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Congestion's simple solution

Crowded house: The scene at Etihad Stadium earlier this year.

Crowded house: The scene at Etihad Stadium earlier this year. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

THE last time ''congestion'' was this big a football buzzword was just on 40 years ago. Then it involved centre bounces and the amount of players flocking around them.

The VFL had a quick and effective response. It introduced for the 1973 season a diamond, and two seasons after that, a square, into which at centre bounces only four players from either side were allowed. Problem solved.

Four decades on, the congestion is not just confined to the centre square. It is all over the ground, and the subject of plenty of angst from Laws of the Game Committee member Kevin Bartlett, peeved that the AFL is not immediately adopting a cap on spiralling interchange numbers, allegedly the cause of much of the traffic.

AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou wants more data taken, analysed and games monitored further before that happens.

We will doubtless see plenty more numbers trotted out next season to support a variety of arguments. But does it really need to be this hard?

Here's a not-so-radical suggestion that could go much of the way to clearing the congestion before it occurs, and does not require endless studies, number-crunching, or even need to bring the interchange into the equation. How about just getting the umpires to blow their whistle and throw the bloody ball up quicker? Not rocket science, is it?

One of the three rule changes to be implemented for next season, throwing up rather than bouncing the ball, is a positive step in the right direction, one that will save an estimated four to nine seconds.

But isn't that only half a solution? Think about some of the rugby-like scrums we saw evolve in games this year, mauls that dragged on so long all they were missing were some props, hookers and cauliflower ears.

Players were drawn to the moveable feasts like bees to a honeypot, the umpires having been guided by their bosses after direction from the lawmakers to let play continue as long as possible in the hope someone will prise the ball free, the chief consideration seemingly avoiding time-consuming secondary ball-ups.

Here's a thought: Call the first ball-up well before there's half a team clustered around the contest, then throw it up. That avoids the secondary stoppage, saves those four to nine seconds with the throw instead of bounce, plus another five or six spent watching an army of on-ballers grapple each other for next to no result.

Watch for a few minutes any YouTube footage of a game from the '80s, even '90s, and see what happens. The umpires are not mucking around when the ball is not coming out. They are whistling and quickly starting again, while the two or three players concerned are still picking themselves up. There is no time for their teammates to get there, and because of the lack of traffic, no need for the umpires to indicate a clear path for their exit from the scene of the ball-up. Genius, huh? Not really. But it works.

I'm not necessarily convinced like most that the rising interchange numbers correlate so definitively with the extra clutter these days. But even if they do, wouldn't quicker ball-ups make the job of even fresher players getting to contests that much harder than it is now?

Already, I can see the Laws of the Game people rolling their eyes and chanting: ''Simplistic solution.'' But it is one plenty of learned fans who watch arguably as much if not more football than those in official positions have been in agreement on for long enough.

And on this one, when it comes to football officialdom, not being able to see the forest for the trees is a phrase that springs to mind.

There is enough evidence to support their regular claims, not just that too much tinkering goes on (next year will give us our 50th rule change since 1994) but that the lawmakers don't always accurately predict the full consequences of the tampering. Such as Adrian Anderson's prediction when the substitute was introduced prior to the 2011 season that ''it will have the effect of limiting the interchange … It's about preventing it going to a new level, which would have created more congestion.'' A comment he would probably rather he had qualified, seeing average rotations went from 117.4 in 2010 to 118.6 last year to 131 this year.

Or the decision to supposedly shorten game times in 2006 by reducing quarters from 25 minutes to 20 minutes, but changing time-on measurements. Game lengths were an average 117.3 minutes in 2006. By last year, far from shortened, they had continued to blow out to 123.5 minutes.

Demetriou might be dismissive of scepticism about rule changes, but they are not the sort of examples that should prompt complete faith in the AFL game analysts and rule makers to get it right.


  • In the 1970's players played to a much more fixed position. These days the packs accumulate because players run in packs and rows much more. It's almost like nearly all the team are followers or midfielders. So even if it was thrown up quickly, I am not sure how it would disperse the congestion.
    A rule I would like to see changed is the deliberate out of bounds. They seem to be awarded randomly. I suggest that they should get rid of the rule completely because it can't be realistically and consistently adjudicated. If they have to keep it, then if it is disposed by a player with a hand ball or kicked to the boundary within 10 metres award it.

    Date and time
    October 18, 2012, 8:39PM
    • I would like the last 55 rule changes cancelled out and have two new rules
      1st: third man in rule. The third man to join a pack is free kicked against.them.
      2nd. 44% rule. All teams must have 44% (7) of there players in each half. Penalty - Kick for goal from goal square.

      Now we have opened up the game & it will be more attractive.

      Glen Waverley
      Date and time
      October 18, 2012, 8:49PM
      • So, all the backmen plus one? sounds pretty hard to coordinate and a waste of the amazing athleticism the players have these days. Maybe 4 player (22%?) might add some value.

        Date and time
        October 19, 2012, 2:17AM
      • Like the first one but, much and all as I like the second one in principle, what would happen if a defender took off on a clear run? He'd have to pull up once he got to the centre line or other players would have to try to get back behind the line in time. It would stop one of the more exciting aspects of the game. It would similarly stop a forward trying to chase the runner down once he got to the centre line if he was unsure how many team mates were on his side of the line.

        Date and time
        October 19, 2012, 4:50AM
      • And the transition to netball continues

        Date and time
        October 19, 2012, 9:27AM
      • DJS... Don't assume that such a rule would be absolutely unbendable. Like the offside rule in some codes, the rule would only apply to the defending team, that is the team without immediate possession the ball. The intent is to stifle defence, not attack, because it is not having possession of the ball which draws additional players into a contest and causes congestion.

        Date and time
        October 19, 2012, 10:25AM
    • I heard Rohan having this discussion on SEN with Daniel Harford and I agree 100%. The packs forming around bounces around the ground are the main issue for congestion and that needs to be dealt with

      Date and time
      October 18, 2012, 9:28PM
      • Yes! Exactly. Throw it up!
        Why the heck does KB wield such influence anyway?
        He's brought nothing good to the game since he's been on the"Rules of the Game Committee"

        Date and time
        October 18, 2012, 9:38PM
        • I do agree with you. KBs ego far outweighs his intellect. He struggles to admit he is ever wrong and gets so angry when people do not agree with him. Time to retire KB.

          Date and time
          October 19, 2012, 8:00AM
      • Rohan, your solution of not letting these melees drag on is fair enough but the very sight of play being restarted because it has broken down makes my stomach churn. Better to discourage such a situation developing in the first place and a good place to start is the holding the man rule, which lately seems to have been written in invisible ink. Much of what goes on in these pile ups is illegal and if umpires started paying frees against players slinging other players who haven't got the ball, or indeed falling on other players, the game would start again with little interruption. A free kick is an infinitely better way to get the game rolling again than is a bounce or throw up and if players know there's a higher likelihood of the ball coming out this way there won't be so many committing to the pile in the first place-they will be a kick or handball away from it. Once players get used to the new normal there will not be a greater number of frees given, but there will be a lesser number of stoppages because the disputed ball will have a better chance of coming out without a free being awarded. Then they can leave the ruck contest alone.
        And while I have 80 words left, can we get rid of the rule that allows marks taken inside the goal square entitling the player to kick from directly in front? This adds nothing to the game, solves no known issue and dilutes the achievements of past players. The goal square already has a purpose, unlike the 50m line.

        Date and time
        October 18, 2012, 9:42PM

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