Damien Barrett’s latest Sliding Doors column finished on a familiar tune.
If AFL footy boss Steve Hocking chose to start the season with 16-minute (plus time-on) quarters, then you don’t know Steve Hocking if you think he will, either in the home-and-away season or the finals, change back to 20 minutes. That’s not how he rolls. And besides, it’d be plain wrong to do so. It’s called competition integrity.
On this issue, every pundit under the AFL-obsessed sun has had their say in recent weeks.
Matthew Richardson noted on Twitter after the Round 2 Collingwood versus Richmond game: “Quick look around on here after the game. Not a lot of support for the shorter quarters. In fact, none. Good to have the footy back though.”
Following this, Stephen Quartermain chimed in: “Hey @AFL these shorter quarters are no good. Red time is where the action is!”
Upon reflection, Matthew Lloyd blamed the media: “A lot of media people who push that the game should be shorter, I think they watch a lot of footy and sometimes can be tired by the game,” Lloyd told 3AW Radio.
For the players’ part, Taylor Adams noted recently in a K-Rock post-game interview: “The game was too short”.
I could no doubt find a thousand and one Tweets from fans, but let’s be honest, Twitter is a cesspool.
The league’s response is of course that you can’t have some of the season played with one quarter length, and the rest of it with another.
But why not?
Yet Gillon McLachlan was quizzed recently about extending the interchange benches from four to six players for this season. His reply?
“Not at the moment,” he said.
“We’re staying flexible, if we need to, we’re going to have to be agile”.
So let me get this straight. Rules have to stay rules because of integrity. But we also have to be agile?
Adding to the confusion is the fact that last weekend the AFL changed its own guidelines around sling tackles after backlash from Geelong’s flogging of Hawthorn, where Shaun Burgoyne was let off with a fine for his tackle on Patrick Dangerfield. As of Round 3, the act would be worthy of a one-game suspension. In an alternate universe Burgoyne was suspended for a week. Him missing caused the Hawks to lose to Richmond, rather than annihilating them. This is what the concept of sliding doors actually is, by the way.
This example is of course before you take into account (in normal circumstances) the 22-game fixture for 18 clubs, which results in a yearly discussion about just how fair the draw actually is, previous kerfuffles about cost-of-living allowances for various teams, questions of a team like Geelong not being allowed to play finals at their home ground for purely money-driven reasons, and whichever other aspect of AFL you wish to bring up.
Now, let’s be honest. McLachlan has been charged with leading a season of – and I hate to use this word but here goes – unprecedented circumstances. And bringing in 16-minute quarters made perfect sense when faced with squeezing multiple matches a week into the schedule.
But that’s not what’s happening currently. Thursday-to-Sunday matches are standard practice and have been before 2020. And yes, 20-minute quarters might result in entirely different scoring to 16-minute quarters, which seems to be the main concern. That percentages, scoring and maybe even results might be different if two rounds were played with 16-minute quarters and the rest 20-minute quarters.
Let’s examine Round 2, though. Richmond and Collingwood played out a 36-all draw. Geelong kicked 6.2.38 in the third quarter alone in their win over Hawthorn. What have we learnt? Scoring and percentages are variable no matter the length of the game.
Again, in Round 2, Carlton were 40 points down it the second quarter of their encounter with Melbourne. They fell one point short.
Essendon did their level best to blow a comfortable lead against Sydney. Fremantle surged late to lose by 12 against Brisbane. With 20-minute quarters, these games might have been truly memorable comeback wins for the losing sides. Or they might not have.
What have we learnt? Well, not much in this instance apart from entertaining fantasy scenarios.
Overall, the AFL bandying around integrity doesn’t convince your average fan, especially when the outcome of shorter games seems simply to be longer breaks in between quarters in which ads can be inserted, sponsors can be plugged, and commentators can talk more nonsense.
Fans want more footy.
It’s not looking likely that the season will be interrupted again. Let’s go back to 20-minute quarters. And if the AFL finds itself in the situation where games need to be squeezed into a particular window, go back to 16-minute quarters.
The integrity of the season will still survive.