What’s wrong with the Brownlow Medal – and how to fix it

Michael DiFabrizio Columnist

37 Have your say

    Patrick Dangerfield isn’t eligible to win tonight’s Brownlow Medal. He should be.

    While Dangerfield appears unlikely to match Richmond’s Dustin Martin tonight in votes, he is sure to be high on the leaderboard and his one-match suspension is certain to provide an awkward moment or two during the broadcast – so today is as good a day as any to talk about what’s wrong with the Brownlow.

    We all know what the Brownlow Medal aspires to be – an award for the competition’s “fairest and best” player.

    But it’s ironic the Brownlow’s framework for deciding on who meets these criteria is blatantly unfair.

    Riddle me this: to work out if someone qualifies as the ‘best’ player, we get umpires to cast 3-2-1 votes in all 198 AFL home-and-away matches. A player can have anywhere between zero and 66 votes, a pretty comprehensive range of outcomes.

    Yet to qualify for the ‘fairest’ player, it’s just binary. There’s two outcomes. If you’ve been suspended or given three fines you’re on one side of the line. If not, you’re on the other.

    How lazy.

    It’s pretty harsh that a one-match suspension means it’s all decided, Player X is unfair. Meanwhile, if the match review panel concludes Player X’s indiscretion was actually worth slightly fewer points and didn’t warrant a suspension, he’s somehow the bloody epitome of fairness.

    The way to fix this is simple. Let’s apply just the slightest bit more comprehensiveness to the fairness equation.

    How about this: for every week a player misses due to suspension, he gets docked two votes.

    Yep, instead of a binary, in-or-out approach to fairness, we’d actually accept there’s a little bit more nuance to the question of whether a player is fair or not.

    Patrick Dangerfield Geelong Cats AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    If they do the crime, there’s a punishment on Brownlow night. But that punishment isn’t the death penalty.

    Under this system, in Dangerfield’s case, the Geelong star would start the night on -2 votes and have to work his way back from there.

    If he wins, full credit to him. His qualifications as the best player outweigh the impact of the solitary mark against his status as a fair player.

    If he falls one vote short of Martin, tough luck. He was beaten by a fairer player.

    You could even apply this to fines.

    Instead of an arbitrary line being drawn at three fines, make it that each fine costs a player one Brownlow vote.

    And as for the player rubbed out for a lengthy period of time – say three weeks – he gets to start Brownlow night on -6 votes. That’s as good as being ineligible anyway.

    Done, problem solved.

    Perhaps you think this is all a little too complicated. It’s actually something the average footy fan could very easily wrap their heads around.

    On Brownlow night, instead of an asterisk next to a player’s name, you’d see their penalty (a -2 or -6 or whatever it may be). Easy.

    There’s an argument to say just -2 votes for each game missed might be too light, and coming from the system we’ve used up until now that’s a fair discussion point.

    Dustin Martin Richmond Tigers AFL

    (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

    But it also needs to be remembered players who are suspended miss games of football, which means they are also denied the opportunity to poll votes in those games.

    The player rubbed out for three weeks isn’t just docked six votes – those three missed games are another nine potential votes that could have been his.

    With this in mind, -2 per game probably feels about right.

    I first proposed a similar change to the Brownlow in 2015, when Fremantle’s Nat Fyfe was on the verge of a third fine for the season, which would’ve ruled him ineligible for the medal he eventually won.

    That we have been through this discussion twice in three years is evidence enough is enough.

    Dangerfield’s tackle and subsequent suspension should absolutely be a factor in whether we can happily put him on a stage and declare him the competition’s ‘fairest and best player’.

    There’s just now good reason why it should be the only factor.

    Tonight is the game’s grandest individual stage, however there’s nothing grand about the possibility in future years of a champion being denied a Brownlow over a single borderline act. We need to change.

    Michael DiFabrizio
    Michael DiFabrizio

    Michael DiFabrizio is based in Mildura, Victoria. He has been an expert columnist at The Roar since 2009, leading to appearances on ABC News 24 and in the Age. Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelDiFab.

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    The Crowd Says (37)

    • September 25th 2017 @ 7:21am
      Liam said | September 25th 2017 @ 7:21am | ! Report

      Fairness IS a binary; you are either fair, or you are not. It is completely unnecessary to add the ridiculous proposal you have in here Michael – docking votes for suspensions/fines – as all it would do is allow the best aspect of the award to trump the fairest.

      There are plenty of best awards. Don’t take away the fairest component, the final vestige of a nearly absent part of our game.

      • September 25th 2017 @ 1:40pm
        AndyFNQ said | September 25th 2017 @ 1:40pm | ! Report


      • September 25th 2017 @ 4:11pm
        BackYard Centurion said | September 25th 2017 @ 4:11pm | ! Report

        Liam – I agree with you.

        If you have been suspended at all – how could you be considered ‘fairer’ than someone who has not.

        And let’s remember the fine system in a lot of cases gives an opportunity for two ‘strikes’ before being suspended.

        The Brownlow winner has to be Fairer and Better than any other that year – play clean, and no problem

        • September 25th 2017 @ 8:29pm
          damo said | September 25th 2017 @ 8:29pm | ! Report

          So ah Crotchin? Reckon he might have had a week off if his ‘fair play’ happened earlier in the season then or what ?!?

      • Columnist

        September 25th 2017 @ 8:20pm
        Michael DiFabrizio said | September 25th 2017 @ 8:20pm | ! Report

        Thanks for the comment Liam.

        I’d argue quite strongly that this system would not be taking away the fairest component. The opposite is true, it actually embraces the fairness component by treating it with more respect. A binary system assumes fairness is simpler than it actually is.

        As has been pointed out in these comments, Trent Cotchin is eligible tonight while Patrick Dangerfield is ineligible. Did Cotchin, who had two fines but didn’t miss football due to suspension, have an objectively fairer season than Dangerfield? Don’t know about that

    • September 25th 2017 @ 7:31am
      dangertroy said | September 25th 2017 @ 7:31am | ! Report

      I don’t think the current system is broken. With respect, to make the kind of change your suggesting here send the message that performance is more important than integrity. Basically, if your a good enough player, it’s ok to play dirty some times.
      If you’re then arguing that suspensions will essentially lead to players being unable to win anyway, then what’s the point in making a change?
      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with there being a winner who doesn’t get the award due to a suspension. Sure, it’s a bit of a bitter pill for them, but they’ve crossed a line somewhere that has cost them a medal.
      Plus, it would be unfair for journalists to deny them a week worth of stories talking about how unfair the Brownlow is.

      • September 25th 2017 @ 5:18pm
        guttsy said | September 25th 2017 @ 5:18pm | ! Report

        What’s broken about the Brownlow Medal award is that it has become entirely a midfielders award. To counter this very arguably the AFL somehow needs to create an award system that compares small forwards, big forwards, midfielders (inside and outside), rucks, small backs, big backs and utility players fairly to work out who is the best player over the year. I agree that this would be very difficult but I think everyone could agree that the current Brownlow doesn’t even come close to doing this.

        Maybe a way of doing this is
        1) create an AFL back award for the best back of the year, which includes the small and big back players.
        2) get the brownlow back of fairly covering the ruck position (it once did this very well with rucks winning close to 10 times in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and the last ruck Jim Stynes won in 91) to give them a chance in winning the award
        3) accept that the Coleman Medal is for the best forward.

        This then only leavs utility players, who move back and forward who aren’t adequately covered by an award.

        However the problem with this approach is that it risks creating award fatigue given the AFL has already created the “Best Finals Player” this year. But I think there is at least some benefit in doing something that somehow getts the ruck position back into Brownlow contention)

      • Columnist

        September 25th 2017 @ 8:29pm
        Michael DiFabrizio said | September 25th 2017 @ 8:29pm | ! Report

        Thanks for the comment dangertoy.

        I don’t think it sends a message that performance is more important than integrity. It merely accepts that fairness isn’t so black and white. I get what you’re saying that being ineligible means a player has crossed a line somewhere, but players flirt with the line all the time and get away with it. Players who don’t intend to flirt with the line but mistime their tackle can find themselves on the wrong side of it. As another commenter said, it’s not like we are still living in the days when blokes were being rubbed out for clobbing each other. Let’s acknowledge this.

        I’d also argue fairness still comes first – indeed, we’d know where a player stands on the fairness count before any votes are read out, so in the literal sense it comes first. But my view is that it would give the fairness consideration more respect and apply it properly in a 2017 context.

    • September 25th 2017 @ 7:52am
      Neil from Warrandyte said | September 25th 2017 @ 7:52am | ! Report

      Completely agree Michael with what you’re saying here. As a tiger supporter, would have loved to have seen Dangerfield still eligible, and your proposal would allow for that. Dangerfield is not a dirty player and plays the game hard just like Cotchin does. Great players generally aren’t snipers, as many here often suggest.

    • September 25th 2017 @ 7:54am
      Axle and the Guru said | September 25th 2017 @ 7:54am | ! Report

      The whole point here is that Dangerfield was suspended for laying a tackle, which is part of our game remember. That tackle caused an accidental concussion, there were thousands of tackles which didn’t cause concussion, there within lies the pathetic joke in this. Should someone be penalised so harshly for an accidental concussion? Nothing has to be changed as far as ineligibility goes, but maybe some commonsense should come back into some of the decision making in regards to suspension.

      • September 25th 2017 @ 12:41pm
        Tony said | September 25th 2017 @ 12:41pm | ! Report

        Think of it like this.

        You can fail top give way in a car without penalty. It’s a small fine or warning if you’re caught. If you T-bone another and kill the driver you get severly punished.

        Danger had a duty of care with Kruezer’s arms pinned. He chose to bring him to ground and Kruezer’s head hit the turf. Hurt him – he gets weeks.

        Avoid the punishment by fulfilling your duty of care and making sure your bloke doesn’t get knocked out.

        • September 25th 2017 @ 5:00pm
          guttsy said | September 25th 2017 @ 5:00pm | ! Report

          Dangerfield by choosing to pin the arms and bring Kruezer forcefully to ground took on a duty of care with a very high standard of care attached to protect Kruezer’s head. The standard of care to protect Kruezer’s head is above that owed to other players in other many other situations on the playing field because by pinning the arms he has taken away Kruezer’s ability to protect his head by using his arms to cushion his fall. And when Kruezer sustained the concusion Dangerfield had demonstratably failed in his duty of care to Kruezer and as a result he deserved his suspension and his loss of the right to win the Brownlow.

          Having said this I am not a fan of a minor finable offence being used to rub a player out of a grandfinal or out of the Brownlow under the three fines rule but at the same time understand the need to have a suspension sanction for players who keep racking up fines. I also see the past Brownlow Medal winners who so are against a player who has been suspended during the season winning the Brownlow that they are prepared to send their Brownlow back if the rule is even slightly modified. This wouldn’t be a good look either. I think the AFL are caught between a rock and a hard place on this one.

      • Columnist

        September 25th 2017 @ 8:35pm
        Michael DiFabrizio said | September 25th 2017 @ 8:35pm | ! Report

        Thanks for the comment Axle and the Guru, and the replies Tony and guttsy. Good points all round.

        My view is the fact we’re still here being able to present reasonable arguments both ways as to the merits of Dangerfield’s suspension is another reason we should consider judging fairness with a bit more acknowledgement there’s different levels of it.

    • September 25th 2017 @ 9:05am
      BigAl said | September 25th 2017 @ 9:05am | ! Report

      What’s wrong with the Brownlow…? Nothing’s wrong with the Brownlow. The Brownlow is the Brownlow !

      Like asking – Whats wrong with the sky…

      • Columnist

        September 25th 2017 @ 8:35pm
        Michael DiFabrizio said | September 25th 2017 @ 8:35pm | ! Report

        Don’t get me started on the sky, BigAl.

      • September 25th 2017 @ 9:52pm
        Alicesprings said | September 25th 2017 @ 9:52pm | ! Report


        Leave the Brownlow as is.

    • September 25th 2017 @ 10:51am
      DonsR said | September 25th 2017 @ 10:51am | ! Report

      Nope – not buying that. Might as well change the name to ‘MVP’!
      Or let’s change it to MVM – most valuable midfielder!
      Would love to see a defender or a forward get the award – surely a rance or buddy type player should be winning one year.

      • Columnist

        September 25th 2017 @ 8:36pm
        Michael DiFabrizio said | September 25th 2017 @ 8:36pm | ! Report

        DonsR, thanks for reading. Would love to see a defender win it.

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