The AFL has issued players with a warning about "unacceptable" contact with the head, declaring those who flout the rules will find themselves "in trouble" with officials and the tribunal.
On Tuesday, AFL football operations boss Brad Scott confirmed there will be no "material" rule changes in 2022 as he settles into the key role after taking over from Steve Hocking.
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However, Scott was quick to stress that player safety, particularly around head knocks and concussions, was at the forefront of certain tweaks to existing rule interpretations.
The former North Melbourne coach was warned players that the league is set to crack down on players who arrive late to contests and make contact with the head of an opposition player.
Head knocks are a particular focus, with contests to be heavily scrutinised by the league and its match review officer amid an intensifying focus on concussion and its long-term effects.
Head contact will not necessarily lead to harsher penalties next year, but the AFL will attempt to clarify how it expects players to approach contests.
The links between concussion and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) are now widely discussed in the world of sport and Scott said the AFL owed it to the players to provide them with better protection and more clarity on what is acceptable on the field.
"What was acceptable eight-plus years ago is not acceptable in 2021 and beyond," Scott said after Tuesday's meeting of the AFL Competition Committee.
"There was unanimous agreement from the Committee that attitudes, particularly as it relates to concussive-type head trauma, have changed and have shifted."
AFL hopes to alleviate head contact confusion
There was widespread confusion and debate last season when Adelaide's David Mackay was sent to the tribunal over a collision that left St Kilda player Hunter Clark with a broken jaw.
Mackay was initially charged with "unreasonable" rough conduct but was found not guilty by the tribunal.
Scott has gone through eight years of footage and said the Mackay-Clark collision was the closest he could find to "simultaneous, accidental contact".
"In most instances there is a player who is late to that contest," Scott said.
"If you're late and you hit the player in the head, you're going to be in trouble.
"There's broad acceptance of that amongst the clubs."
The AFL is hopeful incumbent match review officer Michael Christian will continue in the role next year, but the two parties are yet to lock it in.
Scott's mantra is "clarity and consolidation" of the game's rules after a period of significant change under Hocking.
The controversial "stand" rule will remain in place, while Scott will seek to crack down on players wasting time by delaying the return of the ball to opponents or umpires.
"We think they're pretty simple things but there has been a bit of creep in those areas over time," Scott said.
"I can't stress enough, we've got to make it clear to the clubs and players, and it's really important that we also make it clear to fans.
"A lot of the frustrations, I think, come from when fans are confused as to what the rules are, so we've got a job to do there."
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