Seven questions an American AFL fan needs answered

Gordon Smith Roar Rookie

By Gordon Smith, Gordon Smith is a Roar Rookie

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39 Have your say

    They say that the secret of making people think you’re smart is not to say anything to contradict that. For some people, that means not to say anything at all.

    (The US President is a case in point. He’ll read from a prepared text, and sound very presidential, very intelligent – and then look up and speak off the cuff, and that image goes right out the window – “gone”.)

    Speaking of which, that reminds me of several questions I’ve been meaning to ask you, you born-‘n-raised Australian football aficionados.

    As an American who has never had the privilege of visiting “Down Under”, and who has only followed the sport for fifteen or eighteen years from afar, there are a few things that I’ve never completely understood.

    At the risk of bursting the balloon of any of you who thought the rookie with the buffalo avatar was Einstein reincarnated, I’d like to ask you a few questions. And these are legit: please comment with answers if you see that no one else has already provided the right answer, okay?

    Why do we yell “Gone” when someone carrying the ball is tackled and turns the ball over to the tackling team? Why not “Down”, or “Got him!”, or something else? Nothing wrong with the phrase – I’m just not sure why we use it in that situation.

    Is there any rule-related purpose to the 50-meter arc? It’s an absolutely invaluable tool for players to gauge distance, it makes for very functional statistics, and frankly it lends an aesthetic to the look of the field. But I can’t think of anything in the rulebook that utilises it at all.

    And the over-the-head-and backwards, chuck-it-as-far-as-you-can toss in by the ref from the sideline on dead balls – where did that come from?

    I remember the first time I saw that years ago, when I was first introduced to the sport of gods, thinking, “Lord, that may be the silliest thing I’ve ever seen a ref be required to do in my life.”

    But it sure creates a problem if you have to declare a ruck and you really have no faith in where the ref’s going to throw it on a windy or storm-riddled day. My vote is to do away with the no third man rule on those tosses alone – that seems to be when the most confusion happens.

    Speaking of “over-the-head”, is it only because of the spectacle involved that we’ve chosen to ignore the physical interference caused by a spectacular marking effort on the player below him?

    If you shoved a defender like that without the jump and attempted catch, you’d give up a free kick, minimum, every time. Mind you, I prefer the highlight package leaps, so maybe I’m answering my own question here.

    It seems very strange to send a player out to face the media mid-week to report on injuries and how the team’s doing and all the things I’d expect to hear a coach report.

    I happened to watch a “’round the league” report on Wednesday, and it was Ross Lyon and John Longmire for the Dockers and Swans, of course, but it seems that the Eagles and Cats sent Elliot Yeo and Tom Hawkins out to do the same job for their teams.

    And for Zach Merrett, all of 22 years of age, to have to handle those duties of who’s hurting where and what the general plans are and (by inference) how much to admit and how much to shade to prevent the opponent from getting information they could use in battle?

    I can’t imagine that happening in an American sport. If we ever see a player doing “coach-speak” work, it’s a LeBron James or a Tom Brady, not the hotshot rookie or even the fourth-year running back.

    The Tribunal. Compared to having a single commissioner, or worse yet a VP-CFO type handling the disciplinary and punitive actions of the league, having a public hearing, a set of relatively concrete guidelines that are fairly transparent, and (best of all!) the ability to appeal becomes a wager rather than a free swing, reducing the frivolous dragging out of the legal element to almost nothing?
    Infinitely superior to anything in the US.

    Is this something that happens in all the other Aussie sports, or is it unique to the footy landscape? I know the VFL has it, but I don’t follow Series A or netball or the other pro leagues closely enough to know this detail about them.

    Have the outrageously tall banners been a part of the game forever? I love them, but their stateside counterparts are (generally) much smaller. Occasionally you’ll see a good sized college football banner, but that’s usually in Texas, where everything’s reputedly bigger. Until we added Alaska as a state.

    One of the greatest putdowns ever made was an Alaskan who listened to a Texas brag incessantly in a bar one night about how “EVERY-thing is bigger down yonder in Texas!” The Alaskan finally replied, “Mister, if you don’t shut your yapper, Alaska’ll split itself in half down the middle, and you’ll become the third largest state in the union!” (And that’s accurate: Alaska is literally 2.5 times the size of Texas, fully one quarter of the size of Australia.)

    West Coast Eagles AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Tony McDonough)

    Wandering back to last week’s topic in this column, we mentioned our “meta-Brownlow”, our AFL Player of the Year, utilizing as many other Player of the Year/Week/Month/Fortnight/ Whatever recognitions as I can track down.

    To address a topic we bandied about in the comments last week, this scorecard is not statistics-based – in the vast majority of cases, the points come from some form of human judgment rather than anything numerical.

    The exceptions to that would be the AFL’s Player Rating data, which creates its weekly tweeted Team of the Week based on ratings changes, and the Fantasy scoring element (I use the Supercoach numbers for this, partly to avoid duplication from the above, and partly because it seems to best recognize a balance between the requirements of the different regions of the field a player spends his day in. Translation: It’s not all about the midfielders).

    Through Round 7 (data for R8 will trickle in over the next couple of days), Rory Sloane of the Adelaide Crows still held a big lead with 256 points despite a one-point total in R7.

    West Coast’s Elliot Yeo, who was on nobody’s short list of Brownlow candidates in March, is second with 190, having just passed Dustin Martin of Richmond, currently at 181.

    The defending champ, Geelong’s Paddy Dangerfield, sits at 164 in fourth, and the pack behind him includes his teammate Joel Selwood and Magpie Scott Pendlebury, who had transport waiting if his wife goes into labor with their first child during the game with GWS Saturday; Port Adelaide’s Ollie Wines at 147, fallen to seventh after two low-tallying games and being closed on by Western’s Marcus Bontempelli at 145. The Bont has surged 51 points in his prior two games (Wines had only four).

    Rounding out the top 20 are Robbie Gray of Port (136), Rory Laird of Adelaide (130), Gold Coast’s Gary Ablett (129), the Eagles’ Josh Kennedy (126), Sydney’s Lance Franklin and GWS’ Toby Greene (both at 119), and Zach Merrett of Essendon (116). Sixteenth is St. Kilda’s Jack Steven (113), followed by Luke Shuey of West Coast (111), Fremantle’s Nat Fyfe (103), and Richmond’s duo of Trent Cotchin and Jack Riewoldt (102 each).

    Another categorization I use is what I call “dominant” and “prominent” performances. Dominant performances receive recognition from at least 90 per cent of our sources; prominent performances at least 80 per cent of those sources. Basically, it says that everyone or nearly everyone thought that player had a very remarkable performance that round.

    42 different players have produced “dominant” performances; Sloane put four in a row together in rounds three through six, and Yeo has three “dominant” and two other “prominent” performances in his seven games. Nine other players have had two dominants, including Rory Laird (two dominants, two prominents) and Ollie Wines (two of each as well).

    My final thought is to return to my first: remember that this is not based on statistical analysis of the players’ games, but on the recognition of those games as among the top performances of the week by human evaluators – as the Brownlow and most other awards are. Before you criticise, remember the intent of the meta-Brownlow scoring system (okay, now you can criticise.)

    Next week, the Wanderer intends to look at two related topics: the showcase in China this weekend and the choice to keep the brakes on the AFLW’s expansion plans.

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