In the midst of the latest kerfuffle about a cap on interchanges, rule changes and the entire raison d’etre of the laws of the game committee, the AFL has come up with a nice piece of clear thinking.
That is to establish a charter outlining the virtues of the game it wants to enshrine, the idea being that if we’re going to have a committee tinkering with the rules as much as this one has in recent times, shouldn’t there be a clear big picture towards which it is working?
It’s the brainchild of new laws of the game committee chairman Gillon McLachlan, who says the input will come from key stakeholders such as clubs, coaches, players and, significantly, supporters.
It’s a terrific idea, one that, had it been canvassed earlier, might have helped spare us some of the rule changes introduced for the purpose of counteracting the unintended consequences of previous rule changes, like a dog chasing its tail.
Exactly what is the type of game we want to be playing and watching at the elite level? Already, plenty of informed debate has been generated.
On SEN on Wednesday morning, former coaches and players such Terry Wallace, David King and Scott Lucas offered their suggestions for such a charter, the AFL a very interested listener.
King said a fundamental had to be no alteration to the scoring system, resisting any temptation for a NAB Cup-style ”supergoal” from long range.
Former Bomber forward Lucas was dismissive of some suggestions that the AFL revert from 18 to 16 players a side on the ground, as per the old days of the VFA.
He made a particularly cogent call to protect the players of all shapes and sizes, always a selling point of the game, but one perhaps now endangered on a couple of fronts.
One is the apparent determination by the laws people to stretch players even more in terms of endurance, the danger that the scales become tilted too heavily in favour of athletic gifts at the expense of football nous.
The other impact may already have been felt, Lucas making the valid point that the introduction of the substitute has rendered a second ruckman all but obsolete, that role now falling to a more mobile pinch-hitter.
Wallace said a key tenet had to be the preservation of the one-on-one contest, dramatically reduced by the greater licence taken by forwards and backs in the modern game, as well as not legislating fair physical contact out of existence.
We all have our particular hobby horses. Mine is umpires clearing congestion by calling for quicker ball-ups rather than waiting, hoping for the ball to come out on its own.
Another is that rules be trialled for at least two years in the NAB Cup for a more accurate indicator of their potential impact. That would also allow emerging trends in the game to be judged more accurately. Is a trend an entrenched blight on the game or merely a passing fad? Hard to tell if you don’t allow the rules to remain long enough for a decent sample size.
On the question of supporter input, McLachlan says ”we have a facility to quickly get feedback from 15,000 people”.
That might be the biggest test of the charter idea, too, because you know that even before such a survey, the overwhelming response from fans will still be: ”Leave the rules alone.” And after 50 rules changes in the past 20 years alone, that’s perfectly understandable.
What remain arguably the most profound changes to the AFL rules – the free kick for out-of-bounds on the full, the centre diamond becoming a square after two years, and the introduction of the interchange bench rather than reserves who couldn’t be replaced – came in 1969, 1973 and 1978 respectively.
Does that mean most of what has come since has been unnecessary tinkering around the edges? Or fine-tuning that has kept the modern game as watchable as it still is? At least now with a charter we might have a definitive guide to help us answer those sorts of philosophical questions.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.