Is there anyone here who didn’t see this coming?

Two months ago when we had our society, lives, and out football competition shut down, there were always going to be those who sought to gain from it. We’re a pretty shitty bunch, overall, aren’t we? Driven by the dollar and always looking out for how to best benefit from a situation that is less than ideal. Always looking for a way to get our own way, regardless of what’s happening around us.

“Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

It is a quote that has been attributed to a few over the years, from Winston Churchill amid the fallout of World War Two to Rahm Emmanuel, former advisor of President Obama. The theory behind it is sound – in a time of chaos, you can implement the changes you’ve always wanted to make and do it under the guise of doing what is right at that particular point in time. While the population is distracted and worried with the urgency of the situation, those in charge can slip a few past them while they’re not looking.

One just needs to look at the civil liberties being currently eroded in society right now “for our own safety” for proof of that. And cue the conspiracy theorists amongst us to pipe up.

Irrespective of whether you subscribe to conspiracy theories, we find ourselves in a precarious position when it comes to the 2020 AFL season as well. With those at AFL headquarters seemingly not content with slashing jobs left, right and centre – if you listen to our respected journalists in the AFL media (ahem…) they’re now looking at changing the game, itself.

Again.

Because… you know… coronavirus, and all that.

The public have already come to terms with so much more than just the possibility of losing their footy season, but the AFL have sneakily taken the opportunity to implement the kinds of changes they’ve been wanting to for years anyway. I wrote about this on March 24th (see below) when the league was considering cutting back the time allotted for quarters from 20 minutes to 16 minutes. Remember that? It’s still a thing, even though it appears as though we are going to have a fixture that will not require cramming games into a shorter timeframe to get a 17-game season out of it.

Are The AFL Sneaking Through a Major Change Amid The Crisis?

Now, buoyed by the pending restart of the season, is the AFL is starting to chance its arm and looking at making another significant change to the game?

I was informed this morning, by way of Jake Niall in The Age, and Fox Footy’s Twitter feed that the “momentum is building for a night Grand Final in 2020.”

Were you aware of this momentum before you were told it was there? I certainly wasn’t.

In a world where a lie gets half way around the world before the truth has even had the chance to put its pants on, for once I would just like the AFL to grow a set of collective balls and state the truth. And what would the truth be?

They could state that due to the horrible financial restrictions imposed on the league by the current situation, that the AFL is looking to maximise every single dollar it can earn, and a night Grand Final will see advertisers pay more for the privilege of their product being spruiked during the evening rather than during the day.

Actually, that’d be a lie  – they’ve wanted a night Grand Final for a while. Now, it seems they have an excuse.

Because… you know… Coronavirus, and all that.

How about “we’re adding an extra 15 seconds between goals so we can throw in one more advertisement per score, thereby obtaining a few more dollars”?

That’d be the truth. We could cop that, couldn’t we? We’re an understanding bunch. We know the league is strapped for cash and are looking to make as much coin as possible from a season where they’ve lost so many earning opportunities. Hell, that’s why most of us haven’t cancelled our club memberships – because we understand that clubs are doing it tough, too. We deserve a bit better than spin-doctoring bullshit thrust onto us as though it wasn’t part of the plan in the first place.

Tell me this – in an age where COVID-19 is the reason (or excuse) to usher in changes all over the world, let’s say the media gets one right and w er have a night Grand Final. Is there a chance of the game reverting to the day once all is said and done? How about quarters reverting to 20 minutes once we’ve got this virus thing under contro… oh, we’ve already got it under control. Wasn’t it all about flattening the curve? It’s pretty bloody flat!

I may seem a little bent out of shape about this, and I reckon I might be in for a few “old man yells at cloud” memes the way I’m going, but if you take a step back and actually look at what the game is already coping with, you may understand why.

In 2019, the AFL implemented a raft of rule changes to increase scoring. Remember them? It seems like so long ago, right?

Starting zones, new kick in rules, adjustments to the ruck and removing the hands in the back rule – some of the changes were good, but before the dust has even settled and teams have completely adjusted to a game that seems to be ever-changing for the goddamn sake of it, we’re shortening quarters and moving Grand Finals?

Next thing you know they’ll be floating an elongated goal square and Gerard Whateley will be telling anyone who’ll listen that supporters will only take a month to get used to it before “forgetting” what the goal square used to look like. I kid you not – he actually said that on his radio show last year. He thinks AFL supporters are goldfish.

The league is at a point where fans are a little disgruntled and feel unlistened to, players are a little disgruntled and feel attacked at times, and its own staff would be feeling the pinch as well… those that still remain, anyway. What is required right now from head office is a sense of calm, a sense of normalcy (not this ‘new normal’ shit people are trying to peddle) and a sense of trust that the supporters are still a major stakeholder in the game.

To do that, the league needs to implement a bold new strategy.

It’s called honesty.

The AFL media may be right, and the league may err, and try to use this situation to pull a fast one, or a fast two in this case, implementing the actions they’ve had on the whiteboard for a long time. However, now more than ever, the league needs to do the right thing by those who pay to consume its product. They need you – the supporters now, more than they ever have. Right now, there will be no bums on seats because we’re not allowed to put them there. In the future, it may be an active choice.

The AFL, like leaders before them, may not want to waste this crisis, but if they’re not careful, they may make a horrible error of believing that the football public will lap up whatever the league decides to serve up to them, irrespective of how the product looks or feels.

It’s more dangerous than it seems.

Those in the AFL Ivory Tower may end up outsmarting themselves and actively start turning fans away from a game that is already going to look a hell of a lot different to what we’re used to seeing.

Gil, Steve… if you are thinking of staging a night Grand Final for no other reason than you can, tread carefully. You may not get the reaction you’re expecting.

Because… you know… Cononavirus, and all that.