AFL’s rules committee needs to stop forcing Eureka moments

Tim Lane Columnist

By Tim Lane, Tim Lane is a Roar Expert

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    The modern sports broadcasting trend of having pre-prepared lines for the big moments can work brilliantly, but it can also backfire. I recall trying it out as far back as the 1970s, when calling footy for the ABC in Hobart.

    Clarence, the team from the eastern side of the Derwent, had just chosen a new spearhead named David Garlick.

    The thought of an opponent ‘having Garlick breathing down his neck’ was appealing. That opponent would most likely be Hobart’s full back, Peter Ratcliffe.

    So, at the first bounce, I was ready. Not only that, I was impatient. And you wouldn’t want to know… Clarence gained clean possession out of the middle, roosted the ball forward on the postage stamp-sized North Hobart Oval, and the commentary went like this: “A long kick over centre-half forward, out comes Garlick… he’s got Ratcliffe breathing down his neck.”

    Whereupon, I burst out laughing at my stupidity. The moral of the story is, don’t rush. Let it come to you.

    So, I did. No more weak puns for about 20 years. Then, one day at the MCG, Richmond had a powerfully built, young Western Australian recruit playing at full forward. His name was Stephen Jurica. It was said he could really be something.

    His game on this day lived up to the billing. He took some strong marks and gave himself scoring opportunities, but couldn’t kick straight.

    Finally though, the moment arrived. Quick movement by the Tigers produced a long kick to the young forward, who only had to pick up the footy, turn, and an open goal would be staring him in the face.

    But, not so good below his knees, Jurica fumbled. And fumbled. The defence was closing in. In the nick of time he got ball in hand, turned, and slammed it through.

    Yes, I admit I’d been waiting, and the scenario was perfect: “Jurica… Jurica… Eureka!!”

    Now, another 20 years have passed and I’ve had a different sort of ‘Eureka’ moment. This was a moment of discovery, like Archimedes when he sat in the bath and realised the same volume of water was displaced as the volume of the object doing the displacing. Archimedes supposedly jumped out of the bath and ran down the street naked, shouting “Eureka!”

    My recent Eureka moment came as I read (fully dressed, in case you’re worried) a column by Chris Judd in the Fairfax press. These days a member of the AFL’s rules committee, Judd – writing in a broader context – gave clarity as to who it is that drives changes to the game’s rules.

    “The driving force behind what the game should look like isn’t the commission; essentially, it’s the fans,” wrote Judd.

    “The AFL regularly surveys fans to hear their opinions on the game, the results of which are shared with the laws of the game committee.”

    This is a fascinating revelation, which makes sense of much of what perplexes many observers of the modern game. People with a genuine feel for football are under-represented on the AFL Commission. The best-represented group is business, and business people want to keep the fans happy.

    So, when surveyed and asked questions like “What sort of game do you want to see?”, fans no doubt tick the box which says, “One in which free-flowing football is encouraged ahead of repetitive short passages of play”.

    Rules are then introduced or amended to seek to produce this outcome. Thus, this season we’ve seen an ill-considered demand imposed on players that they show some arbitrarily judged level of intent to keep the ball from going out of bounds.

    This, the games’ guardians satisfy themselves, will keep things flowing.

    Sam Mitchell West Coast Eagles AFL 2017 tall

    AAP Image/Julian Smith

    For a long time now I’ve been critical of how the modern game is umpired. As I’ve written here previously, too much illegal contact is being permitted for the good of the game and for the good of players’ health.

    I shudder to join the dots between the fan surveys and rule adjudication. Umpires are the fans’ enemy, so you can imagine the attitude that would be expressed towards free kicks. What sort of free kick count do you like: 1. High, 2. Medium, or 3. Low? Most fans would be searching for the fourth box: Zero.

    So, the administrators want a game with a low stoppage count and with minimal free kicks. Oh, other than ‘holding the ball’, because fans love yelling ‘Baaalllll!!’ And because pinging the ball player supposedly keeps the game moving.

    And what do we get from this popular-vote form of rule-making? Well, now we have repetitive packs, which are let go endlessly by umpires to avoid free kick and stoppage statistics. Meanwhile, the occurrence of the other form of stoppage – the ‘out of bounds’ – is reduced by the infuriating new interpretation. And the statistics show the administrators are giving the fans what they want.

    So, why are those same fans, not to mention players, coaches, and commentators, in a lather of fury every time another ‘insufficient intent’ free kick is paid?

    Well, that’s for the next survey. This is a work in progress.

    Tim Lane
    Tim Lane

    Tim Lane is one of the most respected voices in Australian sport, having gained a strong following for his weekly AFL column in The Age. Tim has also called 32 AFL/VFL grand finals and was behind the microphone for Cathy Freeman's memorable gold medal at the Sydney Olympics. You can catch him on Twitter @TimLaneSport.

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    The Crowd Says (59)

    • May 18th 2017 @ 6:13am
      Chris said | May 18th 2017 @ 6:13am | ! Report

      Agree with most.

      Disagree on the OOB rule though. It was already an arbitrarily judged level of intent, that’s nothing new. They just shifted that level a bit. Personally, I hated the old interpretation that was far too lenient. I loved how it was done the first 6 weeks, but they’ve seemed to drop it back in the last couple of weeks which is disappointing.

      If you want to remove the subjective intent element, then make it last touch. But, going back to how it was in 2016 is not fixing anything.

      • May 18th 2017 @ 7:07am
        I ate pies said | May 18th 2017 @ 7:07am | ! Report

        No rule should ever be devised where the umpire has to decide what a player’s intention is. They can’t be expected to be mind readers and it’s hugely exposed to manipulation, which is what frustrates many fans.

        • Roar Guru

          May 18th 2017 @ 10:27am
          Cat said | May 18th 2017 @ 10:27am | ! Report

          What if we just change the name to ‘the doesn’t appear to do enough to keep the ball in play out of bounds rule’? Same rule but no ‘mind -reading’ needed.

          • May 18th 2017 @ 12:28pm
            I ate pies said | May 18th 2017 @ 12:28pm | ! Report

            That’s just as grey, isn’t it.

            • Roar Guru

              May 18th 2017 @ 2:10pm
              Cat said | May 18th 2017 @ 2:10pm | ! Report

              So your real issue with the rule isn’t the so called ‘mind reading’ part but the grey area in it. That’s progress.

              Want to know the biggest ‘gray area’ in the AFL rules? Prior opportunity. No where in the entire AFL rule book is it ever defined. It is mentioned a number of times in relation to players needing to have prior opportunity but never defined what prior opportunity consists of.

              The AFL love gray areas, it lets them to manipulate and engineer outcomes.

            • May 18th 2017 @ 3:02pm
              I ate pies said | May 18th 2017 @ 3:02pm | ! Report

              No, my issue remains the same. They’re just as grey as each other, and they’re both reliant on the umpire trying to determine someone else’s intentions.. You seem to be arguing for the sake of it.

              • Roar Guru

                May 18th 2017 @ 8:45pm
                Cat said | May 18th 2017 @ 8:45pm | ! Report

                keep it in then theres no worries about any gray area

        • May 18th 2017 @ 12:26pm
          michael steel said | May 18th 2017 @ 12:26pm | ! Report

          Yes, you are right, no umpire should be mind reading a players intent. As for the Eureka moment. Dennis Cometti could come up with a couple per game. A very necessary tool in for the commentator in boring games. And I remember in Wayne Harmes first year Peter Landy saying and like laughing “He’s hit the ball out of Harms way” Like he’d just been waiting for the opportunity to come. I think Lou laughed as well.

        • May 18th 2017 @ 7:21pm
          BigAl said | May 18th 2017 @ 7:21pm | ! Report

          Exactly my thoughts for years pies on that F##?k!!g embaressing DOB rule !!

    • May 18th 2017 @ 7:13am
      John said | May 18th 2017 @ 7:13am | ! Report

      Most frustrating non rule is how the umpires no longer pay illegal disposal or dropping the ball. So many players now just drop it and the umpire just yells play on. This was a free for over 100 years but in the last 5 or so years has disappeared.

      • May 18th 2017 @ 9:46am
        Tom M said | May 18th 2017 @ 9:46am | ! Report

        Agree completely. Incorrect disposal has disappeared and teams are exploiting it.

        • May 18th 2017 @ 12:40pm
          Slane said | May 18th 2017 @ 12:40pm | ! Report

          I thought the umpires had finally got it right over the first couple of rounds but they quickly reverted to the norm as per AFL HQ instruction. I see it like this: if you pick up the ball you have a moment to decide what to do with it(prior op). Once that moment is gone, if you are tackled and can’t handball or kick the ball away a free kick should be awarded to the tackler. Every single game we see a player elect to collect the ball, disregard their opportunity to dispose of it correctly, get tackled and then let go of the ball hoping to keep the ball moving forward.

      • May 18th 2017 @ 12:21pm
        Pope Paul VII said | May 18th 2017 @ 12:21pm | ! Report

        I agree they are very lenient on incorrect disposal, however for a long period if you were grabbed in the act of bouncing you could throw your arms out and they’d award you a kick for being tackled without the ball!

        • May 18th 2017 @ 12:22pm
          Slane said | May 18th 2017 @ 12:22pm | ! Report

          We call that the KB special.

          • May 18th 2017 @ 12:49pm
            Pope Paul VII said | May 18th 2017 @ 12:49pm | ! Report

            Good old hungry! That’s the picture I had in my head.

      • May 18th 2017 @ 12:30pm
        I ate pies said | May 18th 2017 @ 12:30pm | ! Report

        The one that gets me is holding the man. It happens all the time – a player will go in to get the ball, will get tackled, handball, and then he’s slung out of the contest, or he won’t even pick it up in the first place. The opposition will win the ball because he’s been thrown out of the contest. Watch for it this week, you’ll see it happens all of the time.

      • May 18th 2017 @ 1:45pm
        Knoxy said | May 18th 2017 @ 1:45pm | ! Report

        Absolutely spot on. The amount of times I have seen players blatantly throw the ball when tackled only for the umpire to call play on in recent years has been ridiculous.

    • May 18th 2017 @ 7:31am
      Powerboy said | May 18th 2017 @ 7:31am | ! Report

      My all time favourite…….Dennis Cometti commenting on Power vs. Dockers…..The Carr brothers were opposed wearing the same number……”Car crash….rego numbers the same”

      • Roar Guru

        May 18th 2017 @ 10:20am
        JamesH said | May 18th 2017 @ 10:20am | ! Report

        “He went in optimistically and came out misty, optically.”

    • May 18th 2017 @ 7:59am
      Pumping Dougie said | May 18th 2017 @ 7:59am | ! Report

      I reckon the game is better than ever to watch at the moment; so I don’t agree with the criticism of the rules committee.

      However, there’s still room for refinement. The deliberate out of bounds rule currently requires umpires to read players minds – a couple of these calls each game fail to pass the ‘smell test’. The rule needs to be more black and white – last person to touch would be okay by me (and helps get rid of the ball-in congestion).

      Also, the deliberate rushed behind free given to Liam Picken a month or so ago seemed a harsh adjudication, even though the interpretation apparently changed in the pre-season.

      But by and large, the game is better to watch than in the 1970’s and ’80s.

      It seems a strange argument to run, that the fans preferences as a whole shouldn’t be heavily considered. As Jeff Kennet used to tell his club, we are after all, the biggest stakeholders.

      • May 18th 2017 @ 9:39am
        Singo said | May 18th 2017 @ 9:39am | ! Report

        Not only disagree with the comments about the game being better to watch than the 70s and 80s. A few pointers back then they could kick straighter longer and more accurately Umpires had a lot less to say and did not tell players how to play could tell distances and not pay marks on suspicion and blow the whistle all the bloody time ie five times for one passage of play

        • Roar Guru

          May 18th 2017 @ 11:32am
          Paul D said | May 18th 2017 @ 11:32am | ! Report

          Take your nostalgia glasses off mate

          • May 18th 2017 @ 11:59am
            Singo said | May 18th 2017 @ 11:59am | ! Report

            Paul do explain how most of the players dispose of the ball must be nostalgia 2014 had to handball ? Play on is a bloody joke blow the whistle and wait till everybody stops and pay advantage must be nostalgia. Played and followed the game paid member for Afl club and committee of six clubs in various states for 50 years please don’t give nostalgia rubbish next time you go to a game look at how many players are in one quarter of the ground or is it Auskick

            • May 18th 2017 @ 12:37pm
              Nathan Hook said | May 18th 2017 @ 12:37pm | ! Report

              Got to agree with Dougie

              Following the game for 50 years is creating your nostalgia glasses Singo.

              The players are athletes, and doing things players in the 80’s couldn’t even think of, let alone do…

              If you look at conversion rates for goals, the kicking straighter has not gotten any worse or better than the 80’s. Only difference is now players have shots from tougher angles and further out more often. So an argument could be made that the current players may actually be kicking straighter…

            • Roar Guru

              May 18th 2017 @ 12:49pm
              Paul D said | May 18th 2017 @ 12:49pm | ! Report

              And on elaboration as expected it is revealed that your objections are stylistic, not skill

              The players today are running distances and performing moves that 80’s players could only dream of. More to the point, even if there are elements that irk you, so what? The only thing that can change is your attitude, it’s not like the game is going to go back to 100 goal seasons from full forwards and Pagan’s paddock

              “Whatcha’ got ain’t nothin new. This country’s hard on people, you can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.”

        • May 18th 2017 @ 12:58pm
          Pope Paul VII said | May 18th 2017 @ 12:58pm | ! Report

          I miss the goalfests Singo.

          These players are too fit.

          Reduce the interchange bench to 2 and make the quarters 25 mins and it’s old home week.

      • Roar Guru

        May 18th 2017 @ 10:53am
        Paul D said | May 18th 2017 @ 10:53am | ! Report

        I’m with Dougie, I think the game is in the best health it has been in years, if not decades. Standards at the highest level are better than they have ever been.

        Modern AFL reminds me a bit of test cricket since the introduction of BBL – there is a lot more flair in the performance of the routine, players have more purpose, there’s more daring, more risk taking. The emphasis on taking the game on and not letting the opposition settle in defence has led to faster, more attacking football.

        Being a long-time worker in utilities which are understood by few I’m loathe to put much value on a fan survey – the only thing a large sample herd of the general public can be relied upon to demonstrate regularly in my experience is inconsistency and ignorance. As you say, fans want a game with no free kicks that is also free flowing – the two are mutually contradictory. A lot fans will find something to complain about regardless of what is done re: the rules, particularly when you have rules requiring the umpire to make a judgment call based on intent. There is a sizeable portion of the community who persist in believing AFL umpires are biased or are told to arrange outcomes of games. There is no point in listening to anyone who holds that view.

      • Roar Guru

        May 18th 2017 @ 11:11am
        Col from Brissie said | May 18th 2017 @ 11:11am | ! Report

        I’m with you Dougie I love the modern game. The rolling mauls frustrate me a bit so I think the umps need to call for a throw up when it is obvious the ball is not going to be cleared. Not a fan of the last man touch rule as it then becomes an obvious free kick and players will try to manipulate it. Do you want to see a free kick payed to a player who has deliberately hand balled or knocked the ball onto an opposition players legs or body close to the boundary line and the ball has gone out? What about a defender spoiling in a marking contest near the boundary and as a result the ball goes out of bounds. Does he deserve a free kick paid against him for doing what is expected of him?

        Whilst there have been a few howlers regarding the deliberate out of bound rules I would rather it continue in preference to a last man touching rule.

        • Roar Guru

          May 18th 2017 @ 11:28am
          Cat said | May 18th 2017 @ 11:28am | ! Report

          I agree with you on the last touch rule. I think if the AFL got some genius in a marketing department to come up with a different name for the rule, other than ‘deliberate’ 95% of the whinging and sooking about the current rule would go away.
          I do think a player who kicks to space, with no intended target, and gets ‘unlucky’ the ball rolls over the line should be penalised 100% of the time. I don’t agree with the ‘unlucky’ part, I think they are ‘lucky’ when it stays in and don’t get pinged.

          • Roar Guru

            May 18th 2017 @ 11:31am
            Paul D said | May 18th 2017 @ 11:31am | ! Report

            That’s probably the biggest gripe I have – particularly with flog commentators like BT who howl about it not being deliberate

            If a player kicks to space and it rolls out he should expect to be paid deliberate against every single time. Get better at keeping the ball in or kick to a target. You want to clear the ball downfield, it comes with a cost if you don’t keep it in. Pretty damn simple. I realize shank kicks like Stringers a few weeks back aren’t deliberate as such – but if a player risks a kick and shanks it, same thing. They know the consequences by now

            • May 18th 2017 @ 12:26pm
              Gr8rWeStr said | May 18th 2017 @ 12:26pm | ! Report

              Nobody bats and eyelid when a shanked kick goes out on the full a gets penalised, nor when it simply brushes a players leg below the knee on its way out. Why? Because they are used to and, therefore, accept the rule as part of the game.

              I agree with those saying the ‘last touch’ rule goes to far, for the reasons they give, so I favour an expansion of the ‘Out of bounds on the full rule’ to be the basic ‘Out of bounds’ rule, with an, objectively judgable, proximity of another player exception rule, something like within 5m of the ball, to dampen the negatives of the ‘last touch’ rule.

            • Roar Rookie

              May 18th 2017 @ 12:29pm
              mattatooski said | May 18th 2017 @ 12:29pm | ! Report

              I can’t stand this new out of bounds rule. What is wrong with kicking the ball out of the danger zone into clear space to ease defensive pressure on a team. What is wrong with edging your way up the field by using the boundary. So what if the ball goes out, the umpire then has to throw it in and both teams have a 50/50 chance of getting it back. This has been part of rules, game and tactics for over 100 years. I don’t see any justification for this new rule and I really hate the football as a result.

              Same with the rushed behind rule. It just goes against the fabric of the game. Same with incorrect disposal. Same with being committed to the ball at the bottom of a pack. The rolling mauls. The game is changing and as a result I find myself watching less and less AFL and more league. Todays game really frustrates me as a viewer.

              I agree that the quality of the footballers skills are better than ever, but that would still apply if the rules hadn’t changed. Maybe I am living in the past, (and I don’t want to go back to the bad 80’s mindset) but rather than the devout follower I have always been, I am watching less and less AFL footy and it’s because of the way the game is played today.

              • Roar Guru

                May 18th 2017 @ 12:34pm
                Cat said | May 18th 2017 @ 12:34pm | ! Report

                No skill involved just using a boundary line as an escape. There is nothing wrong with kicking for space – if the player is skillful enough to keep it in bounds.

            • May 18th 2017 @ 1:21pm
              Darren said | May 18th 2017 @ 1:21pm | ! Report

              In that regard, I agree. If you shank the ball and it goes out without touching the ground it’s out on the full regardless of whether you intended it to go out or not. This is essentially the same as if you kick the ball into space, there is no one around to stop it going out, so it deserves it. If you kick it, land it perfectly so it doesn’t bounce and stays in, it’s play on. Get better at kicking to a target, even if the target is the patch of soil near the boundary.

        • May 18th 2017 @ 1:28pm
          Pumping Dougie said | May 18th 2017 @ 1:28pm | ! Report

          Fair comment Col, and good discussion by everyone on this thread. Maybe the rules committee should read this! (Informed, thinking fans are worth listening to.)

      • May 18th 2017 @ 11:46am
        Rick said | May 18th 2017 @ 11:46am | ! Report

        “Last man touch” would be a terrible rule, imagine player about to kick his side forward on the wing, opponent dives on his kick to smother the ball – great gutsy footy – ball goes out of bounds, free kick to original ball carrier.
        You’ve just wiped out another great aspect of the game, leave the rule where it was or players will take to bouncing it out of bounds of their opponents or too afraid to gather it near the boundary.
        Simple, if the umpire decides beyond his doubt that a player has intentionally played the ball over the line then it is a free, including the goal line.
        Good article Tim Lane.

    • May 18th 2017 @ 10:06am
      Franko said | May 18th 2017 @ 10:06am | ! Report

      Those surveys are like push polling though.

      “How could we improve the game” or “What changes would you like to see to our game”

      Is there an option for fans to select “please make no rule changes or interpretations for the next 3 years” ???

      • Roar Guru

        May 18th 2017 @ 10:25am
        Cat said | May 18th 2017 @ 10:25am | ! Report

        Almost always a text box at the end to add anything you wish to say.

    • May 18th 2017 @ 11:19am
      Birdman said | May 18th 2017 @ 11:19am | ! Report

      Respectfully Tim, I’d suggest that coaches, NOT players, fans, umpires, or sports administrators are the real architects of how the modern game is actually played – everyone else is simply reacting to their tactics and game plan.

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