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Umpires key to speeding up game

'The whole issue has become a mess of conflicting theories and agendas.'

'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.


  • It's a fair idea, Rohan. I suspect the players are exploiting this slowness of the umpires to ballup at congestions, so they can just catch a quick breather. Which of course, then gives them that little bit extra to run a bit further and create bit more congestion.

    We have to do something though, as footy as a spectacle, isn't.

    What makes our game great is not packs around the ball and crowded forward lines.

    Can any footy lover honestly sit there and say they love to see that congested play?

    I'm all for taking desperate measures and limiting the numbers of players allowed inside the 50m arcs. Dare I say, something like netball does.

    Will we remember this era of rugby-style footy as "Demetriou footy"? The buck stops with him. He has the power to say "enough". Surely he doesn't enjoy the current rugby footy?

    And interesting that there's two articles today with different solutions, but the same idea: the umpires are the ones who can get things moving again.

    We gotta do something, too much a footy game is not worth watching.

    Date and time
    June 11, 2012, 1:30AM
    • wholeheartedly agree Rohan. I didn't have tv in the 60's and 70's and watched in awe a couple of years ago a Geelong StKilda semi from late 60's, as Jeff Crouch umpired the game. ONE umpire and he was constantly in quickly to bounce the ball. and yes, in my belief the game was just as fast as it is now because of the constant flow. One of the callers on K-Rock friday night during the last quarter called it right when he said "the umpires are just too lazy to get in and bounce the ball quickly!" sack Jeff Geischen I reckon!!

      Date and time
      June 11, 2012, 2:36AM
      • The biggest problems now is that players are scared to pick up the ball because if they get tackled they get pinged for holding the ball. The result is the ball sliding along the ground as players hover around it, tapping it forward and refusing to pick it up.

        The Carl/Geel game had about five example of someone grabbing the ball and being tackled straigh away with no prior opportunity to get rid of it. These players didn't even dive on the ball and they still got done. Sack AD and bring PRIOR OPPORTUNITY as they only factor in dropping/holding the ball decisions.

        Date and time
        June 11, 2012, 7:49AM
        • Rohan your point about umpires f old moving quickly to restart play is well made. The other thing I have noticed abt them in old videos is that they often had a smile on the face! And I bet iof they had been wearing microphones we would find out that they weren't barking instructions at players all the time. Umpires should shut up and pay a free kick. is there anything sillier than hearing "don't hold, don't hold ... play on" at a boundary throw in when everyone can see that the ruckmen are holding.

          Date and time
          June 11, 2012, 8:52AM
          • Spot on Rohan--but don't ball it up--throw it up---they take too long to bounce the ball. This allows more players to position around the contest.

            mount martha
            Date and time
            June 11, 2012, 8:59AM
            • I agree completely most of these mauls develop as a result taking far too long to call for a ball up, allowing more and more players to gather in the area of the contest attempting to out number the oppostion at the eventual ball up. Get the ball in play and moving before there are 30 players all standing within 30 metres of the ball up.

              Date and time
              June 11, 2012, 9:05AM
              • kevin has had his day on the rules committee so have a couple of others. Every supporter wants the rules left alone every player more than likely wants the rules left alone it appears that the only ones who want to fiddle around with the game are the same old senile fuddy wuddies who once a long time ago played the game. Are they really just trying to regain some attention or do they actually think that they are going to improve the spectacle of the game, me thinks not.

                Date and time
                June 11, 2012, 10:01AM
                • if you notice the difference btw the time the umpires allow to lapse in these scrums before blowing the whistle and balling the ball up again in the first three quarters in comparison to in the last - there is your answer. the scrums are never allowed to just roll on for long in the last quarter as it is considered time wasting or killing time... so if they can cut these scrums short in the last quarter then they could in the first 3 quarters too...with the exact same intention to stop wasting time and get the ball free and moving again... how many times do you hear at the footy "blow your whistle and ball it up, we are not playing rugby here"

                  Date and time
                  June 11, 2012, 10:05AM
                  • Only a few years ago ,field umpires called to the players in a pack to "hit it out" The rule comes back to --is the player able to get rid of the ball ,or is being pinned to the ground.Moveable scrums is poor umpiring advice.

                    Three four players on top of the player holding the ball,continues that problem. If the player has no capacity to get rid of the ball, surely it is "in the back"

                    It would not take long for players to get the picture.

                    If the player does not have to ability to get rid of ball, he is either caught holding or awarded in the back.

                    Surely it is time for new faces around the umpiring table.

                    Trevor A
                    Date and time
                    June 11, 2012, 10:48AM
                    • For a great example of this problem watch the Richmond vs Freo game, umps consistently let congestion and inevitable ball up situations go far too long. 10-12 times during thre game the whistle could have been blown 20 seconds earlier.

                      Was like watching rugby KB.

                      Date and time
                      June 11, 2012, 11:03AM

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