Clubs prepare for a cap on interchanges
The prevailing view of the clubs was that their coach's boxes would next season face significant extra work in keeping count of interchange bench rotations. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
STRONG speculation that the AFL could cap interchange bench rotations for the first time has threatened to widen the philosophical divide between football's governing body and the young men who play the game.
Deeply disillusioned that the AFL failed to deliver two byes in 2013 despite a collective plea from the club captains at the start of last season, players who believe the new rules have already placed significant extra physical demands on them would be antagonised by further changes to the interchange bench.
The AFL refused last night to reveal the outcome of commission talks, insisting it needed to first brief the clubs on any rule changes. The commission yesterday did not broach the prospect of a twilight grand final in 2013.
But the prevailing view of the clubs was that their coach's boxes would next season face significant extra work in keeping count of interchange bench rotations, which the players feared could be reduced to - at best - 120 and as low as 80 per game. In 2012, clubs averaged 131 rotations, up from 119 in 2011.
The laws of the game committee proposed the cap, coupled with retaining the three-man interchange bench along with a substitute player. That was one of three options that included a two-man interchange bench with two substitutes or maintaining the status quo. It also proposed faster ball-ups around the ground to prevent lengthy stoppages.
Football operations boss Adrian Anderson has driven the change to bench rules in a bid to reduce injury and improve the contest in terms of both its appearance and its fairness. While the AFL Players Association has put forward a lengthy submission opposing further interchange bench changes, the coaches' association did not. At least a handful of coaches would support a forced decrease in on-field player movement.
A submission from the recently galvanised AFL Sports Science Association urging no change to the current rule was unlikely to have received much consideration given head office's on-going disapproval of club high-performance managers and their growing influence - not to mention their inflationary effect - on football departments.
Commission chairman Mike Fitzpatrick reiterated that disapproval at the most recent talks with AFL club presidents shortly before the grand final. And Fitzpatrick has long made no secret of his dissatisfaction with key elements of the modern game. In general, he has been a subtle but key driver of change.
Anderson has also proposed restrictions on ruckmen making contact before the ball is bounced and outlawing dangerous contact below the knee.
But it is the fate of the interchange bench and mooted further changes following the introduction of the substitute rule two seasons ago that threaten to cause an outcry among players and a significant number of clubs that will claim their workload, match-day organisation and player draft policies must radically change.
For two years, this has been a touchy and explosive topic in AFL circles. Battle lines were drawn from the start. On the eve of 2011, Essendon captain Jobe Watson entertained the prospect of an on-field player protest when the substitute rule was introduced. On the eve of 2012, James Hird and Paul Roos suggested fewer indigenous players could be recruited with interchange rules demanding footballers with greater endurance.
To a significant degree, both suggestions were ridiculed. And it is true the players have no legislated say over the rules of the game. But more change, coupled with the promise - and then removal - of a second bye, could demonstrate how loud the players can shout this time.
Poll: What should the AFL do with the interchange system in 2013?
- Two on the bench and two substitutes
- A three-and-one system with rotations capped at 80
- Maintain the status quo (one substitute)
- Revert to four players on the bench with unrestricted rotations
Total votes: 5326.
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Poll closed 16 Oct, 2012
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