Tuesday 19 June 2018

Spectacle O'Clock - footy 'innovations' rated.

The campaign to talk the game down has succeeded to the point where it's inevitable that bonkers rule changes are on the way to try and get people jazzed up about footy again. The first step towards regaining the feelgood factor would be not to treat people like they're morons for still watching a supposedly broken game.

Here we present a number of suggestions that have been floated by the good, the bad, a mad rooting TV executive and me on how to improve the game. To help you compile a psychological analysis on where my life is at I've helpfully bracketed them in order of ideas that I'd advocate for to things that would make me investigate becoming a rugby unionist.

This is intended to be a definitive list of serious suggestions, so if there's anything that needs to be added to the list please comment or get in touch via the usual channels and I'll issue an emergency update.

Actually in favour of it
See, I'm not entirely scared of change.

It's not an all-or-nothing proposition on 25 vs 50, there is still a place for the current version when a player is bulldozed after a mark but it's ludicrous that players are whacked with the maximum sentence for running north-south instead of east-west (or is it the other way around? Pick up your 250 page guide from AFL House for clarification) metres from the guy with the ball. Sure, pay 50s if a player is legitimately impeded trying to play on, or if you throw the ball into Row A after a free, but for the picky administrative frees that make following footy as much fun as doing your taxes a shorter sanction will do. Has the added bonus amongst rule changes of being simple for umpires to decide on, instead of asking them to undertake a complicated series of interpretations while the game is in motion.

The salary cap is $12 million a year, why do you still need to bung a few kids and recycled veterans into a corner, pay them less than everyone else and have to abide by arcane rules about when they can be played? Each club can currently have 47 players including Cat A and Cat B rookies, give everyone a maximum two player allowance for internationals and volleyball players who haven't kicked a footy since they were 12, allow clubs to offer players drafted below a certain round one year contracts and let them pick the side unhindered every week.

Bring back the deliberately rushed behind
This is something that I have literally never seen anyone else come out in favour of, but it's my fantasy. Instead of half-abolishing it and making things more confusing after that Richmond poon discovered a loophole why not just make it so you can't rush the ball under the other team has had a possession? 

Was the world really a worse place when players could thump the ball through their own goal from 30 metres out for want of anything better to do? Otherwise let them swing for the fences, if you want scoring defenders are quite happy to help out instead of having to do their best Acting Football League job to 'accidentally' run the ball over the line.  We all love it when a defender doesn't know if he can rush it and ends up conceding a goal, but realistically what are all the other times the ball is kept in play one metre out from goal doing for us? It's just asking defenders - never the world's most reliable kickists - to try and escape from a phonebooth. Cue thumping the ball towards the boundary or into traffic and you've either got the dreaded stoppage or the doubly dreaded congestion. 

If a team wants to concede a score and leave themselves having to find a way to exit the 50 who am I to stop them? And if they'd got some fantastic way that the rushed behind can convert into a quick escape and instant attack that's the sort of ingenuity we should be celebrating. But not by extending the size of the goal square, that would be shit.

Don't pay frees if there's not a direct impact on the play
You tackle somebody to the ground, they're not going anywhere, you then lean it on their back or lovingly caress their neck and are pinged. Rubbish. There's no way this will happen because the only benefit these weak as piss frees offer is that they avoid stoppages.

Free for out of bounds from a kick-in after playing on
I'm considerably opposed to a last touch out of bounds rule (and we'll get to that), but how come if you kick in directly from the square and it rolls out you're penalised but if you kick to yourself first it's not? Won't do much for spectacle, but will help my OCD. I'm expecting somebody to tell me this is already a rule, because I'm baffled as to how it isn't.

No more nominated ruckmen
Just throw the bloody thing up and if more than one player from either side jumps at it then pay a free kick. Alternatively bring back third man up and let everyone leap, the more people you've got in the air the more space there is at the ground for the ball to make a quick exit.

Proper score reviews
Give up on trying to determine whether the ball hit any part of a human on the way through and introduce some VAR/Hawkeye laser shit to properly adjudicate whether it crossed the line/hit the post. Otherwise go with the umpire's decision and don't encourage them to allow further inside the field of play than the post and/or goal line to be subject to video review.

Also, chuck these wildcat reviews that get done after a goal even though nobody asks for them. We can live with the slightest touch or deflection slipping through unnoticed. Especially because the person doing these unseen mystery reviews is rushed to complete it before the ball is bounced, if you're not going to give them the appropriate time to analyse something properly then don't do it it all. Besides, we all know they're not going to do it when a game is controversially won after the siren, so if an umpire doesn't ask you to review something sit in your bunker and put your feet up until called.

Sack about 75% of the Channel 7 commentary team and sedate Dwayne Russell
A cavalcade of buffoonery with not the remotest insight into why what you're seeing is happening. If you want people to feel invested in the game try educating us in how it's being played instead of force-feeding anecdotes about the parents of players and patting each other on the back for a "great call". Radio is the place for callers to go right off unnecessarily and act the goat, because people who don't like that sort of thing can generally find another option. On TV we're stuck with slop like BT, Basil and Darcy carrying on like they're doing breakfast radio in Dubbo.

As for Dwayne, go back and watch the end of Gold Coast vs St Kilda and enjoy the way a caller deemed only good enough for the worst game of the round perfectly captured the winning goal without going off like a pork chop. I don't even know who it was, but bless him for doing his job with the minimum of pomposity. It feels like Dwayne takes himself so seriously that he sits a level above the Channel 7 crowd, so we may be able to salvage something from him. He just needs to get some perspective by swapping places with Jason Bennett and calling VFL games at suburban grounds in the middle of a hurricane. 

Fair enough
The sort of stuff that I'll willingly go along with

Do nothing
My next best option to everything above. Last year was the highest scoring in three seasons, and skipping over the era where expansion teams and Melbourne were being caned every week 2017 was only a point per team worse off than 2010. So this year a bunch of horrid teams can barely score 50 and the overall average is at its worst since the 1960s, is that worth throwing the baby out with the bathwater over? Ratings are ordinary, but at least wait a couple of years before falling on the floor screaming like the CEO of Channel 7. At least that guy has got a direct financial interest in how the ratings go, he's got families to feed.

I'm an advocate that scoring doesn't necessarily = entertainment, but I will consider talking if it stalls at 1968 levels for a couple of years. Until then you're just jumping at shadows, and undoubtedly anything you do will have some sort of unforeseen consequence that will irritate somebody else. People have been moaning about footy not being as good as it used to be since the 1860s, what's new now other than a billion dollar TV contract? I say stuff the contract and get back to the days where players masqueraded as milkmen five days a week.

Four field umpires and/or two goal umpires
The charm of this game is that it's chaotic as fuck, and in an environment like that you're never going to get every decision right, but if this makes you feel you're as close as possible to perfection without introducing any in-play video referee bullshit knock yourself out. Just be wary that it's going to lead to more frees.

Pay holding the ball via stripping
So to speak. Isn't a bit weird that you could run the length of the field and if a player tackles you'd be caught holding the ball but if he missed and knocked it from your hands it would be play on? I'm open to discussion on how this would backfire but surely once you'd have appropriate prior opportunity and the ball is knocked from your grasp you've had enough fair warning to be pinged? It should also lead to a few hilarious scenes where players try to attack the ball and are left for dust as the carrier steps around them and runs off. Warning - may only be appropriate for a one-on-one strip, causing more interpretations for the umpires and leading me to only cautiously supporting it.

Remove the centre bounce
Happy for it to be thrown-up everywhere as a necessary sacrifice to avoid worse ideas being foisted on us. It would certainly save a few seconds every game where they don't have to recall the shit bounces that fling off in unintended directions. 

Set the interchange free
I'm not sure even the greatest spin doctor could prove a direct correlation, but if scoring is our one god almighty then it should be noted that it has kept going down since they capped rotations. Maybe we should just let coaches go for their lives again and see what happens? In all the confusion of players going on and off at a rapid rate somebody's sure to lose their opponent and create scoring opportunities.

Would not violently oppose, but unnecessary
This is the middle of road stuff that I don't feel is necessary, but wouldn't punch on over either.

Too late, everyone rolled over and let this rubbish happen and now you're stuck with it forever. Both pointless clubs that should have been strangled at birth, but I don't buy this argument that there aren't enough quality players to go around. If you cut 90 players across the league it might prematurely finish off a few has-beens and never-will-bes but I guarantee you that doesn't lead to a Carlton game on Friday night being worth watching.

I'm astonished that the AFL never carried on with this after the trial. It adds absolutely nothing to the spectating experience, where even on television you can't see them unless there's a close-up but I would have thought they'd have been all over it for merchandising purposes. Dwayne is keen on it so fans at home can see who everyone is, maybe you call them instead of screaming like an escaped mental patient whenever a team goes inside 50?

Play on from backwards kicks
This doesn't particularly stress me, but the question is how far back you're not allowed to go? If it's a strict line where it can't even retreat a centimetre and will finish switching the play away as a tactic forever then cram it with walnuts. If it's specifically only for kicks back into the defensive 50 I could wear it without too many complaints.

Lesser of multiple evils
Things I'll go along with if I absolutely have to, but reserve the right to picks holes in all the live long day. Moderate to high chance of punching on.

A twilight or night Grand Final
Do what you like, we won't be in it and I'm far too old to be at a party. May end up going to bed at half time.

Everyone told us the last reduction of the cap was going to cure the world's problems and apparently things have just kept getting worse. I'd wager this isn't going to help, but it's not such a radical change that I'd burn Steven Hocking and his committee in effigy if it happened. I still don't understand why a professional sport would want to try and engineer an outcome by fatiguing players, has anyone considered what games are going to look like at the end when you've flogged the bejesus out of the players for four quarters? Nevertheless, I'd be willing to cop this as a final number - if it doesn't work you don't get to go even lower.

Zones at a centre bounce
I suspect all the really stupid ideas being floated are just a warm-up so that when this is introduced next season you go "ahh, it might have been worse". I'm not convinced it will have the result you're hoping for, but will reluctantly cop it as long as the rest of the game is left unmolested. That might be the reason it doesn't get up, because it's fine to clear the ball out of the middle but what if nobody kicks a goal straight away and then the ball gets trapped in the same deadly congestion that we've all been so traumatised by? It's certainly the least offensive option involving a zone, which is not saying much.

Not at all interested, but not fatal
The sort of shit that I'd hate with a passion at first, and either come to terms with or moan about while I carried on half-heartedly watching neutral games.

Supposedly designed to 'widen the ground' and allow teams to transfer the ball from one end to the other easily. You know how people that refer to welfare as 'socialism' are weird and you can comfortably ignore them? Well when it comes to footy this is where I've got some sympathy for that viewpoint. If a team isn't good enough to move the ball from end-to-end on their own stiff shit, we don't need to introduce a handicap system to help them out.

Years ago I used to be in favour of this, now with draft points, academies, father/son bidding and soon live trading across two tedious days I don't see how it works. Besides, if you finish in the bottom four and can't find a good player you're either incompetent, the previous Melbourne administration or both.

Closely related to the 25 metre kick-in line, it's a gigantic square so players can instantly thump the ball into the middle of the ground. Meaning defenders would just sit back further so you either still had to go short or were kicking into a crowd like you do now. There'd be a bit more room, but are kick-ins really the devil? It would also penalise you for scoring a behind and elevate the five point play far beyond where it deserves to be.

Floating fixture
Before doing this, how about taking the guy who put Carlton on Friday night multiple times this year outside and kicking the shit out of him? If that doesn't make us feel better then this idea sounds alright in theory but good luck delivering it in practice. What is the aim of a Friday night game, is it to put on the best quality contest, the biggest drawing teams or the nearest thing you can find to both? It can't be the best game, because Channel 7 are never going to be rolled into broadcasting a top of the table GWS vs Port clash, and if you just rig it so the big teams are always on it ends up in this same scenario as now. So you're left with option C and what's the point of going to all that trouble just to end up often settling for second best anyway?

It's also not going to work when you've got certain games locked into particular timeslots, and matches in obscure places like Alice Spring, Cairns and China that have to be played at certain times. Attempting to implement the float around restrictions like this will end in complete shambles. How about instead they make an educated guess about who the interesting teams will be and focus on getting them on as much as possible - this year you'd have whiffed on guessing Essendon and Adelaide would be ok and North would shit, but it's not like the fixture is being computer generated for fairness like the EPL, it's constructed from scratch and quite frankly rigged within an inch of its life you can't tell me they couldn't get the balance right between quality and supporter numbers.

Reduced number of interchange players and substitutes
Back to the 3-1 days of 2011 to 2015, where highly paid AFL players rode exercise bikes for three quarters before coming on for cameo appearances. Looking back to how much I hated this at the time, it really didn't have that much of an impact so I wouldn't boil myself in oil if they reintroduced it. The problem was that nobody could get their story straight on why it was introduced in the first place, at the start it was supposed to be in the interests of making sure teams weren't disadvantaged by early injuries, then it was the old chestnut about tiring them out so the game would become a spectacle of fatigue by the end. Eventually the compromise of reduced interchange rotations saved us, and now even that's not good enough to stop us from ripping things up and starting again.

Shorter games
Depends how short. Lose 10 minutes and I'll reluctantly live with it, lose 30 minutes and I'm not going to spend time carting my arse to a ground but will watch on TV, lose 40 minutes and become a hit-and-giggle AFLX wankfest.

What this golden idea will do for the quality of the sport itself is unclear, I thought we were supposed to be exhausting players so they were unable to move at the end of a game? Does this come with all the other numpty stuff intended to have any player without a Milo of Croton level of fitness crawling along the turf by the final siren?

If you support this concept, perhaps don't enlist Chris Judd as your spokesperson. It was easy enough pocketing huge wads of cash to pretend he liked cardboard, but in this article one of his justifications for the game to be shorter is that Gold Coast vs St Kilda was close. A game that was won in the last 90 seconds, where under his plan we'd have been halfway through the press conferences.

Very suspect
The point where I'd start stocking canned food and weapons in advance of the spectacle apocalypse.

If you got 10 points for a win and one for the ton then maybe, but the idea that scoring a certain number is 25% as important as winning is shit and should be driven into the sea.

Last touch out of bounds
This is a game where you get a point for missing a shot at goal, now you're penalising teams with a free because a ball with a funky shape bounces out of play? It was a bad rule when they did it in the NAB Cup - with umpires often not sure who touched it last - it's a bad rule in AFLW where players miss a shot on goal and are penalised, and it will be a bad rule in AFLM. If congestion is your nightmare why would you do anything that makes it less attractive to kick to certain parts of the ground? The usual argument for it is that it will remove confusion about 'deliberate' decisions - then don't be such officious tightarses on those and only pay the really obvious ones.

I would be happy to watch a test of this and see how it went, but it feels like a stretch to try and artificially inflate attacking play. You've still got to get it clear though, people who advocate this seem to imagine the ball will instantly fling forward, but what about when it rolls towards the corner of the square and somebody's standing on the other side unable to do anything about it? Unnecessary.

Reduction of interchange to 20-40
How much more are we going to try and torture these players? Why not force them to operate a rowing machine while they're off the ground as well, just in case they've got enough energy to go make some sort of contest in the last quarter.

Or '17-5' if you'd prefer not to invoke the number of the beast. I don't see what's wrong with having an unbalanced draw, good teams will do well, bad teams will still play like arseholes and it's only middle of the road pretenders like us that will miss out because of the draw. Imagine trying to impose order on such a weird sport.

There's something that I can explain which draws me towards this, but when you look at it realistically why should the team finishing 12th have any hope of making the finals, and isn't it somewhat NQR for six teams to be playing for draft picks? Besides, it necks all your local derbies so it's never going to happen without being bastardised to try and fit them in as well - and once you take your allegedly 'fair' system and start rorting it to ensure West Coast play Freo twice what's the point in doing it to start with?

Wildcard games
Finally, mid-table mediocrity becomes something to aspire to, as 6th to 10th play for the right to either be obliterated by significantly better sides or make a mockery of the 22 weeks that got us there in the first place. Teams are 10th for a reason, because they're not very good. Finals should be elite, and despite what happened to us last year 8/18 is actually a perfect number. Why should the team that is exactly in the middle of a competition get to play for a title? Go away, get better and have another go the next year.

Zones at all stoppages
This is horrible, imagine the ridiculous scenes of players dashing hither and yon trying to get back in position before every stoppage? The only way that they could do this is by slaughtering stoppages with additional changes like last touch out of bounds, and that's not going to be good for anyone. What's wrong with stoppages anyway? The second ruckmen is effectively dead as a concept anyway, and this would start shifting the real deal out the door as well. 

The white flag department
Where you give up on the AFL in general - and other leagues that are forced to follow - and just follow your club until they win a flag then bow out gracefully.

This seems to be a popular option, but it makes me want to lean over and have a big old spew. In an 18 team competition you can have equity measures until the cows come home but there will still be shit teams, and the best way to send these shit teams to a gruesome death on a weekly basis will be to crack the field open and let them be run into the ground. You might get a better game when 1 plays 2, but there will be entire seasons where fans of teams below 12th don't even bother to turn up against good sides because they'll be certain a mauling is on the cards.

Much to the disinterest of the people who only love things that are American, soccer is a reasonably popular game and one of the few in the world where you can pit two teams that are ludicrously unbalanced and allow the worse one to hold some hope of an upset. What do you think happens to Iceland 1, Argentina 1 when you remove five players a side and play it at Box Hill Indoor Sports Centre? The Argies win by 20 and Lionel Messi scores 15. Is this a good thing? It is if you're Argentina, so when AFL goes 16 vs 16 and your team is in its imperial phase you'll have a lot of fun. When the rebuilding phase comes around you'll watch Iron Chef instead and come back a few seasons later when things have improved. If nothing else it should see teams comfortably top our 190/186 margins if they put any effort into it.

Having it in the women's league didn't stop the AFL from putting out a mid-season memo dictating how teams had to play. That's as much about the early standard of the competition as anything, but maybe if they had another couple of link players to kick to it wouldn't leave teams desperately trying to clear the ball out of defence for 10 minutes at a time?

People love to talk about how good the scoring was in the VFA, but that's probably because half the time teams were tearing each other to shreds. They had higher scores than the VFL every year from 1970, aided by classic battles like Williamstown 347 d. Camberwell 32 (1986) or Coburg 297 d. Camberwell 57 (189). Both on Camberwell's home ground, which must have had Cobras fans frothing at the mouth for more. To be fair to the Association, the scores only started to become regularly perverse in the 1980s, so perhaps if you artificially prop up all the teams to a reasonable standard for long enough you might get away it at the expense of any chance of a shit team to ever upset a good one again.

17 game season - teams play each other once
Where two weeks in you're 0-2 and reaching for the razor blades. Fortunately this will never happen in its purest, uncut form because the only thing the AFL loves more than spectacle is money. What we will get is the 'fair' draw then compromised with a bunch of top-up games 

Which, even if we remove the compromises required to the rest of the game to make this work, is the equivalent of discovering that T20 games are popular then playing 30 a week until they're just as boring as the shit you were trying to replace to start with. I would actually rather 17 games that meant something than 34 which didn't. Yes it happens in other sports. No it shouldn't happen here. According to proponent Patrick Dangerfield - who let's not forget is on the committee that is charged with coming up with wacky ideas - we'd have 80 minute games. Spew. 

Changing the scoring system
It's remarkable that none of the several dozen articles by ex-players have featured anyone trying to introduce a nine point goal. Dwayne Russell would crack a bar so hard there would be a Tsunami alert, but for sensible people realise that this does nothing for the game except probably see less goals kicked because players blow good options inside 50 trying to lob one in from distance. The extra points might cancel that out, but is this honestly going to drag anyone through the gate? I would think not. It just devalues the humble behind, footy's workhorse since 1897.

See also three points for a rushed behind, or anything involving bouncing it off the posts. Bonus scoring best experienced during some wankfest off-season AFLX match in Hong Kong.

The only place this even remotely makes sense is the NFL, where it's used to rig the fixture in favour of what passes for local derbys. Which is all good when you have a maximum of two teams in one city, but falls flat on its face in a competition where half the sides play at the same two grounds. Even in America it's often a farce, letting divisions full of shit teams send sides in the playoff while others with superior records in stronger groups are knocked out. One ladder, one finals series or GTFO. Peter Schwab - who's come up with a complicated format that ends in a 12 team finals series - suggests that conference titles give clubs more trophies to play for. Pull the other one Peter.

So who's going to pick up a ball in traffic knowing that any sort of tackle will see them pinged? It would guarantee about eight Brownlows in a row to sixth sense pack handballer Clayton Oliver, but the rest of the competition would be mired in an endless series of free kicks, soccers off the ground, and players standing around like the Looney Tunes gophers going "after you", "no, after you".

Permanent zones like a netball game
Fuck off and die.

The worst suggestion in history, confirming that nothing Eddie McGuire ever says again should be taken seriously.

To achieve what I'm not sure, other than blocking near adults from making good money. Charlie Spargo is 18-years-old, and some people would suggest that he's too young to have been drafted. So instead of pocketing a base of $85,000 this year plus $4000 each for his seven competent senior games and a bonus of $6000 for playing at least six games we'd have him hanging out at the Murray Bushrangers and working at Kentucky Fried Chicken in his spare time while he waits to become eligible.

Bollocks to that, why waste talent when it's roaring to go? Don't hold it against the players that some clubs (e.g. Melbourne 2012/13) have no idea what player welfare is. My outrageous suggestion that will never get up for mental health and relocating families is to go the other way and draft kids at 15. It'll certainly put an element of thrills and spills into your selections when you know they won't get to play until they're 17/18. Until then they get put on a sliding scale program where for the first year the club can barely touch them, then they can play a certain number of games for the reserves, and up we go until they become senior eligible. 

What's the point in having a unique game when you can just turn it into rugby, ironically as a response to people complaining that it's too much like rugby. If this ever gets in I'll eat my hat. It's only five metres further than the existing rule, but it's a bridge too far. Besides, who doesn't enjoy the bounce? Especially when a player flubs it and the ball bounces off at a bizarre angle? This is 100% a red herring proposal.

Substitutes only, no interchange
Another one for the "why do we want all the players to be dead by the end"? file. I bet the sadists who enjoy this sort of thing thought Human Centipede was a delightful comic romp.

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