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A ménage à trois - the answer to the AFL yawn

By Mirko Bagaric - posted Friday, 18 August 2006

Collingwood versus Geelong versus the Eagles, that’s the answer to the current malaise in AFL football. Three sides playing each other (with an extra set of goal and behind points on the wing) instead of the traditional one on one “contest” is the way to rejuvenate our great game, which is decidedly starting to lose its lustre.

Things are so bad that clubs are even pleading with commentators to stop talking down the once great spectacle. AFL boss Andrew Demetriou must be quietly ripping his hair out figuring out how to tackle a spate of seemingly intractable problems with the game. It is not surprisingly that TV ratings are on the slide big time.

Sides that can’t make the finals are already wrapping their players in cotton wool for 2007 and in the process tanking matches: the “chip, chip, chip” possession game is the best invention yet to encourage once passionate footy fans to spend more time with the families and the palpable unfairness of the draw, whereby sides only play seven teams twice, remains a festering sore with most supporters.


“Not happy Andrew” is the pervasive message that is being drop kicked to the AFL. Tinkering with the rules won’t help. Recent rule changes regarding more interchange players, standard penalties for reportable offences and quick fire “kick ins” after behinds have done nothing to stem the growing disenchantment with the game. It’s little wonder that even the “fat lady” is having trouble bursting a boiler nowadays when a match is in the bag.

It is time the AFL thought outside the (centre) square for an answer to re-spark passion in our once great game.

The answer lies in making our game unique once more. The cornerstone to the reform is putting three sides on the park to battle it out during each match instead of two. The winner gets four points, second gets two and the loser gets zero.

Of course this would require some other rule changes, but less than you might think. For a start all the grounds would need a bit more furniture, in the form of an additional set of goal and behind posts of one of the wings. This would mean that there would be scoring zones at all ends of the ground, except for one of the wings - which would effectively become the one neutral end of the ground.

To minimise congestion the number of players for each side on the ground would be reduced from 18 to 12, meaning that in total there would still be 36 players on the ground.

The reduction in the number of players for each team would be a welcome relief for coaches and supporters alike. In any team there are at most half a dozen A grade players, a sprinkling of B graders and the rest belong in “F Troop” - can’t kick, mark or handball and they are only there to make up the (inflated) numbers.


In this model, three players would potentially be battling at each contest, leaving no scope for the short, ugly game and flooding would become a distant memory - there is always the scoring zone of the wing to defend as well.

While the game might induce depression into traditionalists such as Tommy “kick it long” Hafey, it would test the tactical nous of even the shrewdest coaches such as Rodney Eade and Paul Roos. For example, each side would have a full forward but only one full back. So which of the two opposing full forwards would each side decide to mark? What a tantalising scenario. Exactly the sort of scenario that would once again spark intrigue and passion into the game.

Three-sided matches would also cure the problems associated with uneven draws and player fatigue. The season would be shortened to 15 rounds (not including finals), during which time each side would play each other twice and each team would get a bye to lick its wounds once per season. It is also unlikely that there would be any tanking matches - the probability of all three sides having no finals aspirations is very low.

Sure channels Ten and Seven (which get the TV rights in 2007) might initially be grumpy about the fact that it would mean five games each round instead of the present eight but let’s face it, every week there are at least a couple of matches that you wouldn’t send your wicked mother-in-law to.

In sport, as in life, it’s quality not quantity that counts. Five high quality fiercely contested matches is far more entertaining than a couple of good matches and a half a dozen ho hum strolls in the park. That’s why we all get so excited around finals time - the reduction in the number of games is more than made up by the quality of the contests.

For the sake of the game it’s time for the AFL administrators to approve of some ménage à trois. I’m sure the spectators “would like to see that”. At least it’s a concept that they should trial in the next night series - sure beats the super goal.

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The author is a once passionate Collingwood supporter who is grumpy that over the past few years the club spends more time promoting its monetary profit than its on field situation - if money concerned me, I can easily barrack for BHP or NAB.

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About the Author

Mirko Bagaric, BA LLB(Hons) LLM PhD (Monash), is a Croatian born Australian based author and lawyer who writes on law and moral and political philosophy. He is dean of law at Swinburne University and author of Australian Human Rights Law.

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