Another day, another flabbergasting gaff from those responsible for making decisions at the AFL. It's official, AFLs umpires rule of the week is here to stay. Weekly memos and different training material every week, and no one wants to read it, reportedly.
I have absolutely no idea why the AFL would think that clubs would want to keep track of it on a daily basis. I suppose when the umpires are making glorious mistake after calamitous mistake, they need a crotch to lean on.
Ridiculous interpretation changes made in the pre-season hasn't helped. Its increased the difficulty to officiate an already difficult sport, to the point where its basically impossible to do so consistently. Its just confused everyone involved, coaches, players and spectators.
Apparently, more than half of the clubs aren't accessing the umpires coaching material. So they have no idea what the rules are, or how they're going to be interpreted the following weekend. It could be argued that its not the AFLs' fault that there's confusion, but they must be tripping on Acid.
It's ludicrous, and outrageous, to expect clubs to spend time each week, analysing and planning for rule changes. This just shouldn't be happening, there shouldn't be a single interpretation change during the season, unless there's something blatantly wrong. Clubs shouldn't have to adjust their season training plan to accommodate for incompetent administrators, or for incredibly inconsistent officiating.
On Tuesday, football operations boss Simon Lethlean revealed to SEN, that the umpires coaches notes from last week showed that they planned to focus on how 'prior opportunity' was being applied.
"The coaching notes are made available to every club that wants them for the week ahead as to what has been the focus," Lethlean said.
"There was certainly a focus on potentially the fact [prior opportunity] had been quite hot in the first couple of weeks."
This wouldn't be such an issue if there wasn't an obvious, and ridiculous readjustment to the interpretation of certain rules during last weekends matches. Players weren't rewarded for laying legitimately good tackles on players that had plenty of chances to legally dispose the ball. Players were given far too much leeway to make the play, throwing it, dropping it and fumbling it seemingly at will. Compared to the previous round, players barely had to tackle to be rewarded. There was absolutely no benefit for the player making the play, and now there's absolutely no reward for the player tackling.
As an umpire of 6 years, I find the dramatic interpretation changes embarrassing and unacceptable. The grand final was poorly officiated, but instead of addressing the issues with the umpires from that match, the football operations department has gone far beyond what was needed, and just screwed things up.
Just to ram the point home, this is from Scott Pendlebury after the game against the Swans on Friday night.
“We got the memo before the game about the holding-the-ball rule, that they (umpires) are going to give the ball-carrier more opportunity, so for us, our eyes just lit up,” Pendebury said on the Jock and Journo podcast.
“We thought this was an opportunity here to tackle. We are just going to tackle and tackle and tackle, because the ball was going to spill out and they’re not going to ping guys.
“They’re going to give them a bit more of a chance (to dispose the ball), so we had to keep buttering up, keep following up and we had 115 tackles for the game.”
“On the weekend if it spilled out it was just play-on again,” he said.
“It allows you to have five or six tackles in a scrimmage.
“We just spoke about just keep hunting the footy and keep tackling and if you win the ball you are going to get the chance to get through them.
“Our game was finals-like.”
You shouldn't need a memo every week from the AFL clarifying what the rules are. Everyone knows them, adjudicate them properly.
This would be best addressed by making the umpires full time.
“I think in an general sense — put the Grand Final to one side — we need to put more resources into umpiring and umpires need to spend more time looking at their craft.”
“It’s very difficult having the whole industry full-time and to have the part-time umpires ... (but) Paul Roos has been talking about it for 10 years and it hasn’t got there.
“I think whatever you do the more time you spend working at your craft, you get better at it.
“Certainly it’s a pretty important part of the game and it’s a pretty complicated game to umpire, hopefully more resources get thrown at it.”
While some umpires would give up a lot going full time, it would help them improve their ability to adequately and consistently adjudicate games.
But according to recently retired umpire Stuart Wenn, the umpires would be giving up too much.
“We’ve come through history with umpires having full-time jobs (away from football). The challenge is a lot of those guys are in very high-paid careers. They are well established in those by the time they actually get to the AFL ... there would be guys on the AFL list that would earning upwards of $250,000-$300,000 a year in their day-to-day jobs — you’re asking them to give up a lot to go and umpire full-time,” he told SEN.
But he said spending more time with clubs to work through new rules — like this year’s crackdown on deliberate rushed behinds — was the key to improving the standard of umpiring.
“Coaches want good decision-making, consistent decision-making ... you can’t practice those things by turning up and running around an oval.”
Improving the standard of umpiring has to be the highest priority of the AFL football operations department, and they should start with ditching rule of the week.
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