The 2020 AFL season has only a month still to go: the finals.
It’s that time of year again.
“The game is too slow.” “The game is too fast.” “There are too many players on the field.” “Reduce the interchange.” “No backwards kicks.” “Bring in the 6-6-6, oh wait, we already did that one.”
The AFL will explore all options, none are likely to make the game significantly less defensive and all could potentially have unintended consequences. One suggested change has been to rule play on for any mark from a kick backwards, encouraging more attacking football.
However, players may tread more carefully before attempting to switch the play, resulting in more long kicks down the boundary to a contest, and consequently more stoppages.
Economists praise incentives as a powerful tool for influencing behaviour. For example, they have long called for a carbon price to encourage divestment from fossil fuels, while governments dabble in other ineffective strategies.
Incentives are efficient because they change behaviour without changing the fundamentals of the situation, such as the rules of the game.
How could the AFL incentivise scoring? The answer is simple. What do coaches care about more than anything? Premiership points. Average over 60 for the season, you get one premiership point. Average over 70, two points, etc.
The result is that a team that finishes on 15 wins with an average of 100 points could slip into the top four ahead of a team that finishes on 15 wins with an average of 95 points. Coaches would be silly not open up the game and create higher-scoring affairs. We may even see a natural return to more conventional six-player forward lines.
Why even consider finicky rules like the current ten-metre interference lottery or an adjudicated 6-6-6 at every single stoppage when there is a simpler option? The most effective way to encourage scoring is to do exactly that – encouraging more scoring.