Although the league was still called the VFL until the start of the 1990 season, the 2003 season was the unofficial 17th 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 followed by Fremantle Dockers in 1995.
1997 was the start of a new era of the AFL. Footscray changed its name to Western Bulldogs. Brisbane Bears and Fitzroy Lions merged to become Brisbane Lions. And Port Adelaide Power joined retaining the league with 16 clubs.
In this new era of the AFL, all six of the interstate clubs - Adelaide, Brisbane Lions, Fremantle, Port Adelaide, Sydney Swans, West Coast Eagles - participated in the 8 club finals series.
Denis Pagan left North Melbourne to become the coach at Carlton. Dean Laidley replaced him as coach at North Melbourne.
Fremantle climbed 8 places to 5th on the ladder and qualify to its 1st finals series. Whilst Melbourne had the biggest decline, falling 8 places to 14th.
It was a season of déjà vu. Brisbane Lions won the premiership for the third season in a row. Collingwood were runners-up for the second season in a row. Port Adelaide were minor premiers, the same as 2002. But Carlton escaped winning back-to-back wooden spoons and was won by Western Bulldogs.
Matthew Lloyd of Essendon won the Coleman Medal for the leading goalscorer, the third time in 4 seasons. The Brownlow Medal was shared between Nathan Buckley of Collingwood, Mark Ricciuto of Adelaide and Adam Goodes of Sydney Swans.
|1||Port Adelaide||Semi Final|
|Elimination Final||Essendon||Preliminary Final|
|5||Fremantle||Brisbane Lions||Grand Final|
|Elimination Final||Preliminary Final||Collingwood|
|7||West Coast Eagles||Port Adelaide|
|Qualifying Final||Brisbane Lions|