Although the league was still called the VFL until the start of the 1990 season, the 1996 season was the unofficial 10th AFL season as the league expanded from 12 clubs to 14 clubs in 1987.
The new clubs were West Coast Eagles and Brisbane Bears. In 1991 Adelaide Crows joined. In 1995 Fremantle Dockers joined the AFL to bring the number of clubs to 16. With the expanded league, 8 clubs now participate in the finals series.
- Rodney Eade replaced Ron Barassi as coach at Sydney Swans.
- Richmond and Brisbane Bears switched coaches. John Northey joined Brisbane Bears whilst Robert Walls moved to Richmond.
- Ken Judge replaced Peter Knights as coach at Hawthorn.
- Tony Shaw replaced Leigh Matthews as coach at Collingwood.
- Terry Wallace replaced Alan Joyce as coach at Footscray.
- Michael Nunan was appointed as Fitzroy coach.
Rodney Eade first season at Sydney Swans brought immediate success by climbing 11 places and into the Grand Final. Ken Judge also had immediate success as Hawthorn climbed 7 places into the final series. Whilst Footscray fell 8 places to 15th, one place above the wooden spoon.
North Melbourne finishing 2nd on the ladder won the premiership. Sydney Swans were minor premiers and played them in the Grand Final. Whilst Fitzroy ended its club's life by winning the wooden spoon for the last 2 years.
Tony Lockett of Sydney Swans won the Coleman Medal for the leading goalscorer. Michael Voss of Brisbane Bears and James Hird of Essendon shared the Brownlow Medal.
|4||West Coast Eagles|
|West Coast Eagles|
|Qualifying Final||Essendon||Preliminary Final|
|1||Sydney Swans||Sydney Swans||Grand Final|
|Qualifying Final||Preliminary Final||North Melbourne|
|2||North Melbourne||North Melbourne|
|7||Geelong||Semi Final||Brisbane Bears|
|Qualifying Final||Brisbane Bears|