AFL to confirm any rule changes by October

Michael Ramsey and Ben McKay

The AFL has committed to instituting yearly rule changes in October, and October alone, to try to prevent knee-jerk adjustments which have irritated clubs and fans.

The decision was the headline finding of the AFL's new competition committee, which met for the first time on Thursday in Melbourne.

AFL football operations boss Steve Hocking said the 12-man group, which includes Collingwood president Eddie McGuire and Geelong champion Patrick Dangerfield, agreed on the move as a first start to tackling a "broad range" of issues facing the game.

But decisions on hot topics such as mid-season player movement, efforts to reduce congestion and the future of AFLX are yet to be made, with the committee set to flesh those concepts out further at meetings in July and August.

The AFL caught teams off guard in December 2016 when it introduced a raft of rule changes including banning the third man up at ruck contests, a stricter interpretation of deliberate rushed behinds and a crackdown on striking.

Hocking on Thursday did not dispute that such changes could be viewed as knee-jerk reactions.

"That may be a view from that," he told reporters.

"If you think about how (clubs) can set up for the next season, it's done through that October, November and December period ... by the time they get to (January), they're well and truly set.

Steve Hocking. Pic: Getty

"From this meeting today, right through until July, that game analysis team has an absolute bucketload of work.

"We'll work through going through all of that and getting the necessary data altogether so that we're actually making really considered decisions."

No AFL topic has been more hotly debated in recent weeks than the way the game looks.

Scoring is down, and concerns about player congestion have led to a wide range of suggestions on how to encourage a more free-flowing style.

Hocking said he was broadly comfortable with the state of the game but the committee would look at whether tweaks were necessary.

"It's fair to say that some of those decisions may not even be rule changes," he said.

"They could actually be the broader part of the game around the game: the resourcing; off-field changes. What does a calendar look like over the year? What does a season look like in the future?"

The AFL is likely to introduce some sort of additional player movement period next season but Hocking will not be drawn on the potential timing.

AFLX was played for the first time in the pre-season. The committee will continue to examine the future of the concept, including how it fits alongside an expanded AFLW competition.

HOW KEY AFL FIGURES WOULD IMPROVE THE GAME

* NATHAN BUCKLEY: The Collingwood coach has prescribed the radical move of eliminating prior opportunity as a way to reduce congestion around the ball. Buckley reckons such a move would encourage players to clear the ball quickly from hot spots and open up the game. Geelong counterpart Chris Scott is firmly opposed, suggesting it would lead to "500 free kicks a game".



* ALASTAIR CLARKSON: Clarkson's position is similar to Buckley's in that he wants greater reward for tacklers. But the Hawthorn coach believes the key is cracking down on incorrect disposals by hand - something teams including Greater Western Sydney and the Western Bulldogs have been accused of exploiting. Clarkson says greater policing might also reduce the number of player concussions.

* CHRIS SCOTT: Geelong's long-serving coach is a fan of reducing the number of players on the ground to 16 a side, with six on the interchange, on the basis that fewer players on the ground should mean less congestion. The AFL is believed to have overseen 16-a-side practice matches, although it's unclear whether football boss Steve Hocking is as keen on the idea as his predecessor Mark Evans.

* LEIGH MATTHEWS: The AFL legend reckons there should be starting positions at centre bounces with six defenders, six midfielders and six forwards. The idea would certainly have an impact, given there is a strong tendency in the modern game for teams to play a spare man in defence or to have players streaming towards the centre square at the bounce. But it wouldn't address congestion at other stoppages and in general play.

* NICK RIEWOLDT: The retired St Kilda champion is among the biggest supporters of slashing interchange rotations from 90. A running machine in his day, Riewoldt would be happy to see as few as 40 rotations per game. But influential figures such as Geelong star Patrick Dangerfield are opposed to the idea, while North Melbourne coach Brad Scott believes it would increase the risk of player injuries.