Adelaide forward Taylor Walker believes tough new holding-the-ball interpretations have changed the way AFL players approach contests in recent weeks.
A mid-season league directive led umpires to tighten the adjudication of the rule and subsequent inconsistencies have frustrated players, coaches and fans alike.
It followed scathing criticism from Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson last month about the congested state of the game and the perceived failure of umpires to reward tacklers.
The debate has raged in recent weeks and was reignited on Monday night after a series of contentious holding-the-ball decisions during St Kilda's win over Adelaide.
On Tuesday, the AFL conceded there were multiple cases of missed or unwarranted free kicks at Adelaide Oval.
"I actually do feel a little bit for the umpires at the moment with the holding-the-ball issue," former Crows captain Walker said.
"It's been raised in the industry and now I feel it's making it tougher and tougher for our umpires to adjudicate the game.
"But I've got to be careful what I say because I don't want to be pulling out money from my pocket."
Walker said players are now accepting being second to the ball rather than trying to win it, because of the way holding-the-ball is being adjudicated.
"You can clearly see that blokes are now thinking twice about, 'Do I get the ball and then get tackled or do I let someone else get it and I'll tackle them?'," he said.
"It has certainly played a part in the way people are playing."
Earlier this season, the AFL sent a memo to clubs emphasising the specifics of the holding-the-ball rule.
The memo read: "Where a player is in possession of the football and has not had prior opportunity, a field umpire shall award a free kick if the player is able to, but does not, make a genuine attempt to correctly dispose of the football when legally tackled."
AFL football operations boss Steve Hocking conceded errors had been made during the Crows-Saints clash.
"We acknowledge there were decisions in (Monday) night's game that were either missed or unwarranted free kicks and we will continue to work towards ensuring stronger consistency in decision making, particularly with regards to holding-the-ball decisions," Hocking said.