MRP – it’s the humans, stupid

We all remember the old AFL tribunal – well some of us do. It was hopeless. Subjective as all get out. Inconsistent. Biased. Incredibly frustrating. Everybody agreed, even the AFL commissioners. There had to be a better way.

So they scoured the globe, looked at other systems, and decided that the solution was to go mechanistic. Use a rule base system with a couple of gatekeeper humans and good consistent results will just fall out like Dorsogna sausages.

To be fair they are trying to solve a difficult problem, the circumstances they deal with are to some extent deterministic, extremely non linear, fractal events. Just the sort of thing a rule based system will be really bad at.

The rules begin …

On-field umpires and certain off-field observers can report players for incidents which occur curing games. On the Monday after the round of football, each incident is then reviewed by the Match Review Panel, a small panel of former players and umpires. Within the review, the Match Review Panel grades the severity of the incident in three factors, and awards activation points depending upon the severity. The three factors are:

  • Conduct: the panel determines whether the player’s actions were intentional (three activation points), reckless (two activation points), negligent (one activation point), or accidental/incidental (charge rejected).
  • Impact: the panel determined how hard the player hit another player. This can be graded as severe (four activation points), high (three activation points), medium (two activation points), low (one activation point), or negligible (charge rejected). The Match Review Panel can consider injury reports when assessing impact.
  • Contact: the panel determines whether contact was made to the head (two activation points), groin (two activation points) or body (one activation point).

The activation points from all three categories are added together to give the total activation points points for the incident. It is important to note that an incident involving accidental/incidental conduct, or negligible impact, will be rejected and the player will receive no penalty, even if the activation points in the other categories are high.

Next, activation points are converted into an offence level:

  • 3-4 activation points = Level 1 offence
  • 5 activation points = Level 2 offence
  • 6 activation points = Level 3 offence
  • 7 activation points = Level 4 offence
  • 8 activation points = Level 5 offence
  • 9 activation points = Ungraded offence

Next, the player is given a number of base demerit points, based on the type and level of his offence. The base demerit point totals are standardised in the Table of Offences. As an example, any player charged by the Match Review Panel with a Level 4 Kicking offence receives 550 base demerit points. This is where the Match…

And they go on and on and on… and on.

So after recovering from the hopeless trumped up junk that was thrown at my club by the MRP recently, I have decided to apply these rules to the worst thing I have seen this year. I was about 40 meters from the incident and saw it from the most revealing angle. It is of course Sharrod Wellinghams big hit. I think the old tribunal would have given him about 6 weeks. The match review panel gave him 3. But by my reading of the rules I dont think they applied them correctly because, gross as it was I believe it was incidental. What really happened is that Wellingham chickened out of trying to mark the ball which I’m sure was his first intent going into the contest. What happened after that was pretty much incidental, as a result of that fear driven act. Case dismissed! Now that doesn’t mean an ‘expert system’  cant work, it might just mean the rules are wrong.

Anyway, the fact is the system has exactly the same problem as the one it replaced. Human subjectivity. In the wrong system, rules are worse than no rules. To wit mandatory sentencing, but I digress, I dont think we want to go back to the bad old days of the tribunal, perhaps we are better improving what we have.

So consider this – if we want to go mechanistic, why on earth do we want the special experience of former players and umpires present on the panel. Surely, given they are human, this can only lead to unintended estimations and judgements that are outside the rules. Precisely what we dont want. What we need are people with a very high emotional intelligence who know absolutely nothing about the game. A female Norwegian solicitor with no interest in sport would probably be the ideal profile for the Chairmans role. The point being the less the panel members know about the game and the competition, the more chance they have of correctly applying the rules a-priori.









  1. But honestly Neil, how would a Norwegian solicitor with no knowledge of the game know not to rub out Barry Hall before a Grand Final even though the evidence was irrefutable?

  2. I’m with you Neil, but why stop there? Three Norwegian female socilitors. Long blonde hair and even longer legs. Lime green hotpants and silk blouses. That would even make today’s Eagles V Power game watchable (just).
    Oh, you meant the legal sort of solicitors.
    Just a thought. Lingerie umpiring would be a big step forward from the girls blouses that are doing the job these days.

  3. Like your style Neil, well done, but I have one point of discontention.

    It is not human. It is either incompetence or corrupt.

    I notice that young J Selwood got the (c) (r) (a) (p) bashed out of him last Friday night. You can guarantee that even though all telly viewers saw it the MRP wont.

    Seethingly yours.

  4. Mark Doyle says

    This is a nonsensical essay and a poor attempt at satire written by a person who does not understand both the rules of AFL football and the legal system. Notwithstanding whatever quasi-judicial system that is imlemented for AFL football, 95% of supporters and the moronic media buffoons will whinge about decisions of player indiscretions.
    I am pleased that the club that I support, which is Geelong, did not challenge the Match Review Panel decision for Joel Selwood because to do so would have been churlish and childish.

  5. Does MRP stand for Mark’s Really Pissed??? (again)
    Confused of Kalgoorlie

  6. Neil Belford says

    That fairly high moral ground Mark – I cant help suspecting Geelong didn’t challenge because Selwood would have got a week off if they had done so and lost.

    However you are correct that it is poorly written because I didn’t intend it to be satirical. I mean it. I do think the system would work better if the panel members had no previous knowledge of the game. They are not there to make value judgements, they are there to implement the rules. They need to be intelligent, clinical, and disengaged from ‘footy’.

    By the way I happen to think the Selwood decision was insane bordering on paranormal. and of all the crazy switchy twitchy things they have done this year that one was the worst.

    Phantom makes and excellent point too, it is easily as much a problem with the things that dont make the list as it is with evaluation of the stuff that does.

    In short keep the system, replace the panel.

  7. Neil, instead of a Norwegian, female…oh … solicitor to adjudicate on such scenarios, perhaps someone from the hierarchy within the Catholic church would do? Or FIFA? And for Peter B’s sake, get three of ’em.

  8. Therefore intentional kick to the head with enough force to concuss = 9 points.

    In the Northern Tasmanian Football League that draws a five week suspension.

  9. Neil,
    There is actually a lot of merit in your suggestion that the MRP
    ahould consist of people with no knowledge of the game.

  10. It already does Smokie.

  11. John Harms says

    I didn’t spot the satire myself Neil.

    Interesting food for thought.

    Without wanting to sound like a conspiracy theorist from Northern Tassie, it doesn’t hurt the AFL to have an ambiguous system: look at the broadcasting minutes and column cm that it consumes. Keeps footy on the front page. “Judd faces three weeks”. I can write the story now. “Carlton’s premiership hopes took a terrible blow on Saturday when umpires….”

    And on another of the matters you raise: I will dig out a piece I wrote at the time of the Wellingham incident, but chose not to post, mainly because I thought it would seem like harsh anti-Collingwood sentiment. (I suppose if you make your bed you have to lie in it).

  12. John Harms says

    Some thoughts I had at the time but didn’t publish.

    The fact that Wellingham is a Collingwood player is incidental in this case. My prejudices are not involved in my observation.
    Why do a few of the elders of the football tribe, or maybe even many of them – those who have played and coached and now analyse publicly, and those who observe and analyse – try to water down an incident like the Wellingham one.
    You just can’t.
    It was not clumsy.
    In this instance it was an attack on a footballer playing the ball, by a footballer playing the man. The idea of Wellingham bracing for the expected contact is just fanciful. He’s an elite footballer, supremely coordinated, an elite decision-maker.
    This is a footballer making an opponent earn it, in the old money.
    I understand the argument that this was commonplace 30 years ago, and it was. But there was a different culture then, and players had to learn to protect themselves from incidents like that. They went in to situations half-expecting that sort of sniping, aware of the number plates in the vicinity.
    But, in this culture, footballers play not expecting that, and hence they are not as self-preserving.
    Much of the analysis of the past players is ultimately defending an inappropriate action, and legitimising it now and in previous (glorious?) times.

  13. That was 39 years ago Harmsy.

    Laurie Fowler on Big Nick in the GF was a real hit.

    I think the current Geelong F C football manager had a bit to say as well but Geoff Southby can’t remember.

  14. You’re trying to draw me out aren’t you Phanto? Well, it worked. I was there for the Laurie Fowler hit. Half hip and shoulder. half tunnelling, all hit. He’d stood behind Boyanich in the pocket the year before and pushed him out of the contest with his chest at the last moment to claim the uncontested mark. I think he kicked six, and Ray got cleared back to WA before the next season. Laurie was just making sure it didn’t happen again.

    Laurie got cleared to Melbourne as part of a ring-a-rosy swap deal and went on to an illustrious career there. it was the beginning of Richmond’s go for whatever you want at whatever cost phase that saw them fade away to oblivion after going down in 1982 to – you guessed it – Bloody Carlton.

    I was there for the Southby king hit too. When you’re tired of the great work Balmey’s putting in at The Cattery, we wouldn’t mind having him back – if it’s all right with you.

  15. I was with my Tiger supporting Dad and brother at the previous (1972) GF Wrapster. The high scoring one. Not happy campers were they.

    I remember being in the garden at home the next year. Reg (Dad) started frothing at the mouth with excitement listening to the radio when Laurie and Mums Boy (Balmey) did their stuff.

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