Sport Column

April 13, 2017

A VERY odd thing about Australian football is the way the rules are seemingly chopped and changed after each season.

A VERY odd thing about Australian football is the way the rules are seemingly chopped and changed after each season.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for change when things aren’t working and there are certainly rule changes I feel have been for the better of the game.

But it’s an odd quirk of our sport that you don’t necessarily see quite so much of in other sports.

And in some cases it feels as if the changes have created confusion and not improved the game as they were designed to do.

The third man up rule, for example, seemed to address a problem that not a lot of people even had to begin with.

The rule, which banned anyone outside of the two nominated ruckmen from contesting ruck stoppages around the ground, has created more problems and hysteria from football supporters than anything.

When the change was announced, the now former AFL football operations manager Mark Evans said it would support the recruitment of tall players, and make sure the game can be played by people of all sizes and abilities.

This seemed well-intentioned, but whether or not this is an issue that needed to be solved is questionable.

What we’ve seen, instead of good old-fashioned ruck duels is teams find various ways to exploit the rule; Richmond had midfielder Shaun Grigg sneakily nominate for the ruck and draw a free kick when he was checked by his opponent, while Geelong has spent large periods of games not contesting ruck contests around the ground.

If you needed any more evidence the AFL had rushed this decision without thinking it all the way through, remember they hadn’t considered what to do when a passive player not contesting the ruck was accidentally struck with the ball.

An umpire paid a free kick against Adelaide’s Dean Gore when he was hit in the back by the ball from a boundary throw in, so the AFL tweaked the rule calling play-on should the same thing happen again.

Trends will always develop in sports, but they have a way of sorting themselves out.

Games seem less attacking these days with defensive structures and zones but it won’t be long before the next trend comes through.

Implementing something like mandatory players inside 50 at ball-ups will only further confuse the game; we needn’t be so reactionary each time a trend we don’t like appears.

Take a sport like soccer; yes, some games end 0-0. Yes, some people find that boring. The reaction of soccer fans isn’t to jump straight to a rule change making it easier for players to score. Fans don’t call for less players on the field, or for wider goals, or for no more goalkeepers.

Sports have a way of working things out for themselves and evolving, and constant changes to football designed at eliminating a style we don’t love doesn’t help anything.

Things like video technology and player safety measures, I am all for. As we learn more about technology and the human body, of course we should update outdated elements of the game that will only get players hurt.

But measures designed to change the style of play, to me, are ill-advised, and the sooner we move away from being so reactionary the better.

-Alex Mitchell

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