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A History of Rule Changes

How the game has changed

 

The time of short days and cold

weather is fast drawing near, and the

average native wants something more

than a Briggs' overcoat to make warm

his enthusiasm.

Our football friends are already bestir-

ring themselves to fill this seasonable

want and liven up the gloomy winter

Saturdays. Change is a law of nature,

and there are great changes in the foot-

ball world this year.

 

-Standard 1897

 

As we draw to the end of the season, there are already whispers and reports about what the match committee is going to do about the rules and how they affect the state of the game. One of the biggest complaints or suggestions we hear is, “stop changing the rules” or “keep the game as it was.” Yet, it doesn’t take an extensive Google search to find out that the AFL and VFL have never really stopped tinkering with the sport. In fact, there have been 75 seasons that have introduced new rules since the game’s inception in 1859, at an average of just over a rule change every two seasons.

The reason the rules are amended so regularly are simple: Australian Rules Football is a complex and unique sport; influenced by a range of other sports, played on a larger field than any other ball game, with more players, and in a less controlled manner. It is those things that makes the game great, but it is also those things that make it complicated to adjudicate.

I am not going to use this article to make any statements on how I feel the game looks, or what rules should or should not be changed. There have consistently been differing opinions on its health and the changes that are made to it. Rather, I intend only to highlight HOW the game has changed.

The original rules

Australian Rules Football was invented by Tom Wills, a Victorian cricketer who grew up on a bushland property. At fourteen he studied in Rugby, England, where he formulated a game which he later took back to the Melbourne Cricket Club with whom he devised the sport of Australian Rules Football as a way to keep the Victorian team fit during the off-season. According to the official AFL history, the game is adapted from the Indigenous game of Marngrook, in which a ball made of Kangaroo hide was thrown and caught. However, many historians debate this, suggesting there is a lack of evidence to support the claim. What is more widely accepted is that the game stemmed from Wills witnessing Association Football (Soccer) and Rugby Football, as well as that of the Gaelic, but some similarities to Marngrook do suggest he was at least influenced by, if not directly taking from the Indigenous game.

The game didn’t start with a bang but instead grew steadily. The first adjusted rules, posted on Saturday, July 29, 1859 in The Argus newspaper, appear in a column on page 5, crammed between the report of a Footscray council meeting and a suicide. These rules were as stated:

 

MELBOURNE FOOTBALL CLUB.

The Committee of the M. F. C. met yesterday

afternoon at the Parade Hotel, to reconsider the

rules of the club. Mr. Bruce occupied the

chair.

RULE III.

Proposed by Mr. SMITH, seconded by Mr.

THOMPSON, and carried, that the following be

substituted for the existing Rule 3: —

"A goal must be kicked fairly between the

posts without touching either of them, or any

portion of the person of one of the opposite side.

In case of the ball being forced between the goal-

posts in a scrimmage, a goal shall be awarded."

RULE VII.

Moved by Mr. THOMPSON, seconded by Mr,

HAMMERSLEY, and carried:—

"Tripping, holding, and hacking are strictly

prohibited. Pushing with the hands or body is

allowed when any player is in rapid motion, or

in possession of the ball, except in the case pro-

vided for in Rule VI."

RULE VIII.

Moved by Mr. SMITH, seconded by Mr. HAM-

MERSLEY, and carried:—

"The ball may at any time be taken in hand,

but not carried farther than is necessary for a

kick."

RULE XI. (Additional.)

Proposed by Mr. THOMPSON, seconded by Mr.

BUTTERWORTH, and carried:—

"In case of deliberate infringement of any of

the above rules by either side, the captain of the

opposite side may claim that any one of his

party may have a free kick from the place where

the breach of rule was made; the two captains

in all cases, save where umpires are appointed, to

be the sole judges of infringements

 

 

Notice that this was the first occasion in which players were allowed to pick the ball up off the ground with their hands. Prior to that, they could only hold the ball if it was from a pass or a bounce.

 

The AFL’s website listed the 1859 rules similarly:

The playing area to be a maximum of 182 metres wide.
The length of the field and the distance between pairs of goalposts to be decided by the participating captains
The captains to toss for choice of goal. The loser’s team to kick off from the centre to start play.
A goal had to be kicked fairly between the posts without touching a teammate or opponent.
Kick-off posts to be positioned 18.2m from each goal post in a straight line.
After the ball passed behind the goal line, it had to be kicked in directly towards the opposite goal by a member of the defending team from any part of a line drawn 18.2m from and parallel to the goal line.
A player catching the ball directly from a kick by a foot to call ‘mark’ and take a free kick. No opponent to come inside the spot where the mark was taken.
Tripping and pushing permitted, but no hacking (forcing a player off balance by taking his feet from under him) when the ball-carrier was in rapid motion.
The ball could be taken in hand only when caught from a kick, or on the first hop (bounce). It could not be lifted from the ground.
After going out of bounds along a sideline, the ball to be thrown in at right angles.
The ball not to be thrown in general play

Structurally, the game hasn’t changed too much. We still hold these rules pretty closely to our chest. But as much as the 2018 trialled edition of the 20m goal kicking square was, it is more closely aligned to the original rule of a kick off pole about 20yards from the goal line.

 

The Right to Challenge

 

The match for the league premiership will be

played between Fitzroy and Collingwood this after-

noon, on the Melbourne Cricket-ground, and the

game finally settles the question of supremacy for

the season.

The association match between North Melbourne

and Footscray, on the East Melbourne ground,

is practically a semi-final, for Richmond has the

right to play the winners for the premiership on

the following Saturday.

-The Argus, 1903

   

   

Since the first Grand Final between Fitzroy and Essendon, the champion team has always been decided on the fate of that game, with the end of season ladder forgotten. However, early on the Grand final was only played if the minor premier had not won the sectional final (what we would now call the Grand Final), between the two sectional finalists. The ‘Right to Challenge’ rule, or Argus system was amended slightly in 1901 and 1903 before it was abolished in 1932. It was considered unfair that the team on top of the ladder had equal chance to win the premiership, but later it was decided that it was unfair to give such advantage to a team just because they finished on top of the ladder.

The State of play

The past season, in point of merit, will com-

pare favourably with its predecessors; the

progress of the game being fairly satisfactory

both in point of playing and numbers en-

gaged, while the modifications introduced

into the rules at the beginning of it have done

much to eliminate any roughness in the

game—though it is still rough enough—

and improve it in tone and quality

 

-       The Australiasian, 1877

 

From the early days to the modern, we have been concerned with the game becoming too congested, too low scoring and the players playing too defensively. At each turn, the administration seeks to counteract this via the creation of new rules, and at each turn they are opposed by players and coaches who put success before spectacle. There has been a divide amongst supporters wanting their teams to do anything to win, but also wanting attractive, free flowing football. It seems this is nothing new, and something the game has wrestled with consistently.

 

In the 1898 Grand Final, Fitzroy had beaten Collingwood in the sectional final, but Essendon minor premiers got the right to challenge the result and did so.  Fitzroy ended up winning this game 38-23, with a defensive game plan which was critiqued, in a reported low-skilled and low scoring affair, similar to the complaints we still see now. The Argus reports:

 

Starting the last quarter Fitzroy very nearly

made a serious mistake. They were content to

keep Essendon from scoring, and so played out for

the boundary rather boldly than up the ground…

The development of this sort of thing will end in a

loss of skill; and brute strength is not football. A

couple of the Essendon men did their share in the

same style of play, but Fitzroy's was the rougher…

 

 

Interestingly enough, the next year saw the introduction of a rule where a ball up would occur if a player with a free kick held on to possession for too long, a mark would only be paid for kicks over 18.2m (20 yards). Boundary umpires were used shortly after and a small centre square to protect ruckman was established. The number of players on field was also reduced from 20 to 18 in 1899.

From early on it was obvious that the fans and officials of the game were concerned about the look and feel of it, and adapted the rules as needed to suit the concerns they had.

Deliberate out of bounds

THE DELIBERATE out of bounds interpretation is bordering on "ridiculous" and it should be reviewed immediately, experienced Melbourne midfielder Jordan Lewis says

-       Ben Guthrie, afl.com.au, 2017

This has been one of the more contentious rules that has been debated since we first heard of Fitzroy using the tactic in the 1898 Grand Final. It wasn’t until 1925 where the VFL committee began talking about forcing the ball out of bounds. In 1925, prior to the start of the season, a special meeting was called to discuss an unknown out of bounds rule. The article states it as “TBC” but doesn’t offer any other details. Whether it is a free kick against a player who forces the ball out of bounds or something different can’t be confirmed but a very similar conversation to what we might have today was reported in The Hobart Mercury:

Mr. Mcintosh: The new rule is a farce

Mr. C. Newbould (Footscray) : It is ridiculous

Mr. Hunt: We do not want to close the play

up. We want to open it out.

Mr. Newbould: You are likely to unjustly

win a game on the rule.

A Voice: It is making a ladies' game out

of it.

It was decided to hold the special meeting

of the League on Friday week. The chairman

then asked whether the League intended

to adopt the council's interpretation for Saturday's games.

The Secretary: No; certainly not. (Loud

laughter.)

The Chairman : Order I Order I

Mr. J. Irvine (St. Kilda) : We tried the rule

out last Saturday. It was absurd.

There was further-laughter at the extra-

ordinary turn events had taken, and before

the discussion closed there were many signi-

ficant comments to the effect that the rule

would never be put into operation in Victoria,

at any rate.

 

Later, there was definitely a rule from 1925-1938 which penalised any player for forcing the ball out of bounds. It was amended to deliberate after that and then amended to become stricter in 2011.

 

Holding the ball

The new interpretation of the hold the ball/ hold the man rule is making the game harder, but I think there is less of the petty and mean tricks that have spoiled the game in the past

-       The Argus, 1928

The holding the ball rule has always been an issue for consistency and clarification. In 1930 the VFL decided that a player could no longer simply drop the ball when tackled, as was permitted previously. A letter to the editor in The Merredin Mercury 1929 brings this issue up:

HOLDING THE BALL

The holding the ball rule is one which causes much friction between the players and the umpire …he should not retake possession on the rebound; he may then claim a penalty for holding the man.

The new rule states that a player must at least attempt to handball or kick the ball. This rule proved unpopular and was repealed within two months of being created. The rule was brought in because players who were tackled would simply bounce the ball, and then receive a free kick because they were no longer in possession meaning they would receive a free for holding the man. A question via The Mail in Adelaide highlights people’s concerns:

Sir- Could you please give me some information regarding the present rule holding the ball? There is much criticism and ill-feeling … the players realise they must kick or punch the ball as soon as an opponent tackles them. But nine times out of ten they are penalised… whereas the player hasn’t had time to dispose of the ball… should an umpire use his own discretion and give a player time to comply with the new rule.

 

The reply was:

.. has reduced the game in Adelaide to a chaotic state. At present, no two people seem to be able to agree on all points… umpires should give a player opportunity to dispose of the ball.

I find this quite fascinating as the modern talk amongst solving issues is often to remove prior opportunity (which didn’t come in until 1996). We can see, from previous attempts, that the rule without prior opportunity was less favourable to simply allowing a player to drop the ball once he had been tackled.

The rule to allow a drop was restored in 1939 The West Australian:

-At a meeting of

the emergency committee of the South

Australian Football League this after-

noon it was decided not to support the

action by the Canberra and Victorian

leagues to restore to the playing rules

of the game the provision that a player

in possession may drop the ball when

tackled.

The AFL archive states that a drop was only allowed if it was accidental rather than deliberate, as prior to 1929.

 

Interestingly enough, what we see and complain about now as players simply dropping the ball seems to have been the solution all along. Perhaps we should then go back to how the rule was in an effort to clarify the holding the ball rule. Or perhaps not.  

 

The Interchange

The change, which was unpopular among AFL players since its introduction in 2011, will not feature next year.  

In a bid to reduce the amount of on-field congestion, interchange numbers will also be slashed from 120- 90

 -       ABC, 2015

The Interchange rules have grown and changed slowly over the course of the game. The original field of 20 players was cut down to 18 in 1899 but it wouldn’t be until 1930 before we saw our first 19th man. In 1946 they increased the bench to two, but it wasn’t until 1978 where an interchange system was introduced. The third interchange player was adopted in 1994 and the fourth in 1998. The fourth was changed to a substitute in 2011, with the same rule as the original 19th and 21th man, in order to even out teams who had lost a player due to injury; it was repealed in 2016 due to regular criticism and a smaller cap on rotations was to be introduced. The Age:

Players and clubs rejoiced on Thursday, with the red vest given to the substitute, after the AFL decided the controversial rule would not be in place in 2016.The interchange cap will be reduced from 120 rotations to 90, but teams will have four interchange players – as was the case prior to 2010.

The interchange has often been a subject of debate. Prior to the cap being placed on it, and the substitute being created, teams were rotating their players on and off the bench up to one hundred and twenty times a game. Such a tactic was challenged by the media for the way it kept players fresh which meant they were hitting the contest harder for longer, which was linked to a spike in injuries. The theory was to develop a system to tire players out and slow the game down. This, in theory, would decrease injuries and also decrease congestion in the second half of games, resulting in free flowing and higher scoring footy.

The Runner

Trainers spend far too

 much time on the field

in defiance of League

rules.

Already this season I

have seen a trainer run on

to the ground to "buy into"

a brawl and be sent back

by a boundary umpire

-       Alf Brown, The Herald, 1953

 

2019 saw a dramatic change in the way a coach’s messenger or runner could be used. For the first time since 1965 there was a restriction placed on the role of the runner: he was no longer able to come onto the field after a goal has been scored and was only given 45 seconds to deliver their message.

The argument was that the runners were getting in the way of the game and becoming a distraction to both players and spectators. This isn’t the first time the VFL has had concerns about officials on field becoming a distraction. In 1912 each team was given an on-field official whose role was to report players, in a similar role to the MRP/MRO. This was discarded after a season because of how they obstructed the play.

The first messenger came about in 1955 and had free reign to talk to whomever they wished. In 1964, they decided that the runner was spending too much time on the field and restricted them to only talking to the captain or vice-captain of their team. That rule only lasted a year and the runner had free reign again.

 

The Field, ball and equipment

It was

proposed to reduce the- number of players

in a team from 20 to 13; to abolish behinds; to

connect the goal posts at either end by a cross

bar 10 feet from the ground, over winch the ball

must be kicked in order to score, and- to erect a

post in a straight line 011 either side of the goal

posts and separated from them by 10 yards, the

intervening spaces to be called the goal line.

-       The Age, 1896

 

Australian Football, being a warm up game for cricket, was designed to always be played on a cricket field, so the official size of the field has always been a bit loose. In 1859, the width requires was no more than 182m wide and that was lessened to 136m wide in 1866 with the addition of a maximum length of 182m put in place.

Field sizes vary from large to small. In the modern era, Geelong’s home ground of Kardinia Park and Perth’s Subiaco oval are (or were, in Subiaco’s case) cigar shaped at 170X115m and 122X75m respectively. This is in vast contrast to the Melbourne Cricket Ground which took a wider shape of 171x146m.

In 1859 captains had the choice to use either a round ball or a sphere. This rule lasted until 1877 when the game demanded a standard 66cm long, size 2 rugby ball was to be used in all matches.

The goal posts went through a change in size fairly early on. Prior to 1891 the goals were 9.1m wide. In 1891 the posts were brought closer to 6.4 metres and the typical scoring system was introduced in 1897.

Traditionally there were no markings on the ground, excluding a boundary. A post was placed 20 yards (18m) in front of each goal line and a player would kick the ball forward from that spot. This was changed to a line and moved to 10 yards in 1877.

The second marking came in the form of a 4.5m ruck square in 1908 to separate the ruckman from the followers at centre bounces. This was changed to a 2.4m circle in 1910, which was then extended to 3m in 1940. In 1980, a line was added to the circle to separate the ruckman and in 2008, a 10m diameter second circle was added to separate the midfielders and ruckman.

In 1966, Ron Barassi and Bill Stephen trialled a new and dramatic concept: The centre rectangle. The idea was to keep players away from the midfield during centre bounces, so that their followers had room to clear the ball. This was officially proposed in August that year, according to the Canberra times:

out of bounds on the full:

That four boundary um-

pires be used in each

match, and

That a 50-yard square be

drawn around the centre

circle in which only speci-

fied players will be al

lowed during centre

bounces.

If the rules are found

satisfactory, the league will

refer them to the Australian

National Football Council

 

It wasn’t until 1973 that the centre diamond was introduced, and subsequently made square in ’75. The Canberra times reported in 1975 that the intention was to always make it a square, but some “smart people” had twisted it to make it a diamond:

 

. Victorian delegate Mr P.

Mitchell said the original re-

tention of the square was to

relieve congestion at the

centre bounce, but some

smart people" had twisted it

to make it look like a diamond.

„ cooaches were not

satisfied with the diamond

and he was sure coaches in other

states felt the same

 

 

The 50m arc was introduced in 1986 and although it held no formal reason for existence until the controversial 6-6-6 rule in 2019, Essendon suggested that any time wasting should result in a free kick to the opposing team, at their 50m line- rather than a fine to the club which had been the norm.

 

Rule changes since 1858-2013

During my research, I came across a list of rule changes on afl.com.au citing changes from 1859-2013. This was the basis of much of the following, along with newspaper articles from the National Archives on Trove.

Taken directly from afl.com.au

1858
No time limit existed for matches. The team first to score two goals was declared the winner.
Either spherical or oval footballs could be used.

1859
The playing area to be a maximum of 182 metres wide.
The length of the field and the distance between pairs of goalposts to be decided by the participating captains
The captains to toss for choice of goal. The loser’s team to kick off from the centre to start play.
A goal had to be kicked fairly between the posts without touching a teammate or opponent.
Kick-off posts to be positioned 18.2m from each goal post in a straight line.
After the ball passed behind the goal line, it had to be kicked in directly towards the opposite goal by a member of the defending team from any part of a line drawn 18.2m from and parallel to the goal line.
A player catching the ball directly from a kick by a foot to call ‘mark’ and take a free kick. No opponent to come inside the spot where the mark was taken.
Tripping and pushing permitted, but no hacking (forcing a player off balance by taking his feet from under him) when the ball-carrier was in rapid motion.
The ball could be taken in hand only when caught from a kick, or on the first hop (bounce). It could not be lifted from the ground.
After going out of bounds along a sideline, the ball to be thrown in at right angles.
The ball not to be thrown in general play.

1860
Tripping, holding and hacking outlawed.
Unless umpires were appointed, the participating captains to be the sole judges of infringements.

1866
The maximum playing area to be 182m long by 136.5m wide.
A pair of goalposts to be seven yards apart, of unlimited height.
A protected 4.5m area surrounding a player taking a free kick or mark) introduced.
After each goal was kicked, teams to change ends.
Holding to be permitted only when an opponent had the ball in hand during general play.
The ball to be carried by a player no further than what was necessary for a kick, unless it was struck against the ground every 4.5m or six yards 5.4m.
Each team in a match to appoint an umpire. The nearest one to be appealed to in the case of dispute.
Time limit for matches introduced. Team scoring most goals declared the winner. Field umpires acted as timekeepers.

1869
One field umpire only appointed to control play.

1874
When half the time arranged for play had expired, the teams changed ends. The second half to start when the umpire threw the ball up.
A kick defined as from the leg below the knee.
A player with the ball required to immediately drop it if tackled by an opponent.
Field umpire required to start second halves of matches by throwing the ball in the air.

1877
A size two rugby ball of 66cm long circumference to be used in matches.
The kick-off line reduced from 18.2m to 9.1m from the goal line.
The ball not to be handed to a teammate.
Each participating team to appoint a goal umpire to be the sole judge of goals and shots passing behind the goal line.
A field umpire being appealed to could either award a free kick, call play on or stop play and throw the ball into the air to discourage scrimmages.

1886
Matches consisted of four 25-minute quarters instead of two 50-minute halves.

1887
Timekeepers and bell system introduced. Field umpire no longer required to keep time.
Field umpire required to bounce the ball at the start of each quarter instead of throwing it up into the air.
Goal umpires empowered as sole judges in scoring decisions.
System of waving flags to signify goals implemented.
The distance of the behind posts from the goal posts decreased from 18.2m to 9.1m.
Pushing from behind prohibited.
Minimum distance of ball-travel for a mark decreased from 4.5m to 1.8m.
Unfair interference with an opponent who had marked became reportable.

1889
Player kicking off from centre required to cover a minimum forward distance of 18.2m.
Goal umpires required to inform field umpire of all scoring decisions.
Players unnecessarily delaying disposal from marks or kick-offs were deprived of possession and a ball-up resulted.

1891
Introduction of centre bounce after every goal as well as at the start of quarters.
The distance of the behind posts from the goal posts decreased from 9.1m to 6.4m.

1897
The ‘little mark’ abolished.
Free kick for push from behind introduced.
Present scoring system introduced – six points for a goal and one point for a behind

1899
Teams were reduced from 20 to 18 players (two followers instead of four).

1904
Boundary umpires were used for the first time in all VFL matches. They punched ball back into play.

1905
Unintentional interference when going for a mark was permitted for the first time.

1906
Clubs were to be fined by the VFL if they were not ready to play by 3pm. Late starts had previously been common.

1908
A 4.5m square in the centre introduced for the Collingwood v Essendon semi-final.
No player was permitted within two metres of the ball until it touched the ground following a ruck contest at a centre bounce.
Boundary umpires, for the first time, were given the power to report players.

1910
Goal umpires, for the first time, were given the power to report players.
A 2.4m centre circle replaced the square.
Boundary umpires obliged to throw ball in overhead instead of using the punch off the palm.

1912
Introduction of an on-field steward for each match. His role was to report players.

1918
Steward system abolished because of complaints by players and umpires that they obstructed play.

1920
Boundary umpires were required to throw the ball into play a distance ranging from 9m to 22m instead of 4.5m to 13.5m.

1921
Boundary umpires first required to return the football to the centre after a goal was scored.

1924
Only one player was permitted to stand on the mark.

1925
Free awarded against player who kicked or forced the ball out of bounds was introduced.
Boundary umpire required to bounce ball 5m in from boundary instead of throwing in.
Handball rule clarified. Ball to be punched out not just struck. (Flick pass was permitted previously.)

1927
Goal umpires required to compare scorecards at the conclusion of each quarter.

1930
Use of a replacement (19th man) permitted for the first time. Once replaced a player could not return to the field.
Holding man-holding ball rule amended. A player was not permitted to drop the ball when tackled. A handpass or kick had to be attempted. The amendment was repealed two months later because of its unpopularity.

1933
System of determining percentage altered. Points for were divided by points against and multiplied by 100. Previously points against were divided by points for and multiplied by 100.

1934
Handball rule altered. The ball could be held in one hand and knocked with the other (ie the flick pass was again permitted).

1938
Shepherding in ruck duels prohibited.
Introduction of rule allowing a player the option of another scoring opportunity if he is interfered with after the all-clear has been given.

1939
Reintroduction of general boundary throw-in. Frees were no longer awarded when the ball was kicked out of bounds.
Holding man-holding ball rule revised. Free to be paid against player who deliberately dropped ball when tackled.

1940
The centre circle was increased from 2.4m to 3m.
Introduction of rule determining that the ball could not be kicked in after a behind had been scored, until the goal umpire had finished waving the flag.

1945
Introduction of a free downfield if player is interfered with after disposing of the ball.

1946
Two reserves (19th and 20th men) permitted for the first time. Once replaced, a player could not return to the field.
Siren replaced bell at the MCG.

1950
Siren replaced bell at all venues.

1952
White footballs used in wet conditions.

1953
June: Trainers banned from delivering coaches’ messages.

1955
Introduction of 15-metre penalty for time-wasting.
Coaches’ runners (a trainer) used for first time. They were permitted to talk to team members during matches.
Boundary umpires’ whistles first used in place of white handkerchiefs.

1960
New ball used in each quarter when unfavourable conditions prevailed.

1964
Coaches were permitted to address players on field at quarter-time for the first time.
Goalposts fitted with protective padding.
Coaches’ runners were permitted to speak to team captains and vice-captains only on the
field during matches.

1965
Coaches’ runners were again free to speak to all team members.

1966
June 2: Flick pass outlawed. Ball had to be struck with a clenched fist.
Centre rectangle (45m x 27m) experiment used by coaches Ron Barassi (Carlton) and Bill Stephen (Fitzroy).

1968
An opponent became obliged to return ball to recipient of mark or free if the opponent had possession of the ball at the time of the umpire’s decision.

1969
Introduction of the free against player kicking ball out of bounds on the full.

1972
Umpires required to toss coin for captains for the first time.

1973
Centre diamond (sides 45 metres long) introduced. Four players only from each team permitted in the area at centre bounces.

1975
Centre diamond amended to become centre square.
Video-tapes of incidents became admissible evidence at VFL tribunal hearings.

1976
Introduction of the two field umpire system.

1978
Interchange player system introduced.
Goal umpires required to touch goal post if the ball had hit post. Also two flags were positioned at one post and one flag at the other to save time when signalling scores.

1980
Introduction of line across centre circle to avoid physical interference at centre bounces. Ruckmen had to stand on the defensive side of the line.
Fifteen-metre penalty extended to include kick-in after behind scoring situations.
Field umpires required to carry notebooks to record details of reportable incidents.

1981
Fifteen metres instead of 10 metres allowed for running with ball without it making contact with the ground.

1986
Fifty-metre arcs in goal areas introduced.
Video investigations for on-field misconduct introduced.

1988
Player awarded free obliged to kick the ball.
Replacement of 15-metre penalty with 50-metre penalty.
Player kicking in from goal-square obliged to clear ball at least two metres from the goalsquare before regaining possession.
Emergency umpires were empowered to report players.

1990
Player awarded free again given option of kick or handpass.

1994
Playing time for a quarter amended to 20 minutes plus time-on instead of 25 minutes plus time-on.
Introduction of third field umpire.
Introduction of third interchange player.
Introduction of third boundary umpire, using rotational interchange system in pairs.

1995
Revised system of adding time-on. Recorded when boundary or goal umpires signal, until the next act of play.
Tripping by hand becomes reportable. Penalty: Free & 50 metres.
Tripping by foot remains reportable. Additional penalty: Free & 50 metres.
Player must kick ball back into play following the scoring of a behind immediately after one warning from field umpire. Penalty for delay: Ball-up on centre of kick-off line.
Player kicking in after a behind is allowed to kick ball clear of hand and foot within the goal-square before playing on.

1996
Any player receiving treatment from medical staff required to be removed from centre square prior to centre bounce.
Protected area around player taking set disposal from free or mark changed from 10-metre semi-circle to five-metre corridor on either side.
Amendment in the interpretation of the holding ball law. If player has had a prior opportunity to dispose, he must kick or handball immediately once tackled.
Deliberate tripping by hand incurred a free plus 50-metre penalty. The offence was no longer reportable.

1997
Repeated abusive language to an umpire incurred a free plus 50-metre penalty. The offence was no longer necessarily reportable.

1998
Introduction of fourth interchange player.

1999
Bringing the ball into play from a mark or free permitted beyond the boundary line provided that the player moves in one direction while in the act of disposal.
Tripping by hand reverted to being reportable.

2000
Introduction of free against team whose team official interferes with the play. Fifty-metre penalty automatically imposed on a player when reported for an offence. (Rescinded after Round 17.)

2001
Time-saving second goal umpiring behind flag introduced. It was placed on the same post as the goal flags.

2002
Minimum distance of ball travel for a mark increased from 10 metres to 15.

2003
Play-on to be called if a player unnecessarily delays disposal after mark or free.
Playing on from a kick-in after the registering of a behind permitted provided that the ball is kicked clear of hand and foot within the goal-square.
Shepherding at centre bounce ruck contests outlawed.
Elimination of advantage free from a centre square infringement.
Penalty introduced for deliberate tapping of ball out-of-bounds on the full in a ruck contest.
Player catching ball from centre or field bounce or throw-in to be deemed to have had prior opportunity to dispose of it.

2004
Size of centre square increased from 45m to 50m.

2005
Introduction of a 10-metre diameter outer circle, where ruckmen must be positioned at centre bounces.

2006
Removal of the requirement of a player kicking in after the scoring of a behind to wait until the goal umpire completes waving the flag. The kick-in can occur as soon as the goal umpire signals the score as a behind.
Allowance of a set shot at goal from a mark or free awarded within the goal-square to be taken from directly in front.
Introduction of automatic time-on from when a field umpire crosses his arms until a ball-up.

2007
Introduction into official laws of the game of an automatic free kick to a player with his head over the ball or if any high contact made in any way. This also became an automatic reportable offence.

2008
Interchange rule violation penalised with a free kick against the offending team, 50 metres forward of the centre circle (introduced mid-season).
Introduction of a four-boundary umpire system (introduced in round 21).

2009
Umpires empowered to recall an errant bounce at a stoppage and replace it with a throw-up.
Penalty for interchange rule violation became a free kick, plus a 50-metre penalty from wherever play is stopped.
A free kick paid against a player engaged in any form of misconduct.
The scoreline to be aligned with the back of the goalpost padding.
A player in possession of the ball, when the play is stopped for stretcher usage, to retain it when the game restarts.
If an umpire impedes a player when setting the mark for a shot at goal, play to be stopped and the mark to be re-set to avoid a disadvantage.
After the all-clear is given for a score and an infringement against the defending team occurs before play restarts, the free kick to be taken either where the infringement occurs or 50 metres from the kick-off line, whichever is to the advantage of that team.

2011
Interchange: three interchange plus one substitute. The three interchange players able to rotate off the bench as four have done in previous years. The substitute player empowered to go on at any time to replace a player. The player he replaces cannot come back on to the ground.
The infringed player, rather than an umpire, given the power to determine the advantage rule.
A player who elects to apply a bump in any situation will become liable if he makes forceful contact with the head, unless: the player was contesting the ball and did not have a realistic alternative way to contest the ball; or the contact was caused by circumstances outside the control of the player which could not be reasonably forseen.
Emergency field umpire empowered to award prohibited contact free kicks from interchange bench.
Stricter interpretation placed on deliberate out of bounds rule to focus on less benefit of doubt for the player who has the ball and walks over the boundary line.

2012
Goal line technology introduced to assist goal umpiring decisions.

2013
A free kick to be awarded against any player who makes forceful contact below the knees of an opponent (does not apply to smothers with the hands or arms).
Umpires to throw the ball up for all field stoppages during the game. The bounce will continue to be used at the start of each quarter and after goals.
Separation of ruckmen at stoppages, with no contact permitted until the ball has left the umpire.

 

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