'The whole issue has become a mess of conflicting theories and agendas.' Photo: Joe Armao
KEVIN Bartlett's suggestion last week that the interchange system give way to an eight-man bench, with no player taken from the field able to be replaced, has inspired some strong reaction, almost all of it negative.
You can understand why.
The AFL Legend and Laws of the Game Committee member is popularly seen as part of the problem, symbolic of the league's incessant need to tinker, tamper and tweak so frequently the old catchcry "leave the rules alone" is a constant refrain.
Now the coaches, many of whom have remained dubious about the supposed benefits of the substitute rule, are lobbying the AFL for more change.
Indeed, the whole issue has become a mess of conflicting theories and agendas.
What was the sub rule supposed to be about again?
If it was the reduction of injuries, the most recent AFL data suggests it may have been successful.
But if it's now, as the latest debate indicates, about preventing congestion, who can categorically conclude spiralling interchange numbers are a major factor? Not sure I see a definite link. What I do see increasingly though, are moveable scrums that sometimes seem to go on forever; all that's missing from virtual rugby is a front row, lineout, and some cauliflower ears.
Do we really need another twist on another recent rule change to clear them up? Which might lead to yet another unintended consequence and another rule change to counter it?
Here's a not-so-radical idea. How about umpires stop giving players days to clear the area, blow the whistle, move in and ball it up?
Watch any game from a couple of decades ago and one of the first things you'll notice is how quickly the umpires call a stop to play when it's locked up, then how quickly they bounce down, get out of the way, and let the players get on with it.
The AFL claims that's no potential solution, that ball-ups just lead to secondary ball-ups and even more congestion. But that depends on how quickly umpires act.
They don't have to first let a dozen players accumulate around a pair fighting a contest. They also don't have to stop, prop, prepare an exit path and warn all and sundry of it to avoid the odd incidental brush from a player.
Of which, of course, there would be a lot less if there wasn't an interminable delay between a ball being held in and the blow of the whistle.
Bartlett's proposal took interchange numbers to a modern-day extreme but with an old philosophy of "once off, stay off". Clearing the congestion we routinely see now might be a case of reverting to old values as well. But with a lot less fuss, and without upsetting as many people.