A PUSH to introduce full-time professional field umpires has gained significant momentum, with plans to give the system a trial as early as 2014.
As umpires prepare to formulate tougher new integrity and anti-gambling guidelines, it has also emerged plans are well under way to trial two full-time field umpires during the new five-year collective bargaining agreement brokered between the AFL Umpires Association and the AFL.
The full-time option will not be adopted next season but AFLUA chief executive Peter Howe said it could be done in 2014, with all parties keen to analyse whether greater professionalism would help umpires make more correct decisions on game day.
''We will certainly pursue this with the AFL, we are not going to wait for a couple of years or the next agreement. [But] it wouldn't be any earlier than 2014,'' Howe said. ''We have certainly agreed that we will look at introducing in consultation with the AFL up to two full-time umpires over the course of this agreement.
''From my point of view, the interesting thing is, will full-time umpires improve the decision-making ability of our umpires? That's what everybody wants - that their decision making be improved.''
Former Swans coach Paul Roos and Richmond coach Damien Hardwick have advocated the need for full-time umpires, claiming it would improve performance.
Howe said the only way to prove this would be to introduce a trial.
Full-time umpires would be paid more than their part-time counterparts but would be subjected to the same rigorous weekly reviews and would be dumped if their performances slipped.
''They will be paid on performance and then selected on performance for their games, but because of the full-time nature of the job they will be paid an additional amount of money,'' Howe said.
Many umpires have high-skilled and high-paying professional jobs, so the financial returns would need to be great to tempt them into a full-time role with the league.
Come the end of the new CBA in 2016 (it has been backdated to include 2012), a part-time field umpire who completes the home-and-away campaign, stands in finals and the grand final and earns a bonus will pocket about $150,000. Boundary and goal umpires will receive about $60,000.
Howe said more needed to be done to improve the pathway for all aspiring umpires, and help attract former players. Former Carlton player Jordan Bannister officiated at AFL matches this season, with former Saint Leigh Fisher, having spent the past two years at suburban and VFL level, now jostling for promotion into the top ranks.