You can’t be a PM at a sporting event and not get booed!
A loss is a tragic event in this day and age – it garners hours of talkback, inches of journalist speculation, insults on social media, and nightly admonishment through the soapbox that is AFL 360.
Coaches are hauled before us all to explain why, and thanks to the omniscience of highlight reels and in-depth statistics services, we know exactly who is under-performing.
That’s the price they pay for their big salaries you say, and that is true. Six-figure salaries should come with a fair amount of heat. And those who withstand the heat best are rewarded with glory.
But to many spectators, winning has become boring. Everyone is so fit they can run up and down the ground for two hours. Everyone can tackle like a demon. Not even Hercules could break an 18-man press.
Thus, it’s almost become an accepted truth that if we tire out our AFL stars, the game will become more exciting as games open up. This argument is flawed. It’s not the coaches who are to blame for ‘boring’ footy. It’s us.
It’s the increasingly potent microscope we use to analyse our game.
Through traditional media, internet media, social media, and live betting, the importance of winning has never been higher. Or dare I say, the importance of not losing.
If footy were an equation of supply and demand, the interchange cappers would have you believe that a fixed ceiling will lead to a surplus of attacking skill through a shortage of fitness. Instead, we are seeing the opposite.
Despite the introduction of an interchange cap, stoppage numbers are at all-time highs and scoring levels at 50-year lows. As pointed out by David King, players use the stoppages to catch a breath, and when they get tired, they don’t take more risks – they take less!
Aware of the importance of winning and the scrutiny of losing, that tired bunch of players who are up by 3-points with ten minutes to go are not trying to kick another goal – first and foremost they are trying not to concede. If people believe exhausted teams are suddenly going to start rushing forward in a Flying V, ala the Mighty Ducks, at the risk of falling behind once more, think again.
Encouraging coaches to play more exciting brands of footy, due to some ‘duty to the game’, is hypocritical hogwash. Nobody gave Brad Scott sympathy for North Melbourne losing ten games by under 18 points in 2013. Or Matthew Knights for playing an attacking brand that also turned Essendon into the league’s highest conceding team.
Nor should we expect it from the players.
Again, nobody gave Melbourne sympathy for not throwing men behind the ball against St Kilda earlier this season, and Bachar Houli is getting very little benefit of the doubt for taking the game on against Freo.
Those trying to kill off defensive footy should remember the words of Medgar Evers: “you can’t kill an idea.” They certainly can’t kill our constant scrutiny of the weekly losers.
So if the powers that be want a higher risk, higher scoring brand of footy, maybe they should incentivise it.