Welcome to the Devolution

A long, long time ago in a galaxy not too far away, back when Kevin Bartlett and his Tigers ruled football’s suburban jungle, American New Wave band Devo topped the charts with its definitive track ‘Whip It’.

Devo – those geeky guys sporting red flower pot hats – took their name from their theory of ‘devolution’.  In short, instead of continuing to evolve, mankind has actually begun to regress.

So has Devo got to do with footy, or KB I hear you ask?

Well, if what we’ve seen on the field so far in 2013 is anything to go by, and what can be anticipated next year when the full brunt of Bartlett and his AFL Rules Committee’s unrelenting slowdown style of football comes to pass, after decades of becoming ‘faster every year’ we are finally in the midst of a Devolution.

Of course the early going is renowned for scrappy, fatigue impacted contests, and few have predicted the ramifications of past rule changes with unerring accuracy.  Notwithstanding, a 1970’s contested, positional style of footy conducive to ‘markologists’ might not be the worst thing since KB’s combover.  Question is, will a product more closely resembling the VFL advance the AFL’s attempts to conquer the world, or at least Sydney’s western frontier?

Even since the introduction of the substitute rule sans cap, teams appear unable to execute physically demanding pressing or flooding tactics for more than brief ‘powerplays’.  Now that umpires are instructed to ‘crack that whip’ on players moving the ball after marks and free kicks, and to initiate quick ball ups at stoppages, opportunities to marshal the troops for tactical deployment have evaporated.

Apparently the primary driver is reducing heavy impact collisions, and perhaps a desire to encourage contested situations where the ball is constantly in dispute.  However there seems to have been a failure to communicate what this means for the game’s spectacle, or the compelling research findings that point to an overall net reduction in injuries being achieved by pushing players to exhaustion.  In equating the interchange explosion to using five runners in a 4×400 race Tim Lane opined that the spirit of the game was compromised – but is effectively using three runners and turning football into merely a war of attrition a valid alternative?

Andrew Demetriou’s sudden ‘thou shalt be an interchange cap next year’ decree came as a shock.  Credit to the Rules Committee for granting Darren Jolly the opportunity to present his case (after the fact), and the expressed desire to seek the opinions of players, coaches and fans, but I’ve yet to see a straw poll asking what kind of football floats my boat. Despite all the interactive possibilities of social media, there is a sense of powerlessness over where the AFL is taking the game, and what the next gear change will entail.

Whilst contemporary rules aimed at minimising head, front-on and dangerous sliding contact are more than reasonable, granting players mere seconds to move on the ball, on the back of the substitute rule, is a double whammy that may have club strategists scurrying for answers.  It’s little wonder sports scientists are on as much coin as many footballers, that wealthier clubs are building institutes of football, and PED’s have reared their ugly head.  Andy’s cap next year represents a triple threat to the game’s aesthetic appeal and players’ physical coping mechanisms.

Clubs intermittently resting their stars has already come to pass, and in conducive circumstances players en masse, in order to get them past week 22.  It’s far from ideal.  Nor is the inability of strung out players to perform basic skills such as kicking over the metaphorical jam tin or hitting the side of a barn a welcome sight.  As for backmen granted nanoseconds to hit a target, being a bowler in the Big Bash would be a more attractive caper.

It’ll be interesting to see what footballer prototype will thrive.  If stoppages are minimised, how will ruckmen and clearance specialists fare?  My guess is tall, big bodied athletic types that are strong overhead will be in demand, as will old school rovers such as KB, funnily enough…

In the past decade the AFL’s rules have undergone more changes than David Bowie with all the popularity of Devo and their head gear.  Whether the Rules Committee are prone to unwarranted interference or responsibly acting in the best interests of football is a matter for conjecture. Nonetheless, painting a clearer picture of what they see as a Utopian brand of football would be a welcome insight for all concerned.  After all, it is ‘the people’s game’, right?

Devo  Book  KB

‘When a problem comes along, you must whip it’; AFL Rules (Vol 2); Proud KB

About Jeff Dowsing

Washed up former Inside Sport and Sunday Age Sport freelancer. Now just giving my stuff away to good homes. Not to worry, still have my health and day job. Published & unpublished works fester on my blog Write Line Fever.


  1. Great writing Jeff. You’re a real pro.

    I find the evolution of aussie rules more fascinating than any other aspect. Watching the game speed up over the last few years has been thrilling. Its like the game has gone from being a tortoise to a cheetah in a couple of generations. Of course what fast tracked this was bench rotations. Checking the number will of course steer the game’s evolution elsewhere. As to whether that’s a devolution I’m not sure? You’d reckon those entrusted with the game’s best interests have that exactly in mind. If devolving the game back to a speed where player welfare is accommodated then that’s got to be a good thing. Let’s just hope that whatever way the rules committee folk steer the game is the best one.

  2. Skip of Skipton says

    Not Devolution, more a turn around. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJFndSJVSYA

    It wasn’t until 2010 that interchange rotations went crazy (Collingwood), so I don’t see a cap on them being too big an intrusion, or something that will be hard to adapt to.

    Here’s a cover of Turn Around. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUrHTYyr8TQ. It’s on the Incesticide album.

    Those ‘flower pots’ are actually Energy Domes.

Leave a Comment