Radical rule changes on horizon for AFL?

Round 16 provided us with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, culminating in the “worst game of the season” followed by arguably the best showdown of all time.

Aesthetically the pair couldn’t have been more distant, you would have forgiven a foreigner for thinking they were different sports all together. Yet surprisingly the numbers suggest otherwise.

The “state of the game” has been the buzz topic in recent weeks, with experts claiming the game must embrace rule changes, such as zones or interchange cuts, in order to clear congestion around the ball and ultimately lead to free flowing, exciting football.

However as these two stark contests prove, a knee-jerk rule change is unlikely to single handedly fix the complex issue of congestion and low scoring.

The average number of stoppages per game has been rapidly rising for years now, with an average of nearly 75 per game this season, which is a jump of roughly 28 extra stoppages per game in the last decade.

This rapid rise has ex-players and experts up in arms, with many believing that lowering stoppage numbers will directly correlate with a reduction in congestion and the return of exhilarating footy, such as the kind seen throughout Showdown 39.

The exciting Showdown finished with 77 stoppages. That’s two stoppages over the seasons already extremely high average. The Brisbane-Melbourne clash, or as alluded to the “worst game of the season” finished with only 5 more stoppages, 82.

Those stoppage numbers don’t include centre bounces, so the Showdowns stoppage figures aren’t unfairly skewed by the avalanche of goals scored and corresponding centre bounces.

Yet somehow the aggregate score in the Showdown was 229 points, with Ports score the highest of a losing team since 2013.


Melbourne and Brisbane managed just 96 points between them. After half time Melbourne managed one goal for the rest of the entire game. Brisbane managed just the three after the half.

Put simply if Adelaide had of taken on Brisbane rather than Port and only been allowed to play for the first quarter, they still would have beaten Brisbane by one point.

Another key argument is that skills have significantly regressed over the years, which is resulting in poor fundamental skill execution and a tendency to avoid the corridor and use the “safer option” of the wings.

The disposal efficiency in the Showdown was at 71.3%. The “worst game of the season” featured a disposal efficiency of 72.3%. That stat alone somewhat defies logic, but the numbers don’t lie.

The disposal efficiency average this season is 72.5%, with the Hawks the clear benchmark with 75.1%. A decade ago, in the Eagles and Swans era, the average disposal efficiency was 77.8%.

So in ten years we have seen a decline of disposal efficiency by 5%. While this is slightly concerning, its understandable considering in the same decade we have seen an increase on average of 24 more tackles or pressure acts per game.

One fact that even the experts can’t deny is that tackle pressure and defensive sets are as intense as ever. Finding space and time for a clear and directed disposal is extremely difficult, which is leading to teams using the safety of the wings.

While there is less chance of a costly turnover playing wide, there is also significantly less chance of opening up opposition defenses. The slow kick-mark approach allows teams to set up behind the ball and flood their defensive fifty.

The likes of Dustin Martin and Cyril Rioli in a one-on-one contest in the forward fifty is the stuff of nightmares for opposition coaches. However too many teams forgo their opportunity of an open forward line, by going wide and allowing the opposition to set-up.

What these numbers prove is that solving the issue of congestion and low scoring is no simple matter. There is no perfect solution, no quick-fix rule change.

Exciting, fast paced and high scoring footy cannot be manufactured, that’s simply not how sport works. It’s the intangibles of the occasion, the atmosphere and contest that create great games such as Showdown 39.

Unfortunately, these great games have been few and far between this season. Its an issue that must be addressed, however as the numbers prove its unlikely that a radical rule change will be the games saving grace.

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