AFL considering more rules changes for 2020

Despite, a record nine rule changes being introduced at the start of the season, the AFL is considering more rule changes that could come into effect as soon as 2020.

Whilst these rules are not as sweeping as the nine implemented to improve the look of the game in 2019… and hasn’t that been a resounding success, they will no doubt have an impact, with one likely to result in substantially more free kicks paid, and another looking ripe to be manipulated.


Empowering Goal and Boundary Umpires

The AFL are contemplating initiatives to improve the standard of umpiring that has been widely condemned by fans and commentators so far this season. Port Adelaide great Warren Tredrea has slammed the quality of umpiring as being at an “all time low,” while, North Melbourne dual premiership player David King has dubbed it “a major concern.” Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge also critiscied the umpiring after his side’s loss to Fremantle on Saturday night.

Whereas, five controversial final quarter decisions sparked outcry amongst Essendon supporters after the ANZAC Day loss to Collingwood, the decisions have been ticked off by the AFL’s Umpiring Department upon review.

In order to combat fears of the declining standards of umpiring, the AFL are looking at empowering goal and boundary umpires with the ability to make decisions. This has been trialed in the past with boundary umpires in a previous incarnation of the pre-season competition.

Moreover, while the AFL is considering this radical move, it has not supported calls from influential Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson to make umpires full time as he believes they are at risk of “lagging behind.”

Empowering both the goal umpires and four boundary umpires would mean that nine separate umpires would have the ability to make general play decisions. This would be a dramatic shift in how the game is officiated as currently only the three field umpires have the ability to pay free kicks.

The move would certainly result in a greater amount of free kicks being paid due to the goal and boundary umpires being able to spot indiscretions missed by the field umpires. This was the case last year when the AFL again trialed four field umpires as opposed to the current three, resulting in a significant increase in free kicks paid.

The AFL considered bringing in the fourth field umpire as a permanent fixture as part of the widespread rule changes for this season. However, decided against it largely due to the limited numbers in its umpire stocks.

It is unclear whether the proposed expanded role for goal and boundary umpires will aid or hinder the AFL’s struggle to recruit more umpires to the game. Head of Football Steve Hocking told The Age recently that he agrees that the lack of umpires is “a matter of urgency.”

“If you have a look at the pipeline coming through, it’s bloody tough to get people to sign up to be an umpire because it’s even harder at this (lower) level.”

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Instituting a Concussion Substitute

The other significant rule change that is on the AFL’s agenda is the implementation of a concussion substitute, as the AFL explores ways to prevent further concussion-related issues amongst its players. This is a particularly pertinent topic at league headquarters due to the impending class action against the AFL by over one-hundred former players that is set to launch later this year.

The concussion substitute could be introduced in a similar vein to the largely unpopular substitute rule that was used at AFL level between 2011 and 2015. The rule reduced the interchange bench to only three players, plus an additional substitute player who could only be activated once a player is “subbed off” and hence, no longer allowed to return to the field.

The rule was designed to reduce the disadvantage on teams who had a player go off injured during a game. The concussion substitute rule would also do this for teams, but only if the injured player is ruled out of the game on concussion grounds.

Under one model, the concussion substitute could be activated during the fifteen-minute window in which a player is off the ground completing a concussion test. In that scenario, if the player passes the concussion test and is allowed to return to the field, the substitute would be reset.

Clearly, the rule is designed to further prevent players returning to the field concussed, something the AFL may one day be forced to prove to a court that it undertook steps to achieve.

However, this proposed rule is potentially open to manipulation as teams may well attempt to substitute a player off who is not concussed, in order to put a fresher player on the ground. Moreover, the rule would mean that teams with players ruled out of the game with injuries other than concussion are further disadvantaged due to the lesser number of interchanges.

The issue of lesser players on the interchange bench may be unpopular with the players, who have previously threatened to strike over cuts to rotations.

After such sweeping changes in 2019, the AFL needs to tread very carefully as it steps its way into 2020. Will they go ahead with these proposed changes, once again moving the proverbial goalposts just as teams are getting their heads around the recently-implemented changes?

Or will they allow the competition time to adjust to the last lot of rules before introducing more? I think we know the answer already, right?


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