AFL: Despite backlash, new rules are here to stay

Seasonal rule changes are at the forefront of the AFL game and its tactical alterations.

Coaches are voicing their opinions freely both after the preseason and the first round of 2013.

With the impact of any rule change always at its heaviest during the first rounds, coaches are likely to initiate the subsequent critical analysis that comes with any change.

Following the cessation of round one, the AFL’s introduction of the ‘forceful contact below the knee’ rule, which was announced on the eve of the season opener, potentially affected the nature of at least two matches to follow.

In possibly the most vivid example of the round, AFL umpires boss Jeff Geischen supported the decision paid against Adelaide’s Brent Reilly, for making forceful contact below the knee of Alwyn Davey in an attempt to gain possession by diving on the ball. Davey then converted to give Essendon a 19-point lead mid-way through the third quarter.

West Coast key forward Mark LeCras will miss up to a month after suffering a fractured forearm, most likely as a result of deciding to remain upstanding instead of diving on the ball in their 28-point loss to Fremantle. This not only supports the act in which many players have perfected over the years, but confirms that the rule’s introduction affects all areas of the field, rather than solely one position.

Mark LeCras cradles his broken arm in the Eagles’ clash with the Dockers. (ABC)

Compared to round one 2012, where there were 372 free kicks awarded, round one 2013 saw 35 additional free kicks, totalling 407 for the nine matches.

Whilst there is no hard evidence to suggest that the extra 35 free kicks given were as direct result of the rule changes, it will be interesting to see if these numbers decline in the coming weeks as clubs adjust to the new rules.

The way the game was played three decades ago is all but a distant memory, with the hard-hitting contests and the ‘see ball, get ball’ mentality all but eliminated.

There are two distinct beliefs within the AFL community surrounding the rule changes introduced over recent years. The first view being that of the average football follower, whereby the rules are evolving our game into a protective occupation, with players having to change the way they approach contests, essentially omitting the instinctive nature they have grown up with.

The opposing view is usually of those within football industry, charged with the responsibility of player welfare, including those on the rules committee, club doctors and also those protecting the aesthetics and the image of the game in order to continue the flow of players coming through, as well as ensuring audience and member levels are on the rise.

The now seasoned alteration to the ‘no hands in the back’ policy, as well as the ‘deliberate rushed behinds’ introduction which came into effect after the 2008 grand final, still frustrate many fans. One has to question if these are crucial rule changes in terms of creating a product that aspires to increase the viewing audience.

Other rule introductions have had a positive impact on player welfare. For example, if a player is now determined concussed, the adjustment now allows for the affected club to temporarily use their substitute for a 20 minute period, while they assess their player.

This is quite simply a logical move by the AFL rules committee, in comparison to the cap to be placed on the number of interchange rotations, which was trialled and is now on its way to being approved for the 2014 season. It continues to cause conflict between the coaches and the AFL, with both Carlton coach Mick Malthouse and St Kilda coach Scott Watters coming out against the rule recently.

If this much uproar is created by the introduction of certain rules, especially by both the audience and the internal members, it is debatable as to whether the implementation period, or lack thereof, is adequate to allow clubs to analyse the likely impact and sufficiently adapt to the introduction of the new rules.

Geelong coach Chris Scott lamented earlier this week on AFL 360 that in his belief, there is an inadequate period of time between the approval and implementation of a new rule. He argued that players and coaches alike will adapt if given a 12-month period to adequately assess and adjust to a new rule.

Whilst the safety of the players is unquestionable, the very essence of our game may be changing, driven purely by the AFL’s desire to create a product made for television, in order to demand a greater slice of the media revenue on offer.

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