proposition" that the AFL had the power to strike a deal with the federal agency, but said the league was being responsible in asking if it was possible for players to get a reduced penalty if found guilty.
"We're professional and we want to know how to go about doing an investigation and make sure the players all cooperate so that in the event that there are available reductions in sanctions, this is what needs to be done," he told SEN on Saturday.
"That's being professional and being diligent and being thorough. I can't speak for the NRL, they can speak for themselves.
"I know how we do our business. We do it honourably, with integrity, we do it seriously and we do it professionally."
Demetriou said the AFL was also given permission by authorities to confirm that Essendon and one player from another club were being investigated for possible doping. He said the league wanted to inform the public of the information so that not all clubs would be tarred by the ACC report.
Later, on Triple M, Demetriou indicated the AFL had expressed its displeasure at the game and clubs being linked to doping allegations when the ACC had publicly presented very little evidence.
"You shouldn't assume we haven't said something, James, and you shouldn't assume that we haven't done privately," he said when asked by North Melbourne chairman James Brayshaw if the league felt entitled to defend itself on integrity issues to the ACC.
Essendon's use of supplements in 2012 is the subject of investigations by ASADA, the AFL and the Bombers themselves.
Demetriou said Essendon could be punished by the AFL if the club's conduct was thought to have brought the game into disrepute, although he said the league would most likely await the ASADA probe - which could take months - before it imposed any sanctions.
Meanwhile, Demetriou said he would report any player he saw behaving in an unacceptable manner in public to AFL integrity officer Brett Clothier, but would not do so with Lance Franklin despite the Hawthorn star stumbling into a corporate suite at the Formula One Grand Prix, where Demetriou was a guest.
"I had no cause to report Buddy Franklin to Brett Clothier because Buddy Franklin looked like he was having a good time and he was behaving quite well," the AFL boss said.
"He looked like he might have had a few drinks, but he wasn't doing anything untoward that I saw."