The AFL made a whole series of rule changes this year, designed to make it easier to score, since scoring is declining and defensiveness is winning matches. The results of the first 6 rounds show…scoring continues to decline!! It is the lowest it has been for many years.

After watching several tightly-contested, scrappy, hard-fought games, I’m convinced the answer is not more rule changes, but a return to earlier rule interpretations: support the attacking player!

Why Scoring Matters

Fans like scoring. Scoring is exciting. Recently many sports have changed their rules to increase scoring, as fan attention span gets shorter and shorter. Rugby league, rugby union, hockey and basketball have each found ways to make scoring easier.

But in the AFL, the increased focus on running skills, endurance and ball control, not long kicking or physical power have resulted in flooding’ being the way the game is now played. That is, all players follow the ball, so that there are 36 players within a kick of the ball location. No wonder scoring has declined!

Recent Rule Changes Are Ineffective

While thoughtful, this year’s rule changes have been ineffective:
–  The 6-6-6 rule only applies when a centre bounce occurs.
–  Kicking out from outside the goal square just means the kick out travels 10 m further than before.
–  The nominated single ruck does nothing clear the 34 other players waiting around for the tap, even if the tap is effective.
–  The reduction in interchanges makes fitness more important, but does not seem to have influenced 4th quarter scoring, when players are tired.
–  The runner restriction makes the game look cleaner, but has no scoring effect.
–  The hands in/on the back rule advantages the player behind, not the attacking player.
–  The restricted zone 50m penalty rule after a mark seems bewildering and is resulting in lottery-type, random decisions, especially when an attacking player can go by the restricted zone but his marker cannot.

Whatever you think of these rule changes, they have done nothing to increase scoring, which was the key aim. So what should be done?

Reward the Attacking Player

Emphasise Holding The Man

In many situations, the player leading to the ball is grabbed and impeded before he can pick up the ball. Called ‘holding the man’ in the ‘old’ days, this free is rarely paid these days, unless the player is held for long periods and is away from the ball. Consequently, the player who is second to the ball is well able to defend…and stop scoring opportunities. Coming from behind, the player can grab at the player in front, impede him, stop him picking the ball up, or make his possession scrambled.

Award Marks More Generously:  Enforce Chopping the Hands

When the ball comes in the air, the player behind similarly tends to hold, usually on the side of the player away from the umpire or with the bottom hand, while appearing to concentrate on spoiling with the upper hand. As well, the ‘chopping the hands’ penalty from a season or two ago, which really helped attacking players, seems to have virtually disappeared. Consequently, the leading player is often held, has his arms chopped or both, making marking very difficult and spoiling very easy, especially when there are 36 players within 50 metres of the ball!!

Result? Lots of ‘contested possession’, lots of scrambles, a premium on quick handpassing (a lot of throwing has entered the game – we can all see it except the umpires – but at least it gets the ball moving, which is what we want to see)…and low scoring.

So, get umpires to err on the side of rewarding the attacking player, not the defender, by:
–  penalising ‘holding the man’ more for when the ball is both on the ground and in the air
–  penalising ‘chopping the arms’ to allow more marks

When I was a basketball umpire, I found that calling fouls (paying frees) sorted out the niggling that can quickly come into a game if not controlled. You can see this problem in soccer, where players are routinely held in the penalty box for corners and free kicks. You see it all over the field in AFL. It’s not fair.

Reward the attacking player. Scoring will increase.



  1. Hi Graham,
    your website is blocked??



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