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Opinion

Which of this year's quirks and oddities should the AFL keep?

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Editor
14th September, 2020
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As the old proverb goes, “necessity is the mother of invention” – and mother necessity has been very, very busy in 2020.

Shortened quarters, footy festivals, double-headers, hubs, irregular timeslots – the AFL has had to empty their bag of tricks to keep the season going.

As much we all crave a return to normality, you should never pass up a good idea. With the home-and-away season just about over, let’s look at 2020’s irregularities and anomalies and work out which ones are worth holding onto.

Shorter quarters

Aussie rules football joined baseball as another ‘three-hour sport’ to look at its runtime and see if shortening things was the way to go.

The reason for implementing the 16-minute quarters in 2020 was obviously in anticipation of a season suspension and the need to cram more games into a shortened time period, but don’t think for a second this hasn’t been in the works for some time and that keeping it isn’t being considered.

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The shorter quarters are partially responsible for the huge drop-off in scoring this season, but the huge interruption after just one round and the heavily compromised ‘pre-season’ before resumption have also been at fault and haven’t been brought up as much. I’m confident that, after a while, rugby league scores wouldn’t continue if 16-minute quarter matches continued.

But, while they have some impact, the difference they make on the amount of time you need to set aside in your day or night to get a game of footy is negligible. If footy bosses think into reducing match times from two and a half hours to two and a quarter will attract young fans – the same nonsense baseball execs are spouting – we’re in trouble.

Verdict: Scrap it

Fewer matches

The Sydney Derby is far from the level where I’m disappointed we don’t get a second crack at the Giants this season, but I’d be interested to hear what SA and WA fans have to say.

The 17-game fixture has been floating around for some time, either as a permanent reduction or as the dreaded ’17-5′ model I dismissed as a Roar rookie five years ago.

Gillon McLachlan

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

I’d like to see the AFL adopt a more scientific approach to fixturing, especially in regards to who each team plays twice, but a reduction to 17 games is simply unworkable. The AFL needs all the cash it can get next season, while giving smaller clubs just eight or nine opportunities to rake in ticket revenue a season could push them over the edge.

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The home-and-away season feels just the right length to me and I see no reason to change it.

Verdict: Scrap it

Floating fixture

Fixtures being announced in four-week blocks simply won’t (or at least shouldn’t) continue – that was a necessity this season and would critically undermine the integrity of the competition in any other circumstance.

However, having flexible times and dates in the latter part of the year is something I’ve been begging for for ages – and we’ve got the perfect opportunity to implement it now. If we’re mature enough to handle not knowing who we were playing in a month’s time this year, we can surely handle knowing our opponents for each round in advance, but with the time and date to change.

Surely we can trial the final five weeks of next season having TBA dates and times to be locked in later. Teams that have come out of nowhere can get bumped into primetime instead of having to wait the next season for more eyeballs, while free-to-air fans don’t get stuck with August snoozefests as we head into finals.

Verdict: Keep it

Week-long footy festivals

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It was every twelve-year-old’s dream – footy on every night! Until it wasn’t.

Part of what makes footy season is fun is having a few days to break down what happened last weekend and look forward to the next one. Having a game to keep up with every night made those weekends depressingly thin and would’ve made things too hard to follow for the casual fan.

One of the biggest complaints about the NHL, NBA and Major League Baseball is the fact games are on every day – the AFL has much fewer games than those leagues and has no reason to suffer the same problem.

Jake Stringer, Joe Daniher and Jackson Ross of the Bombers celebrate a goal

(Photo by James Elsby/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

The positivity with which the festivals were received among some public figures within the game worries me – but let’s hope common sense prevails and we go back to normal in 2021. It’s a fun anomaly in the years ANZAC Day falls midweek, but it shouldn’t happen all the time.

Verdict: Scrap it

Permanent Thursday and Monday night football

I used to hate footy on a Thursday (and I still hate finals starting on a Thursday), but it’s such a feature now I’ve grown accustomed to it. Bastards.

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It’s nice for the weekend to kick off early and it got to the point where I mistakenly bought a nice steak and some beers on a Thursday earlier this year and was genuinely disappointed when I realised I’d be dining in front of a James Bond film instead. For Your Eyes Only is very underrated, by the way – Roger Moore’s best outing in my books.

Thursday night football will be here for the long run and, as much as I never thought I’d say it, may we rejoice.

Monday night football, on the other hand, just feels so hopelessly irrelevant.

Verdict: Keep Thursdays, scrap Mondays

Dreamtime match in Darwin

It just feels like common sense having seen it in action this year. Essendon versus Richmond is such a drawcard that I can understand the need for it to be at the MCG every year – and nothing in the book says you have to be in the top end to adequately pay homage to Indigenous Australia – but I’d love to see a fixture at Marrara Oval every year to headline the round.

I reckon it’d be even better to see a different set of teams make the trip up each season than just the same two but, in any case, let’s just make it happen.

Verdict: Keep it

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More regional matches

Under the AFL’s original 2020 fixture, footy was set to bypass North Queensland entirely. No matches at Cazaly’s Stadium in Cairns and no matches in Riverway Stadium in Townsville.

I don’t want to use the word ‘fortunately’, but it’s a silver lining that this got rectified in the chaos.

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The AFL’s done a great job in getting pre-season matches to every corner of the country, but it’s important nowhere gets left behind during the home-and-away season too.

Verdict: Keep it

No international matches

Port Adelaide’s trip to Shanghai got scuttled long before we knew what we’d be in for in 2020 but, international travel or not next season, this silly venture shouldn’t return.

Australian rules football’s international footprint will always be limited and there simply isn’t any point trying to change that with ill-advised interruptions that wreak logistical havoc on the home-and-away season.

I’d be interested to see how games in New Zealand not on ANZAC Day go, but let’s just worry about growing the game in our own country for now.

AFL Power vs Suns in Shanghai

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Verdict: Don’t bring them back

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Night grand final

It hasn’t happened yet and I’m already saying scrap it.

Am I a stubborn Luddite with an unreasonable aversion to change? Yes.

But that doesn’t change the objective statement that is afternoon grand finals are better than night ones. All the talk about the pre-game and halftime entertainment is moot – if you need that stuff to make your event work, there’s something wrong with the event.

It’s a win for families because they can actually attend the game (or at least plan a gathering around it), and it’s a win for us party-loving 20-somethings because an afternoon decider gives you the whole evening to go wild – or drown your sorrows – afterward. It’s ironclad reasoning. Nobody wants to start their party at 10:30 – and you shouldn’t be starting your party during the game.

Move back to the afternoon next year.

Verdict: Scrap it