Sport AFL AFL loses its head with rule changes that go too far

AFL loses its head with rule changes that go too far

Ryan Burton and Shaun Higgins heading for a collision. Photos: Getty
Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

Call me naive, but I didn’t realise that AFL football was so broken. 

Here I was thinking the game is in pretty good shape. How wrong must I be?

Any competition that introduces a world record nine rule changes along with at least three judiciary changes in the offseason is obviously in dire straits. 

We are either broken or there are people at AFL House who have simply let the power to make change go to their heads. 

Let’s look at some of the changes and see which one it is.

It is the latest bunch of rule changes that have me most concerned.

The AFL will say they are not rule changes, but mere Match Review Officer (MRO) interpretation changes. That’s utter garbage because if you can do one action one year and you cant do it the next – it is a rule change.

We know the AFL overreacts more than a French soccer player.

Just look at the ridiculous contact below the knees (aka the sliding rule) brought in as a reaction from one incident between Lyndsay Thomas and Gary Rohan.

Look at the even more ridiculous interchange rule created because one Sydney player wandered on to the field 18 seconds too early. 

Now we have a new one to add to the list – the overreaction to the Shaun Higgins/Ryan Burton head clash.

This incident has led to the dropping of the accidental head clash provision which was used to exonerate Burton after his head made contact with Higgins during an otherwise legal bumping action.

In their wisdom, the AFL have abolished this clause and now say that even though you may execute a perfectly legal bump, you will be liable for any accidental head clash. 

So lets be clear, even if you bump a player actively involved in the play, who is not in a vulnerable position, who could reasonably expect contact, using a degree of force that was not unreasonable, against a player in a position to protect himself and you don’t leave the ground to bump – you could still be suspended.

Better choose who you bump carefully because if the player you bump doesn’t have the neck strength to withstand a shoulder on shoulder clash, you could miss games.

And what if two players bump each other and bang heads, they both get suspended?

Let’s remember that the AFL introduced the accidental head clash provision following the uproar surrounding Nat Fyfe being suspended for two weeks for an accidental head clash when bumping Michael Rischitelli in 2014.

At the time the football world was up in arms about a player executing a perfect bump and being suspended for it. It appears we have very short memories and have reversed this ruling based again on one incident.

Do they not watch football and understand that by the very nature of it being a 360degree game played at extremely high velocity that accidents will happen?

When we start to legislate against all accidents we open a can of worms that will be extremely messy.

As a former member of the Match Review Panel I watched 30 incidents a week where if not for a split second step, duck or bounce of the ball a player would be injured.

Players accidentally bump and bang into each other all the time. The Match Review need to concern themselves with players who do it recklessly and increase the chance of a player being injured, not with legitimate acts that accidentally cause injuries.

I asked an AFL official once how long it will be before we ban a player from jumping on another players head whilst taking a high mark. After all a knee in the back of the head is about as dangerous an action as you can get.

His response was that won’t happen because a mark is a legal action in our game.  Any knee to the head would, therefore, be accidental. 

Ahem, isn’t bumping still legal?

Some of the 9 initial rule changes are minor and won’t have a great effect on the game.

Restricting water carriers and runners (although wait for the first 30-degree day) may not be a game changer.

Others such as playing on from a kick in will be a wait and see. We have to wait because the rule they’ve brought in was not one that they used during their extensive trial period.

Make sense of that.

AFL footy is constantly changing but sometimes the changes to rules that govern it go too far.

Soon we’ll need rules about making rules.

The AFL probably already has a committee for that.