The AFL’s new advantage rule was put under the microscope over the weekend after Scott Pendlebury wasn’t paid advantage on a play where he kicked a goal that would’ve put Collingwood in front against Geelong on Friday night. Yesterday, umpires boss Jeff Gieschen conceded advantage should’ve been paid.
In the remaining games of the round, there were numerous examples that highlighted the sheer confusion the new rule instigates. As has been happening all season, we saw players bursting forward while multiple players around them stand still because they assume play has stopped.
Last week, there was discussion over the advantage paid in the dying minutes of the Gold Coast Suns’ win over the Brisbane Lions, which led to a goal at a time there was just a one-point margin. You can watch the footage here and see everyone bar the player with the footy come to a halt.
It’s fair to say the jury is still out on the new rule. Chris Scott is concerned. Gerard Healy is asking questions. Even Pendlebury, who would’ve been a beneficiary had the umpire got it right, isn’t a fan.
Rewinding a bit, when the rule change was announced it sounded reasonable enough in theory. The league determined that from this year the infringed player, rather than the umpire, held the power to determine advantage after a free kick.
Problem is, as we’re seeing now, players still stop when they hear the whistle. Even the infringed player – or, in cases like Pendlebury’s, the player that ends up with the ball – tends to pause momentarily before deciding what to do. And at that precise moment, everyone seems to assume the ball will go back for a free kick.
Everybody stops. The game freezes. No one expects play to continue.
But, according to the rules, if the player in possession of the footy wants to play on, he is still allowed to. It’s led to some farcical scenes this season.
So the question turns to what, if anything, can be done. Or whether anything should be done at all.
In my opinion there is always going to be a certain awkwardness when it comes to advantage. If you leave the power solely in the hands of umpires, genuine attempts to play on are going to be called back, which is a frustrating sight for fans. Under the current arrangement, where players hold the power, the opposite occurs – fans get frustrated seeing players who pause after a whistle being awarded advantage.
In an ideal world, there would be a way to strike a balance between the two. But is that really possible? Is there really a rule that could meet both options half-way?
If there is, I’m not sure what it is.
So, this is essentially an argument as to whether you’re a fan of the old system or the new system. For mine, perhaps the old system has the upper hand as the current levels of confusion and the number of “cheap goals” we’re seeing this year aren’t pretty.
But really, either way, there is no perfect solution.
As Healy says, this is “another attempt at trying to fix an issue in the game that is unfixable”.