About ten rounds of footy ago, I was all for rule changes.
Congestion had plagued the game, and while there was still a good game or two each round, there were many that were extremely low scoring and almost impossible to enthusiastically watch.
I hadn’t given it too much thought, but after watching an uninvitng round 10 clash between Geelong and Carlton, where just 16 goals were kicked and the game was described as “horrible to watch” by Cats coach Chris Scott, rule changes began to look a lot more attractive.
Both teams were renowned for a very defensive game plan, which made for poor aesthetics and a very deplorable general look for the game.
Since then however, and especially in the last five rounds, we have been lucky enough to witness a great revival of the game, one in which has restored the faith of fans and has led to many calls to scrap the proposed rule changes that are likely to come into effect at the start of next season. And there is one proposed reason that stands out that has caused this revival.
When Steve Hocking gave a presentation to individual coaches a few months ago, he likely wasn’t asking coaches to do anything except to believe in the benefits of rule changes. The meetings were used to advocate for changes to the game, and convince coaches of the benefits. While many would have entered firmly engrained in the belief that the game did not need to be changed, the numbers that Hocking laid down would’ve alarmed many with the way the game was declining.
At that point, total points were bottoming out, skills had decreased, and the game looked to be heading into a place where we would be forced to change it to restore it to its past glory. But from this presentation, it is looking more and more likely that Hocking indirectly saved the game, and did his job without any rule changes.
When Richmond began their era of pressure football, born more out of necessity than the realization, many other clubs jumped on the bandwagon.
Instead of playing a certain style that could combat this, perhaps a style emphasizing on better skills that could escape the Richmond press, most coaches have instead decided to continue the trend, as if you asked all 18 senior coaches what they want their game to be defined by, a fairly good chunk would say ‘pressure’.
This pressure is what forced the creation of the congestion, a problem that has only grown greater in this season.
However, after viewing the stats, and seeing the declining value in the game, it seems to be that many coaches have actually changed the way in which they play, and coached for higher scoring more aesthetic football.
Chris Scott of Geelong would be the primary candidate for this, as being in control of a relatively good team he can afford to make changes that will benefit the game. Before this weekend, Geelong have averaged over 94 points in their last nine matches, including those played in wet conditions against Sydney and Carlton. While the Cats have played a looser style of defense that has led to higher scores against, the higher scores that have come from being quicker to transition have- on most occasions- been worth it. their willingness to take kick outs up the middle has been particularly noticeable.
To put this in perspective, in the first 10 games of the season the Cats averaged more than 10 less at just 83 points per game. Whether indirectly or not, Chris Scott has got his players playing a more aggressive brand of footy that is much better for the game. And know that he is not alone, as the better footy seen recently is in direct correlation with many coaches making subtle changes.
And this is exactly what we should be promoting. Given a chance every person involved in the community wants to see the game succeed, something Steve Hocking clearly can’t see. Given a chance, coaches did what they could to ensure that the game can be enjoyed in its current state for the generations to come, as many would have predicted.
Presidents, CEO’s, and certainly other stakeholders also would have pressured coaches and players to change, if it was for the good of the game.
If congestion is the enemy, the goal to eradicate it, changing the rules is simply admitting that we cannot beat congestion.
But we can, quite clearly, as we have seen in the second half of the season.
We can beat the enemy, when actually given an opportunity, and so there would be no reason to make quick, brash decisions that could have a lifetime of effect on the game, which is what the competition committee is currently considering.
The game has been entirely consuming in not only the football being played, but the closeness of the competition. Four games alone in round 19 have strong cases to be game of the year.
Everyone from Max Gawn and Bruce McAvaney has weighed in, in defiance of rule changes, as well as the vast majority of fans, as seen in plenty of polls.
So why does the AFL insist on contradicting everyone who is a stakeholder in our great game?
A recent quote from generally well-respected journalist Damian Barratt on Steve Hocking, the man in charge of conducting the review, may shed some light on the issue.
“If anyone thinks Steve Hocking will be spooked by some public pushback to his plans, then you don’t know Steve Hocking”.
Why is a man renowned for not listening to the fans and acting in a way that he believes is best for the game able to become the AFL’s boss of operations?
Would a Journalist be able to write whatever he wants, as long as he believes it’s in the best interests of the business? Except for the case of Sam McClure, the general answer is no.
The game is well and truly owned by the fans. The AFL have said it, but do they actually believe it? While it’s important not to get sucked in by the minority, Gil has unfortunately been catfished by a vast minority in Steve Hocking, disguising himself as the majority in a bid to push rule changes through.
Even if we were to introduce changes, much more data would have to be gathered over plenty of seasons to observe the trends. And while the positive trends are only recent, and small in comparison, they are certainly very, very promising.
So Steve, please. Please don’t give into the enemy when we haven’t even had a chance to fight it. You might think that you have the power here, but ruin the game for the fans and you’ll find out just who really owns the game.