Will zones improve the Game?

As the AFL get closer to the October deadline where its football operations manager Steve Hocking will announce the rule changes for the 2019 season, many opinions are circulating around the potential installation of ‘starting positions’ or ‘zones’.


In a secret session run by AFL umpire representatives last week at Etihad Stadium, Hawthorn players ran out for a scratch match to trial the new rule.


It was filmed for the AFL and its players’ association, which include Patrick Dangerfield as President, to see how it went.


Following the vision that Dangerfield saw with the AFL, he said on SEN radio that “We had a look through the vision of the Hawthorn training session from early in the week which was really interesting to see,”


“To be honest I really liked the look of it.


“I think it really does open up the game and we were able to see the differences of how it’s played now … and with the starting positions.


“It’s a far more exciting game I think.


Dangerfield strongly believed that it was a good solution to the congestion – although there is, as is often the case, a downside.


And only yesterday, Sam Landsberger reported another secret session held by the AFL in a tweet by asking the question “Did the Lions boys enjoy the open space at today’s secret rules trial at the Gabba?”.


Following on, it wrote “Understand one of the starting points was a full-forward and full-back in a bigger goalsquare. Another two pairs started in the arcs.”


In the objective to lessen congestion, are starting positions really the answer in our search for a reduced level of congestion?


Do we want to see players standing in the forward 50 when the balls on the opposite side of the ground?


When former AFL player and coach Paul Roos was asked about the possible rule change last Monday on Fox Footy’s ‘On The Couch’ he said that “[he] saw it for two years in the TAC Cup. It just doesn’t work. If it’s a windy day, you got four forwards standing on the other end of the ground. Players will be going; hang on I haven’t touched the ball.”


The other question that comes to mind is; if your club’s a bottom four team and you’re up against a top-eight team, would you like to see an open game of high scoring footy where goals are being scored freely and rapidly by the opposition?


In Hawthorn’s scratch match to trial the rule, both teams would’ve been evenly spread in talent for an even contest. The AFL is yet to see how it will go under an uneven game where one team is dominating.


(Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)


As many witnessed last week between St Kilda and Sydney, the game was lost it competitive lustre after quarter time when Sydney were up by 48 points.


Not only was the game lost that quickly but Saturday night footy and the whole footy world may have been tempted to switch on to something else more compelling. The commentators had a tough job to maintain interest for the viewers and the fans were unless you were a Sydney supporter, nonplussed by the one-sided nature of the contest.


The game certainly did nothing to prove how much of an entertaining sport AFL really is. The game was a lifeless spectacle and invited TV viewers to abandon the coverage to watch a different sport.


This high scoring first quarter, that some would describe as entertaining due to an open game where the ball movement was fast. Although, as evident in this game and quarter of footy, high scoring, free-flowing, uncongested footy is not always the most entertaining product to watch.


By the time the AFL announce its rule changes in early October, they will ultimately want to enhance the entertainment value of the game.


They are always trying to do this to get the edge on other sporting codes and deliver the best product to current and potential audiences.


Opening up the game might seem to be a good solution for congestion – although the downside is that it may reduce the number of close games of footy that fans get to see each year.


Margins will be able to blow out more easily when the dominant teams play struggling teams – meaning there is the greater chance that games will be over before they’ve even started.


Fans may choose to not even bother watching more than a quarter on TV, let alone going to the game.


The game will be poorer if this is a regular occurrence. It will lose fans and supporters of the game as there will be better alternatives for people to partake in.


Every game of footy must have some doubt in it, a sense of uncertainty to what will be the end result. It is the epitome of good competition.


The game must set targets to ensure that this is satisfied as best as it can without significant rule changes.


The games long history needs to be considered and respected. The AFL must consider the integrity of the game and maintain it to its utmost honesty and honour.


For the game to implement starting positions or zones of some sort is simply too big a change to this integrity that the games upheld for so long in its history.


A small solution which does not change the rules of the game but simply reduces congestion is what Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge said last week.


“There’s some quite cosmetic changes we can make, like balling the ball up a bit quicker, which means you don’t nominate ruckman, it’s the team’s obligation to make sure they’ve only got one up if we want to maintain the one-up rule.”


As stated in an article written previously, it is a small solution that will get the ruckman to ball ups on time which will reduce the number of players around the ball.


Beveridge also stated that “There’s things currently in the game through the broadcast and the umpires not moving the game on quick enough that encourage and entice congestion.”


This is an issue which the AFL could fix through a deal with their Channel Seven and Foxtel broadcasters.


It is something the AFL should do if they really care and think that congestion is a big issue of the game. If so, they will need to show their resilience to lose a bit of commercial money for the game to run as best as possible.


Two simple solutions stated by Beveridge that should be considered as they won’t significantly affect the traditions that have defined the game for centuries.


Even if the AFL doesn’t choose to stop broadcasters from holding up the game, there are many other small solutions that the AFL can make to reduce congestion without a lot of changes.


For example, extending the running distance to 20 metres so players can run further without having to bounce the ball.


“There will always be times when there’s a lot of numbers in certain areas but I think we make the cosmetic changes and see how it affects us, let’s not be too dramatic.” Beveridge said in a press conference last week.


This is the ultimate consideration that the AFL must take on board during the process of making any rule changes over the next few months.


The AFL need to look at making the game better with the least amount of rule changes as possible.


Small steps – the rule changes don’t have to come out all at once. One by one, they can be implemented, assessed and reviewed with the long-term aim to reduce congestion over a longer period.


The game could be adversely affected and come under threat if drastic rules changes are implemented therefore the AFL as custodians of the game must act responsibly and do it slowly.


This will ultimately be the best way that we can discover the right rule changes that will ensure the highest level of Australian rules football is an entertaining spectacle.


Relevant Links


Earl O’Neil, State of the Game: The 2018 Redtails Cup, 30th May 2018.


Dips O’Donnell, The State of the Game and the Truth of the Matter, 15th June 2018


Curtis del Mar, The State of the Game, 19th June 2018



  1. Rabid Dog says

    Well, it’s just a continuation of the current ‘free kick wing defence’ BS, isn’t it. just WRONG.

  2. Can’t you see that every season there is yet another tweak to the rules to improve the game, yet none of them seem to be fit for purpose? I don’t see the other codes that compete with the AFL changing their rules every year to make their games more appealing to some imaginary punter or television rights holder who apparently is never satisfied with their great game’s look. It is as though the custodians of the AFL do not respect the game itself.

  3. This is quite simple:

    Will zones improve the game? No.

    Will zones destroy the game? Yes.

    The mere fact that this is being discussed causes me great angst. Its like asking if we should shift Christmas to July.

  4. Dave Brown says

    I don’t buy for a second this discussion is about improving the game. Its major goal is to increase the number of ad breaks, Ch 7 were pretty clear about that. I think Beveridge’s suggestion should be tried first. Encourage the umpires to act quickly and decisively, get rid of the third man up rule. Get rid of the dived on holding the ball rule where a tackling player gets rewarded for holding the ball to the opponent for five seconds – pay htb quickly and move the play on or ball it up straight away. Involved in the coaching of a junior team that regularly gets on the wrong end of hidings, having to play our players in position removes the only chance we have of stemming the bleeding.

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