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Stop messing with the rules

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Roar Guru
17th April, 2020

Malcolm Blight has named four rule changes he’d like to see implemented in the AFL.

I’m a big fan of Malcolm Blight. I love his lateral interpretation of the game. But I can’t agree with any of his suggestions.

One by one, here are Blight’s suggestions.

1. Last touch out of bounds
This has been mooted for a while now, and was trialled in pre-season competitions. Besides the fact that there will be grey areas where it’s impossible to determine who touched the ball last (necessitating a throw-in anyway), why are we punishing the playmaker?

For example, a player wins the ball at halfback, sidesteps an opponent, and gets a clearing kick. When the ball hits the turf, it takes a leg break and goes out of bounds. Now it’s a free against that playmaker.

The playmaker is punished for trying to create.

Here’s something we need to accept: there’s a boundary line around the field of play. Occasionally, the ball will go out. It doesn’t always have to be a bad or punishable thing. It’s okay to have little breaks in the game.

Why we have this insistence on trying to keep the ball in motion at all times is beyond me.

2. Kick length for a mark goes to 20 metres
Here’s another one that’s been around for a while. Supporters of this rule believe it’ll open up play because it’ll stop short-range chipping. I think it’ll have the opposite effect. The reason? Mathematics.


Opposition will zone from ten to 50 metres to block a team moving the ball by foot. Now they only have to zone 20 to 50 metres, which means more players are occupying less space. And even less if you disallow marks from backwards kicks.

Then we fall back into the gray area of needing umpires to estimate what 20 metres is. They have a hard enough problem with ten, which would be easier to judge.

Umpire Ray Chamberlain gestures during the round 18 AFL match between the Western Bulldogs and the St Kilda Saints at Etihad Stadium on July 23, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.

(Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

3. Any backwards kick is play on
This is a change that comes at the game’s peril. It was trialled years ago in a pre-season competition. Did it improve the game? Not notably. Were their incidents when umpires in the wrong positions couldn’t make calls on whether a kick had gone backwards or not, or made the wrong calls? Yes.

It’s also a rule that changes the nature of the game. If a player catches the ball from a kick, it’s a mark… unless it goes backwards.

For our next trick, let’s pay a mark if a player catches a one-hand rebound off the goal post. That’ll keep the ball in play, reward marks, and make the game even more exciting. Sigh.

AFL is essentially a keepings-offs sport. One team will try to keep the ball off the other so they can gain enough ground to attempt to score. People complain when teams chip the ball around, trying to whittle away time.

If they want to kick sideways, backwards, or whatever, they are well within their rights to do so. It’s their prerogative as the team in possession. We don’t need a rule that impinges their ability to do so. The onus is on the opposition to win the ball back.


4. Fewer rotations
The game evolves. That evolution is contingent upon strategies, such as rotations, and human conditioning. Every player has effectively now become a midfielder.

And now people continually champion taking evolution backwards.

You cannot devolve the game. You created it to be this, so now it’s this.

Trying to go backwards is only going to tax players. People say it’s better for the game. Is it? I don’t enjoy watching players cramp or be so tired they can’t kick the ball, or break down with soft-tissue injuries.

What’s wrong with rotations anyway? People complain like one day we’ll have 3000 rotations in a game, and that the interchange bench will be a constant revolving door. We need to be realistic with expectations.


At some point, rotations will peak. A player coming off for five rotations in a quarter might be ideal. A player coming off for seven rotations might mean he’s now running more to get off and on the ground than he would have if he’d just stayed on.

We never discovered that peak, though, because the AFL naturally had to get in there and solve a problem that didn’t exist with a cap.

Rule changes
In the 40-odd years I’ve watched the game, only two rule changes have been positive.

Decades ago, a player being tackled could bounce the ball – this was considered the equivalent of disposing the ball. This meant the tackler had to let go, and then re-apply the tackle, which wasn’t really fair on the tackler. Eventually, it was deemed illegal to bounce the ball in a tackle. This was a good change.

Also, decades ago, when a player took a mark in the goal square, umpires would pontificate and get out protractors and try to work out what angle the player should be on. Now, if you mark in the goal square – regardless of where the ball came from – you have a shot from straight in front. Nice and logical.

All these other tweaks and reinterpretations and reinventions just muddy the game, and often cause new issues, which then require further rule changes.

AFL umpire Matt Stevic calls for a score review.

(Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

If we’re genuinely looking at improving the game, can we first try enforcing the rules we do have? The laxity applied to holding the ball slash incorrect disposal has been a bugbear of mine for years. In the pre-season games, umpires seemed to be paying this a bit more, which opened up games and allowed them to flow.


Otherwise, if we’re making rules, can we look at things that are logical?

Here’s an example: can we penalise stacks-on in tackles?

This is particularly annoying when players from both teams join in a tackle. Hang on. Only one player has the ball. His opponent is the only one who can lay a legal tackle. If the ball-carrier’s teammate joins a tackle, who’s he tackling? He can’t tackle his teammate. If he’s tackling an opponent, he’s holding the man.

If you thinned these gang tackles, you’re more likely to see the ball come out.

As is it, I really wish certain people would stop determining there’s aesthetics within the game they don’t like, so they must be addressed.

Just let the game go and sort itself out.