The AFL’s rules mishmash

Les Zigomanis Roar Pro

By Les Zigomanis, Les Zigomanis is a Roar Pro

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    Here we are, approaching the halfway point of the season: brace yourself for the declarations that thanks to the AFL’s rule changes football this year has been the greatest spectacle ever.

    It happens every year, because how could the AFL ever go wrong? They are the arbiters of everything that is right and graceful and holy when it comes to our game.

    Aren’t they?

    This year the big change is the abolition of the third man up at ruck contests. Yes, good – great, even. Finally a rule the AFL’s introduced with which I can agree. I will insert the small qualifier that the AFL need to work out the nomination mess, but I’ve always believed the ruck contests should remain the purview of the two ruckmen, just as they are for every centre bounce following a goal.

    I like this rule – in fact I love it – and that hasn’t happened often in the history of the AFL overreacting to what they consider blights on the game.

    Take the appalling deliberate rushed behind rule, which came about all because Richmond’s Joel Bowden walked the ball back through for a behind rather than kicked it out.

    It was smart by Bowden, but not a great look for the game. All the AFL had to do was ban the player kicking out from rushing it, but instead it introduced a deliberate rushed rule which will be paid every now and again just to remind people that it exists and to encourage players and fans to appeal for a deliberate rushed behind.

    The AFL must like players appealing because we see it now whenever the ball goes out of bounds. Even before the ball’s rolled over the line – and, hey, sometimes it doesn’t even get there – players will pirouette and appeal that it’s rushed. It is such an ugly look that the AFL have created this slips cordon of players throwing their arms up as if appealing a faint nick from the batsman.

    What’s wrong with pauses in our game? What’s wrong with a rushed behind? There is a penalty for such an act – it’s called a behind. Last time I checked, you needed only a solitary behind to win a game.

    (Image: AAP Image/Tony McDonough)

    And why should a player running at breakneck speed who gathers the ball a foot from a line be compelled to keep it in if he’s only going to surrender it to the opposition? I agree, penalise the blatant ones, but what about these grey decisions?

    Too often the player attacking the ball is denied the instinct of clearing it, and that’s all that’s happening sometimes. If it takes odd bounces and goes out of bounds 50, 30, or 10 metres away, how can the player be penalised? What is their option? To keep the ball in play where they are, risk losing it and give it up to the opposition? That to me reads as no option.

    Football should be about common sense, but every time the AFL prod the game with some new stupid rule, some schism of abhorrent behaviour crops up that then needs to be addressed.

    The head is sacrosanct, remember that? Now the players start ducking to take advantage of it, so umpires need to adjudicate whether head-high contact is legitimate or whether the player is trying to create a free kick.

    I grew up with football in the early 1980s when you won a free kick for being hit in the head. It was called ‘too high’, and players who ducked did so at their peril. How did something that was once common sense become so convoluted?

    My easy answer is that somewhere along the line the AFL grew apprehensive of packs that formed around the ball. The solution should’ve been to start paying free kicks – holding the ball, illegal disposal and all that – but the AFL wasn’t happy about stoppages either.

    Look at the way changes have been made over the years – penalising the deliberate rushed behind, allowing a player to take a kick-out immediately (they used to have wait until the goal umpire had stopped waving the flags), increasing how often deliberate out of bounds is paid, decreasing the time a player has to get rid of the ball from a mark or free.

    In all case changes are designed to try to keep the ball in motion, meaning tackle-based free kicks have been marginalised. I’ve seen games in which a team will get 90 tackles and be rewarded only a handful of times.

    (Image: AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    There are three explanations as to why this is occuring.

    The first is that the players are really bad at tackling. Given this is their profession and they they tackle every week, I find it unlikely that they could be consistently this bad.

    The second is that the opposition are just too good at disposing of the ball from a tackle. I guess you could suggest this is the correct option if throwing and dropping the ball have become accepted practices.

    The third is taht these free kicks are just not being paid as much, Which is a shame because a team should be rewarded for their work ethic, especially if they’re applying legitimately good tackles that are dispossessing opponents.

    But let’s keep the ball in motion. Let’s keep it moving. Let’s not pause because God forbid we don’t want it to become ugly – that is, stop-start – as a spectacle, even though by allowing imprecise disposal you’re actually undermining precision of ball movement and thus inviting congestion.

    Rule changes, which are often kneejerk reactions, have become eyesores. One player slides into congestion and breaks another player’s leg in just about the only instance of such an incident in 150 years and we ban diving in for the ball, even when it’s the only viable alternative. It’s denying players the capacity to legitimately contest and win the ball.

    Rules are being designed solely to pretty up the game, because what we need is the ball constantly in motion (while depriving teams interchange opportunities), higher scores (because a low-scoring game can’t be good) and rules with interpretations so grey that they become lotteries to the extent that even players, fans and commentators hold their breath for a determination because they know the outcome could go either way.

    If you want aesthetically pleasing rules, at least consider how they’ll they affect the game and the way that they will evolve from that point. Is it for the better? I think I can count about three rules the AFL has introduced over the last 25 years that have worked.

    Or will the game schism? Will the rules become novelies sighted infrequently? It really shouldn’t be that hard.

    And pauses in a game that’s as frenetic and physical as AFL? Well, it’s really not that bad.

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    The Crowd Says (5)

    • Roar Guru

      June 13th 2017 @ 10:22am
      Paul D said | June 13th 2017 @ 10:22am | ! Report

      Interesting article, although it’s a bit scattergun in parts. Frequently this is the case with these sorts of articles because it’s a very complex multi-faceted conundrum, where rules evolve in response to player behaviour, football as an aesthetic spectacle, commercial considerations and also coaches trying to break the game at every opportunity. Not saying that this is necessarily an ideal situation but it is what it is – all of the things I have listed have all impacted on the rules for better or for worse. Going through the rules you’ve raised, the issue with the rushed behind rule isn’t so much the rule as the penalty. A guaranteed goal in front of the sticks is far too harsh. Should be a throw-in or a ball up in the goal square if they’re going to persist with having the rule.

      The head rule was brought in to protect players from themselves. Experience showed players would duck their heads to draw frees and long-term head trauma be damned if it meant getting a free kick here and now. Something had to be done to forestall players putting themselves in harm’s way and the prospect of getting nothing except a sore head and a call of play on was that something. I personally think it should be harsher and the kick should go the other way if players keep ducking, and it should be a reportable offence – and the AFL should say to them this is in your best interest, so get on with it. But I digress.

      Free flowing football – well, it’s been obvious for a while if a player takes possession of the ball and disposes it within that first 1-2 seconds that constitutes ‘no prior opportunity’ that it doesn’t matter if he drops it, throws it or fails to make connection with a handball. It’s why I scratch my head when people keep moaning on about no free kicks being paid for these – by all means disagree with the interpretation, but at least make an attempt to understand why it’s happening this way.

      I said in a reply to anon in the 12 talking points thread that stylistic objections to the game are the weakest form of objection because it’s pure subjective opinion – in the absence of an proposed alternative from you apart from jumping in a Delorean and going back 25 years I can’t get behind this article. If we went back to a rigid hardline enforcement on incorrect disposal you’d have players never wanting to take possession of the ball in a contest for fear of getting pinged and the game turn into some sort of rolling maul where the ball is kicked and flicked along the ground until someone gets a few seconds of space and has the chance to pick it up again.

      Guaranteed also you’d have loads of people complaining about that sort of style from different vantage points as well. Ultimately there’s no pleasing everyone, and people should just take a deep breath and focus on what is good about modern day football, because there’s plenty to enjoy if you can get beyond the nitpicking.

    • June 13th 2017 @ 11:40am
      Perry Bridge said | June 13th 2017 @ 11:40am | ! Report

      The concern around the deliberate is interesting – the new harder line was heralded – and we learnt what was meant by ‘insufficient intent to keep the ball in play’ – – and we learned that that was not a good look and the umpires I gather weren’t too pleased about it’s application and it has been reeled back (but not heralded) and we’re all happier.

      Was it the Rules of the Game committee? They tend to point the finger at the Commission.

      The ruched behind – that became an issue from 2 perspectives. The defender killing the clock – as per Joel Bowden and then Hawks in 2008 GF. The other is the insufficient penalty vs the reward. The removal of the requirement to await the waving of the flags means the defenders get a free kick on their own terms. There NEVER was a deliberate element to judge because it always was a deliberately rushed behind. Now – it’s deliberate but not too deliberate or too far out or too much to think about. That Firitto was pinged last year even whilst being tackled – it’s been murky water since.

      The penalty has been ramped up in some respects – but subjectively. The reward of a kick in stays the same (so long as no free kick for deliberate) – – I support a bounce at the top of the square – perhaps for anything adjudged ‘forced’ – – and that’s a distinction made for years around a touched/forced behind from a kick after the siren).

      The tackling – hasn’t been perfected – late 70s we still had the Bartlett special of bouncing the ball before getting tackled – that was deemed to be not in possession. That got reined back in – but that was an era when you took a chance by taking possession with someone hot on your heels. The ‘prior opportunity’ rule came in and got universally applied – – unless you take it out of the ruck or in the Glenn Archer style where you dive bodily onto the pill.

      I’ve heard a suggestion that perhaps prior only gets accounted for the player who ‘wins’ the ball.

      Currently too much illegal disposal is permitted on the basis of ‘no prior opportunity’ – so, dropping, throwing etc. Even holding on and getting spun 540 degrees.

      Still though – the game yesterday even as a neutral was really good to watch. There’s always decisions made or not made that us in TV land or spectators at the ground will see very differently to what the umpire at ground level sees. Especially in slo mo replays!!

    • June 13th 2017 @ 10:35pm
      Philby said | June 13th 2017 @ 10:35pm | ! Report

      If the pattern continues, the AFL will this week crack down on rule A, while letting rule B and rule C slide a bit. Go forward a week, and they will crack down on rule B, while letting rule C and rule A slide a bit. Week 3 will see them crack down on rule C, while letting rule A and rule B slide a bit…

      And this ridiculous merry-go-round will continue for the remainder of the season without anyone at AFL House showing the slightest degree of awareness.

      Result? Well, two weeks ago Charlie Dixon had the shot clock run out and so missed the chance of kicking the winning goal, even though a Geelong player walked within about a metre of him while he was lining up. No 50 metre penalty there. Fast forward two weeks, and the Gold Coast player gets a second chance at a botched shot at goal late in the game. Why? Because a player encroached within 10 metres (but in no way impeded) the kicker.

      Same rule. Two polar-opposite interpretations. Two game changing decisions.


    • June 13th 2017 @ 10:46pm
      Philby said | June 13th 2017 @ 10:46pm | ! Report

      …and don’t get me started about the ‘deliberate’ paid against Richmond’s Jayden Short. To think that a defender, after sprinting 50 metres at close to 10 metres per second, in that final second/10 metres also has to assess whether he is ‘under pressure’ and if so, somehow manage to attempt to keep the ball in play while running at that speed, while also avoiding career-ending injury….

      And then the umpire’s head sanctimoniously signs off on the decision, saying that, as the opposing footballer was all of maybe 2 metres behind, that Jayden Short was not ‘under pressure’.

      Well, hey, at 10 metres per second, that means he had a whole 0.2 seconds of ‘no pressure’!

      It’s all just too much….but sadly, a massive deficit of common sense.

    • Roar Guru

      June 15th 2017 @ 2:07am
      Gordon P Smith said | June 15th 2017 @ 2:07am | ! Report

      Except for the protection of the damage to the players (particularly head trauma), I think the most important thing that players, coaches, and fans alike would prefer would simply be consistent rules and rule enforcement from the league and its umpires. Even if the rule settled in a form you weren’t crazy for, it would still be preferable to not knowing what the rule was going to BE during each week’s game.

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