The laws of the game have dominated the conversation for much of this season, a situation that was sure to ramp up during the bye rounds and has happened accordingly.
Fewer games to focus on is one reason, combined with several one-way contests. On Saturday, the three games were decided by an average of exactly 12 goals.
But ultimately, the football has become dull. The bad matches appear to be far outweighing the good. Congestion is the buzzword, and the game would be better for less of it.
Based on talk from those in the know (read Gerard Whateley on AFL360 and Jake Niall in The Sunday Age), change is coming at the end of this season and it won’t be small.
I’ve traditionally been a ‘leave the game alone’ guy. But here’s the thing – the AFL hasn’t left the game alone.
They’ve screwed it over with their constant rule changes, tweaks, manipulations and interpretations. Expansion certainly hasn’t helped, adding one more game of TV rights per round, but reducing the depth of quality across the competition. What a black hole Queensland football, and particularly the Gold Coast, has become. Free agency hasn’t changed things for the better.
The coaches are conservative, which is an enormous problem, and they need to be stopped. Attacking football is more likely to be winning football, but those that don’t have the weapons to pull it off prefer defensive method rather than backing the players in.
We only have to look at what Collingwood is producing this year. Last season, they looked limited – slow, poorly skilled, indecisive. This year, they are moving the ball quickly and are one of the hot teams of the competition.
In simple terms, the game has gone to shit. Intervention is required.
Starting positions are a must, and are almost certainly a part of the future. This does not mean zones, which would be unrealistic and unworkable.
But starting positions should help lengthen the ground, spreading the players out over further, thus easing congestions.
Starting positions should incorporate the 50m arc, but to achieve meaningful change they must include the goal square. It might be a case of two from each team starting in there, and another two from each side inside the arc.
These starting positions would be enforced at centre bounces, certainly. But this will likely not be enough to ensure congestion is not a problem in general play in between goals.
Enforcing these starting positions at all stoppages might seem extreme, but it’s a conversation worth having. Perhaps at boundary throw-ins as a secondary measure, and any stoppages within the centre square as well.
There are people who want more free kicks paid, for reasons unknown. What we need is less rules, and less free kicks.
Think of what happens in the closing stages of close games. The footy is frenetic, desperation on both sides. Importantly, the umpires almost always put the whistle away. The players play, nothing soft gets paid, and a physical sport thrives.
There are far too many rules, most of which can be removed.
The sliding rule is the obvious one that has to go. If you can be first to the football, that shouldn’t come with punishment. It was an overreaction to one injury, and good judges will argue that it has in fact increased the likelihood of concussions as people keep their feet and clash heads when contesting the ball.
Front-on contact in a marking contest is another that has to go. It makes no sense. We want players running back with the flight of the ball, putting themselves at risk. Courage to do so is rightly applauded.
Blocking in a marking contest also needs to go. When did this become a thing? We’ve already got too high, holding and in the back. Why is there a need for anything else in a marking contest? If you’ve got good position, and are strong enough to hold it against an out-of-position opponent, then why should you be penalised?
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‘Hands’ in the back can also go the way of the dodo. Let the umpire make a judgement about whether a push happened, rather than paying a free for incidental contact. That would be easier for them to do if the umpires had less rules to worry about in these marking contests.
The less rules we have, the fewer interpretations there will be. That will mean less ambiguity, and less inconsistency.
The AFL has put the game in the position it is by making it too complicated to adjudicate. Stripping it back will solve all manner of ills.