My rule: don't tamper, says Dwayne Russell

Friday, May 24
Geelong Advertiser

ASKING for every AFL game to be unforgettably brilliant is like asking for a zero road toll. It sounds possible in theory, but it will never happen.
Some teams have better personnel and superior skill. Some teams play ugly. Someone must always finish last.

Those facts have not altered in 106 years of VFL/AFL.

St Kilda's percentage is almost as bad as Fitzroy's was in the seasons before it went bust.

The Saints are no better to watch now than the Lions were in the '80s.

All we ever see from the '70s are the classic, replayed, romantically heralded games, because the hundreds of daggy, rain-swept, mud-slowed matches have long been taped over.

Flooding or no flooding, the game is better now than it has ever been. If you think it has become boring, then look back or, better still, grab the videos of any full round of matches from the '90s. The game itself has not become boring. Just some games have. Just like some always have.

Football is constantly evolving, as are people's lives. The fact that many people are not into the game like they once were can have more to do with their age and circumstance than the game itself.

Change can also be difficult to accept. When handball came into vogue late in the '60s, the old-timers whinged about how it was ruining the great game they grew up with.

When the VFL became the national league in 1990 some Victorians who cherished their little old state-wide competition refused to embrace growth and stopped attending.

Professionalism also killed off a few fans in the '90s, when the game became ruled by money and players started playing for the cheque rather than the jumper.

But the game will win new fans.

The controversial characters, the overweight alcohol drinking larrikins, the flawed geniuses and the serial tribunal attenddhees have been replaced as role models by men like James Hird, Nathan Buckley and Shane Crawford.

Men who we know inside out because their entire lives are documented. Men who cannot drink and drive, or misbehave at nightclubs. Admirable, professional, elite, athletic men.

But the AFL walks a fine line with its rule changes. Football has a magic that has evolved beautifully with minimal artificial tampering.

In 1969, after years of seeing players kick the ball without penalty over the boundary line to waste time, the out-on-the-full rule was introduced. It was a good move.

From 1981, players have been allowed to run 15 metres rather than 10 metres with the ball before bouncing - another alteration with great foresight given the increased pace of the game.

But, in 1988, the VFL was too swift in making it compulsory for players to kick the ball when awarded a free. It failed to add any more high marks to the game, instead adding little sideways kicks to the stats sheet. They changed the rule back two years later.

There was a push last year to have play-on if a ball hit the goalpost and bounced back into play.

It sounded reasonable in theory, but did not take into account a team needing a point to win and having a shot after the siren hit the post.

Collingwood coach Michael Malthouse and Kangaroo coach Denis Pagan have strongly voiced their disapproval of radical rule changes specifically designed to stop flooding, and their disapproval of mid-year rule alterations.

Just let the year unfold.

Sure, allow umpires the right to be strict on the manhandling of players who have taken uncontested marks.

Let them use their judgment, but make sure they don't go over the top with their clamping down on players deliberately wasting time before they dispose of the ball.

Then, at the end of the year, get all the football brains from near and far who want to toss up radical rule changes, like nine points for a goal from outside 50.

Let Allan Jeans express his plan to divide the oval up into thirds and force some players to stay in and out of certain zones.

Give them a whiteboard, a dozen Textas and lock them in a room. And let them out in 2005.