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Are the rule changes leading to higher scoring?

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14th May, 2019
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October 11, 2018 marked a significant moment for the AFL. It was the day that nine rule changes were announced.

They were designed to encourage high scoring and one-on-one football instead of team defence, which has crept into modern football over the last 15 years.

The AFL had to do something to change the game. Most of the matches in 2018 were attritional battles that focused way too much on the centre of the ground and not enough on one-on-one contests between the arcs.

It wasn’t uncommon to see games morph into rugby scrums that were ugly and low scoring. And on closer analysis, the scoring drop from 2017 to 2018 was a cause for concern.

The average score in 2017 was 89 points per team. In 2018 that dropped to 83 points a game. That’s a massive drop of six points.

What caused that?

Was it the coaches using defensive systems so they weren’t being opened up? Were runners being used to help inexperienced teams not panic during games and to stick to structures?

The AFL decided that massive changes needed to happen.

So when Steve Hocking came out last year and implemented all these rules, it was seen as a positive news story. There was meant to be more space in the forward line and midfielders could break away from congestion easier.

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But alas, that has not happened.

Games have looked better visually, but scoring has not improved.

Over the first eight rounds of this season, we have seen a sharp drop in scoring averages, dipping to 80 points a game compared to 83 last year.

When was the last time 80 points was the average over a season?

The year was 1967.

That was back when it was a 12-team competition and there weren’t any interstate clubs.

Steven Hocking

Steve Hocking’s drastic changes have failed to improve scoring. (Photo by Scott Barbour/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Here’s a breakdown of all the scores from the first eight rounds of last season.

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  • 0-50 points (10 occasions)
  • 51-60 (15)
  • 61-70 (17)
  • 71-80 (21)
  • 81-90 (24)
  • 91-99 (16)
  • 100-109 (21)
  • 110-119 (12)
  • 120-129 (5)
  • 130-139 (2)
  • 140-149 (1)
  • 150 plus (0)

And here’s how 2019 has looked so far.

  • 0-50 points (7)
  • 51-60 (18)
  • 61-70 (26)
  • 71-80 (26)
  • 81-90 (24)
  • 91-99 (12)
  • 100-109 (13)
  • 110-119 (10)
  • 120-129 (5)
  • 130-139 (1)
  • 140-149 (1)
  • 150 plus (0)

The Round 3 game between Melbourne and Essendon was the only occasion where both teams scored 100 or above in the same game.

So what to make of these statistics?

The biggest concern is the scoring range between 0 and 80 points. It has jumped from 43.7 per cent in 2018 to 53.4 per cent this year.

That is a 10 per cent increase in the space of one season.

It also means that less than half of scores this season have been above 80 points. That is a scary number and something the AFL needs to be concerned about.

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Sure, the games look better on TV, but do we really want to see games being decided by 62-74 score lines each week?

Another figure that raises my eyebrows is the drop-off in scores above 100 points. In 2018 it happened 28 per cent of the time. This season that figure has dipped to 21 per cent.

Don’t we want to see high-scoring matches where games open up after half time?

I’m sick of people saying that the game is in good shape.

The VFL/AFL was at its peak when blokes were kicking 100 goals a season and teams kicked 15-18 goals per game. This stat will scare a lot of footy fanatics, but there hasn’t been one score above 145 points this season so far.

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If we want to attract people to the footy, we need higher scores.

I don’t know how the AFL can solve this issue. The game is analysed to death and one of the ways they could fix the scoring issues is to stop messing with the interpretations and the rules.

Bring the football back to basics.

If the AFL looked at tapes of games 20 years ago they would realise how much better the spectacle was, and even though defensively the sport wasn’t at the level is now, do we really want it to be?

Isn’t it better if we see lots of goals instead of a chess game?