Jul 03, 2024

AFL

The Magical Fairyland of AFL Umpiring

90 Comments

“I am not crazy; my reality is just different from yours,” said the Cheshire Cat to Alice as she wandered through Wonderland.

The quote came to mind when AFL CEO Andrew Dillon told the assembled media recently, “I think it’s as good as it’s ever been, the umpiring.”

I tried to determine if Dillon had decided to suddenly try his hand at comedy, but he seemed to be deadly serious.

In a way, he’s not wrong. The AFL rulebook, like all great religious books, has countless interpretations.

The AFL has made it this way. Umpiring today’s game is divorced from reality, and it’s been a long, messy divorce.

By constantly tweaking the rules, the AFL have changed the rules from black and white, to a guessing game of trying to ascertain a player’s motives in the moment.

At first, it was just adding more and more complications, but eventually, the AFL decided to take a leap of faith and leave the real world.

The moment was 2018.

The AFL had introduced a 30-second shot clock for goalkickers a few years earlier.

A simple enough rule, you’ve got 30 seconds until you have to kick the ball.

It was a normal overcorrection by them but not a huge deal.

But then players started legally using that full 30 seconds when they wanted to run down the clock.

What could the solution be? Lessen the length of the shot clock? Go back to not having one? Just let the players do what they’re legally allowed to do?

Those were all far too simple solutions for the AFL.

Instead, the AFL said a player had to look like they were preparing to have a shot a goal.

No more just standing there. Did that mean you couldn’t use the full 30 seconds? No, you could, but you had to look like you were using those 30 seconds.

It’s worth quoting their media statement:

"If a player is preparing his goalkicking routine, he is given the time to get ready and kick for goal." 

"If the umpire is of the view that the player is simply trying to run out time, by looking at the screen or whatever because he is ready to kick, he can whistle play on.”

Key bits in there are “If the umpire is of the view” and “by looking at the screen or whatever.”

‘Whatever’ is a wide loophole in a rule. You don’t have that in real legislation outside of the United States.

“If you exceed the speed limit or whatever”

“If beyond a reasonable doubt or whatever.”

Then you’ve got ‘in the umpire's view.’

Suddenly, the umpires are judging how good an actor a player is. And there’s four of them. Not all are going to agree.

“I didn’t feel you were fully committed to the role of goalkicker.”

“Really? I loved their performance, it was gritty and real.”

The result is that in the land of AFL, thirty seconds is thirty seconds, except when it isn’t.

It was an absurd response to an absurd situation of their own creation.

The umpires didn’t sign up to be talent show judges.

They have been given way too much to do, and the more subjective the rules are, the more different interpretations you’ll get, and then you add more umpires and you have today’s mess.

This seems obvious to everyone except the AFL.

Another example is the deliberate rushed behind rule that was changed after Hawthorn conceded 11 of them in the 2008 Grand Final.

Now, as with deliberate out of bounds, it’s all about the umpire having to determine if a player was deliberately trying to take the ball out or were they under pressure?

Players in response wait for players to get near them to give the appearance of being forced out, or under pressure.

They pretend to be heading back in bounds as they are pushed over the line. It’s all acting, and the umpires again must judge how well the player acted.

It’s about ‘insufficient intent’, what was the intent of the player? Were they trying to keep the ball in or not? Did they have enough intent or was it insufficient?

Only in court do a group of people spend more time trying to determine intent than AFL umpires.

It’s really become not about intent but did they player put enough effort into disguising their intent.

Put enough effort in appearing to try to keep the ball in and the umpire will thank you for not having them make a hard decision.

The ‘hands in the back rule’ is another example of the over-complication.

In 2007, the AFL said any hands on the back of an opponent would concede a free kick. Fairly simple to adjudicate.

This was amended in 2019, players were now allowed to place hands in the back of an opponent to “protect their position” - provided they don’t “push” the opponent in the back.

Now you have a situation where it’s sometimes deemed a push and other times it’s not.

It’s more subjective and players again act more, flinging themselves forward at the slightest touch. It encourages more acting and makes the umpire's job even harder.

On top of this, you have the mid-season ‘tweaks’ and the less official changes in interpretation of different rules from week to week.

Then it all changes again for finals.

This year there was the tweak to the holding the ball rule, but that’s something that’s been tinkered with so much that everyone is confused.

I do understand the rule and I’ll explain it.

There is no such thing as holding the ball.

At least, not in a concrete sense.

The AFL have mucked around with it so much that there is no such thing anymore.

It is now just a truly random phenomenon that can happen at any moment. Trying to understand it or discern a pattern will only break your brain. 

Every tackle is now both holding the ball and not holding the ball. An umpire may blow the whistle, or may not, but that’s now an unrelated event.

Erwin Schrödinger would be thrilled.

Like us, umpires are trying to determine the nature of an event that no longer has any connection to reality.

It is the AFL’s crowning glory.

The result of all this is the AFL have created a magical fairyland of umpiring, where there are no black-and-white rules, but a world where up is down, left is right but sometimes up is up and down is left.

Sometimes, now that AFL umpiring is ‘as good as it’s ever been’ left is also potato and up is lava lamp.

Look, I’m not an expert on the rules, and I’m sure people will try and explain the nuances of the rulebook and how it all just makes sense, but I have read the rulebook and was left only more confused. Like the Soviet Union’s constitution, the problem is when it meets reality, not what’s on the page.

So, while I’m not an expert, I have watched a lot of football, and I don’t know anyone at the moment who watches a lot of football and isn’t bewildered by the umpiring, outside of the AFL.

It’s always been a difficult game to umpire, but it’s something else these days.

To me, the standard of the umpires isn’t any worse or better than before, it’s the rules that are the problem.

They are an overcomplicated, subjective mess and we’re through the looking glass here people.

 

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COMMENTS

simon

Jul 03, 2024

"The umpires didn’t sign up to be talent show judges."
Gold!
Love your work

Russell

Jul 03, 2024

The AFL rulebook, like all great religious books, has countless interpretations.
Brilliant insight/metaphor. And, to take the metaphor a bit further, ‘rules’ in the Bible aren’t subject to amendment however interpretations of rules or lessons do vary. Maybe the AFL could stop amending and changing ‘the rules’ ?

KNDole

Jul 03, 2024

Titus, you could also mention free kicks conceded by stepping over the goal line while under pressure, or not. Whether the player was within the 9 metre zone, or not.....

Dianne Harkins

Jul 03, 2024

I totally agree with you Titus. It is an absolute mess. I have followed the game for over 60 years and I no longer know any of the rules. Don’t start me of Handball/throwing the ball. I can only imagine how big the rule book is. How can umpires remember every rule and interpretation? With 4 umpires now we have 4 interceptions in the one game.

However I still love the game.

Rod Hawks

Jul 03, 2024

I know you hate Hawthorn with a passion, there's lots of teams I hate as well (except for the Dockers as they are only ever a danger to themselves). Especially Collingwood and Essendon who have the same types of supporters, just one group has their own teeth. I digress.
There is one possibility you haven't covered. Out of the numerous decisions (or non-decision) made by umpires, occasionally they make a mistake, or their view is blocked and with the benefit of an infinite number of camera angles it reveals a different situation to what the umpire is seeing. The multiple umpiring system has helped with that. The only solution is to only allow Superman and his 3 brothers to umpire and constantly use their Xray vision to get a 360 degree view. While Razor Ray may think he is already in that category, many would differ.
What frustrates me more than an umpiring mistake is particularly the Ch7 commentators who just don't know the rules and will rave on about a decision when it's perfectly correct but the rule or interpretation was changed after they finished their playing career. They generally say "Wow Wee". No names. Let's allow the passion and discussion to continue. Human game played by humans and umpired by humans. Even the score reviews make mistakes!!

David Mac

Jul 03, 2024

Titus - you say several times "I’m not an expert", but this is the best, most accurate comment on the state of the game I've yet read. If you go further with Alice and the Cheshire cat, when Alice (at the crossroads) doesn't know which way to go, she asks the cat - who asks her 'where do you want to end up?' Alice says she doesn't know (as long as it's not here), so the cat responds 'then it doesn't matter which way you go!'. Then the cat disappears - bit like the AFL trying to make sense.

BP

Jul 03, 2024

That's all very well, but the Cheshire cat specifically told Alice that he WAS mad.

Venso

Jul 03, 2024

This is gold! Shame no one in the AFL will ever read it.

Dazza Howard

Jul 03, 2024

I still have an interest in seeing the results but haven't watched a game since 2017. Umpires ruined it for me, one bad decision can change the entire momentum of a game and it's just not right.

Maybe if they fix it I will actually watch a game or even turn up to one.

Darren O

Jul 03, 2024

So, the umpires are to judge your intent as a player when you are :
1) using your allotted 30sec for a shot on goal; or
2) kicking the ball in a mostly forward direction to your own goal, along the boundary or not, but it goes out of bounds; or
3) you have no option but to go over the boundary or rush a behind
Yet, Steven McBurney says that umpires are unable to judge a player's intent!

Yeah, makes perfect sense!

Lachlan Mills

Jul 03, 2024

Whatever happened to the knee-jerk reaction to round 16?

Reichman

Jul 03, 2024

This is the gold-standard for encapsulating everything that is absurd, ridiculous and stupid with the rules. Umpiring decisions can be considered purely random now - toss a coin. You literally have no idea what free - and for what - they're gonna pay. Or not pay. It's a joke.

Angus Machutchison

Jul 03, 2024

I would ask someone to force Dillon to read what you have written Titus. Absolutely spot on. The sad truth spoiling our game but made funny by your genius.

DONNY D

Jul 03, 2024

I've always said that my favourite rule is the old "Out of bounds on the full". That is literally the only rule in the book that is pure black and white, not subject to any subjective interpretation. But of course, the AFL have tried their best to corrupt even this ironclad rule, by introducing the completely horrible "deliberate" (or "insufficient attempt" or whatever) rule, which is probably the most subjective rule ever introduced into a major sport, anywhere in the world, requiring umpires to actually be able to read the minds of players.

Antonio

Jul 03, 2024

I think interpretation is actually a 3 step process, as follows:

Step 1 - Watch the play and how it is adjudicated
Step 2 - State that you disagree with the umpire's decision by saying " I'm sorry but that one is htb/a throw/in the back etc"
Step 3 - immediately gain the status of all supreme inarguably correctness for your opinion by adding the meaningless phrase "Every day of the week!"

Simples!

saint peter

Jul 03, 2024

I don't know where you get the story lines from Titus, but you make them sound as if the rules are just made up & interpreted however you like.
In reality, a great summary of the way the game is at the present & it can only get worse as time goes by. I'm sure they can introduce more "interpretation" into the rules, so the fans have something to complain about.
I agree with Venso its a shame the AFL won't read the article. But if they do they will only laugh knowing that they have succeeded in their quest for making the "big" clubs play finals & the rest can fight amongst themselves.

Dean

Jul 03, 2024

100% correct, however HQ Will think what they want to think.
The mound under the carpet square of rubbish being swept under, might almost be a tripping hazzard.
Can we discuss the ruck rule and third man up. Wait for a player from each side to be nominated to go in the ruck.
Want to keep it moving, throw it up, if two players from one team go into the contest, it is a free kick against them.
Not that hard is it??
Apparently it is.

The g train

Jul 03, 2024

Brilliant, Titus. So much material here to plagiarise.

The 30 sec rule—simply give them 30 secs to “prepare themselves”, but stop the clock. It’s that simple. Zero time wasting.

Just have to wait until we have a mathematical physics “theory for everything”. Unite quantum mechanics and general relativity. Because at the moment, all apparent 30 seconds and 50 metres are relative. And both holding the ball and not holding the ball are simultaneously possible. Until the ump blows the whistle. But it’s a closed box, so the external observer has no idea what the decision might be.

Until then, we have to live with superposition AND relativity. And somehow keep both Schrödinger and Einstein simultaneously happy.

Fat Side

Jul 03, 2024

...and you haven't even addressed the ever-changing interpretation of what constitutes punishable "dissent" by a player, nor the bewilderment shown by players penalised 50m ( which inevitably results in a momentum-changing goal to the opposition ) while trying to do the right thing on the mark.

Mosis Syndes

Jul 03, 2024

Kick a project into the long grass, O'Reily. Dillon. A knows how to be an executive in "playland". But did you notice when Gill bullshitted with "that smirk", his nose didn't GROW?

Rooboy

Jul 03, 2024

Great stuff, as usual. The only balance is: the stand on the mark rule change has arguably saved the game.
I can't watch many games any more, the rules are sooooo interpretable it "breaks my brain".
One thing: everyone I chat with echoes your/our frustration and then, to a person, lists the following changes to fix some of the issues you listed. 1. Last touch out of bounds has worked in the SANFL for years and does away with the stupid deliberate OOB; 2. Goal/point when it goes through the goals or points, even if it hits the post (like EVERY other f'n sporting code) does away with hours of grainy ARC Zapruder-like footage each week; and 3. NOT changing interpretations of rules mid-year!
Thanks again for your inciteful humour, sir.

Andrew Deakin

Jul 03, 2024

Thanks - I’m new to the game. People have tried to explain the holding the ball rule to me several times. I have listened earnestly, but am neither any wiser or better informed.

Guru Josh

Jul 03, 2024

Can you just go back to writing the knee jerk reaction? As a Fremantle supporter I’ve had my fair share of umpiring shenanigans over the years. Injecting themselves into the play by marking the ball, turning their hearing aids down about the time of the final siren, being so self absorbed as to thinking that a player’s self admonishing is directed to them, shall I continue? I welcome all supporters across the land to our world of 30 years of confusion and bafflement!

Hui

Jul 03, 2024

Back in the good old days, before the years started with a 2, the AFL had simple rules.
You get the ball by any means and you had as long to hold it as you wanted, provided that, 1) you weren't tackled and 2) you didn't run more than 15m. So far easy.
If you were tackled you had to dispose of the ball, see next point, or it was called holding the ball.
When you went to dispose of the ball, you had two choices only, 1) Kick the ball or 2) Handball the ball. Anything else was called incorrect disposal.
No need for Prior Opportunity.
When footballers do magical and amazing things in milliseconds they are lauded as Legends and Stars, yet when they hold the ball for 1 second, they should be awarded prior opportunity, give me a break.

Remove the necessity to keep the ball moving, and simplify the rules.
The coaches will keep the ball moving as that is the easiest way to get through a oppositions defence.

Keep it simple AFL

Rowan Tatchell

Jul 03, 2024

Two wonderful cat references in one essay. A+ and a gold star

Doggie Dancer

Jul 03, 2024

The coin toss is definitely the answer. No more ruck contests where a little bloke who has never played in the ruck pays a free to his favourite ruckman. Just flip a coin at the start of the game and hand the ball to whoever wins the toss. All the 6'10" guys could go and play basketball, where they belong. Ball goes out of bounds, toss the coin and give it to whoever wins the toss. At least we would have more idea of why one player is awarded the kick and the other just stands there looking dumbfounded.
Yes, I know it should be whomever as the objective case of whoever. I'm trying to make it readable to footy afficionados.

Chiang Mai Tiger

Jul 03, 2024

When the umpires are too confused they simply revert back to their default decision: Against you Richmond!

TOVO

Jul 03, 2024

It used to be so simple. You had to dispose of the ball by hand or by foot. Then some genius in AFL house came up with the notion that “keeping the game moving’ at all costs was imperative to prevent the crowd getting bored and leaving. I would hate to be a defender in today’s game laying tackle after tackle that goes unrewarded so that the attacking team can (eventually) kick a goal and excite the crowd. Bottom line: the AFL is taking the piss out of the paying public.

Will

Jul 03, 2024

Couldn’t agree more. There seems to be a disconnect between the AFL and the public who consume its content, much akin to the political realm. You can continually tinker and argue that the rules were adhered to by the umpires, until it becomes so bleedingly obvious that people just become enraged.

And for the AFL, I suspect anger and confusion as what they seek. You see it plastered all over social media, the sort of content that promotes engagement and discussion. Anger, Confusion, Conflict etc are all emotions played into that cause people to feel strong emotions. It’s documented to be far easier to upset someone than make them happy, the AFL promotes this cause successfully. Never have we seen more comments on social media pages relating to umpiring, near all negative. This drives traction and hence, promotion in some way or another of the AFL on these platforms and in group discussions.

On the other hand, given how tight the competition is, we see momentum being shifted more easily by dubious decision, ultimately reflecting match outcomes. Is there an agenda on the table, keep the competition even, have more teams vying for a finals position and hence increasing viewership and attendance all the way through to the final round. A simple method, which if executed leads to higher match day and TV right revenues. Which at the end of the day, the AFL as a private organisation seeks the most profit for themselves as possible. Without it the game slowly diminishes.

Note: Why are AFL umpires required to wear earpieces on field? If it’s for goal reviews, wouldn’t the goal umpires only require these… Or timing to bounce the ball, go back to flashing a light from the telecast box. Earpieces serve as communication which I believe is questionable in reasoning. It’s not although they’re able to reverse decisions based on a real-time review system.

I have many times thought that the AFL is ripe for competition, for it is simply their game interpreting the rules of Australian Football which consumers and players must adapt to. Unfortunately the game has drifted far enough away from enjoyable that people may just seek an alternate, which is yet to exist. Updating rules to what people want rather than the AFL. Make it fun, make it novel, make it enjoyable to watch and about the skill and finesse of players instead of how a whistle changed the course of a game. 9 pointers outside the 50m, rushed behinds worth 2 points regardless of intent, a last touch rule, hit the post is play on or whichever side of the post it goes through, no zoning rules, no stand rule on the mark, either let people do 2 handed throws or actually implement strong handball requirements, protect the players health at all costs and a transparent MRP that has consistency not just overpaid lawyers representing Victoria.

PENGUIN

Jul 03, 2024

I have read the Soviet Constitution. It is a beautiful and brave statement of humanity.

Except when it meets reality.

Well done Sir!

Robin Judd

Jul 03, 2024

An entertaining but accurate summary of the AFL umpiring conundrum Titus. During the game is not such an issue as it's swings and roundabouts, but in the dying stages where the umpiring decision determines winning or losing, that's when we supporters get anxious, angry and depressed if on the losing team, confused, relieved and ecstatic if on the winning side. The AFL needs to have more regard for its supporter base and stop messing with the rules and umpiring directives.

Michele

Jul 03, 2024

Well done!!! You have managed to say what we the football public having been thinking for years

Halffullonthefence

Jul 03, 2024

Thank you for clearing this mess up for me with the Alice in Wonderland analogy. I had been looking at it from a “Dillon the hippie rabbit” from The Magic Roundabout perspective.
It all makes sense now. I was channeling the wrong Dillon.

Bryan

Jul 03, 2024

The subjective rule book is working as intended. Its all about making all aspects of the AFL universe grey so they can pick and choose what to apply and when. AFL house can determine whatever outcome they want to manipulate.

Son of Plugger

Jul 03, 2024

Insightful, Titus. And melancholically funny.

"The AFL rulebook, like all great religious books, has countless interpretations."

Yes. We need a religious reformation. A set standard? Perhaps, as Greg Champion said: "it's time to get back to the ONE TRUE RELIGION". (A better footy anthem than "That's the thing about football" but never caught on).

ROD HAWKS: "Especially Collingwood and Essendon who have the same types of supporters". Steady on. Every single Essendon supporter I know is a thorough gentleman. So not the same type, I would have thought.

Rooboy

Jul 03, 2024

@CHIANG MAI TIGER you MUST be joking. "Free kick Richmond" and "Free kick Hawthorn" have been the catch-cries of most of the AFL supporters for yeeeeears! Especially when each of those clubs where having their successful runs. In fact: the turn-blind-eye to rough and illegal Richmond behaviour arguably won them at least 1 premiership!

Big Rick

Jul 03, 2024

The easiest solution is to introduce a free kick or even a 50m penalty for the offence of over acting or bad acting in an attempt to gain an advantage. The umpires could be directed to watching numerous episodes of Home and Away or old Neighbours reruns to accurately define the offence.

Willow

Jul 03, 2024

Titus,
I'm wondering how you made sense of something that makes no sense. I sympathize with AFL field umpires as the rules/laws are greyer than George Clooney's hair!
Unfortunately, the AFL has so much control the current broadcasters cannot make definitive comments in regard to the morass which is the laws of the game.

Here's my suggestions.

If a player is tackled and does not dispose of the ball by kicking or handballing when given prior opportunity, it is holding or dropping the ball. If the player tries and fails, it shouldn't matter...bad luck champ!

Hands in the back is a push in the back! Any decent player should be able mark a ball in a contest without pushing, The lost art of body work may even re-enter games. The younger people who are not sure what that is, go to YouTube and check out some old hacks doing it. e.g Carey, Dunstall and Lockett.

Last but not least Ruck work. This art does not have any laws. Instead of letting two giants physically violate each other until one gains an advantage or gets charged by the Police, make them jump at the ball. WrestleMania happens once a year and it should stay that way (spoiler alert unlike ruck work, it is staged!).

I know anything suggested by me will not even be a blip on the AFL's radar. At least I can say I've tried

The big Texan

Jul 03, 2024

A couple of bad decisions against a Victorian team, in this case Essendon, and the sky is falling in. Try being a non Victorian team and see how far complaining about bad decisions gets you. Not that it was considered a big deal outside of Adelaide, the goal debacle could have been corrected within seconds if any one of the 4 field umpires had said
“Hold on a sec” . At least Andrew Dillon was professionally attired and appropriately situated when addressing the media yesterday. McLaughlin held the presser in a dog park in his Sunday leisure wear, while sipping a latte.

Bungaree Chubbins

Jul 03, 2024

Couldn’t have said it better. Is there a trend of this in sports in general? The NFL is busy over detailing their rules so much that no one there knows what a catch is any more. Just grab the ball, run, and wait for the verdict.

Beau from Beaumaris

Jul 03, 2024

Perfect summation of another AFL stuff up
Your only mistake was saying that there are no black and white rules.
Of course there are - head high contact, knees to the spleen, career ending shirtfronts, gut punches, non staging are all in the “black and white is OK” rules book.

Ze Dingbat

Jul 03, 2024

Dearest Titus, old fruit

I'm not sure what to make of this swerve away from idiotic hysteria and into earnest commentary. Still incisive, still brilliant, probably more worthy, clearly well received, but not quite as much fun. Bring back the MKJR! Remember your DNA!

Demon

Jul 03, 2024

It all started with the increase in interchange

Once a player can run all day you have rolling mauls. No longer is the 3rd quarter the premiership quarter because players don't get tired like they used to

Congestion is ridiculous, no more one on one contests, umpires can't see what's going on

No other game in the world requires an officiator to have skills and be able to run 20kms a game. Its a recipe for madness.

And madness is what we have

While we are ranting, whats with the handball that USED to be hitting the ball with a fist from a stationary hand. now a player can throw with abandon, As if he is trying to bail out a boat that is taking on water, Two hands Scoop, whoosh. The old Crow throw. When did that interpretation change?

Start by restricting the interchange. Pay the rules that are there. Like push in the back, throwing etc

Lilac Mist

Jul 03, 2024

Geez Titus - The lengths you will go to to avoid taking about the Dockers…

Jasemon

Jul 03, 2024

Great article Titus. Hit the nail on the head.

These days there is nothing worse for me than taking a mate to the footy who’s never seen a game before (or not for a long time) and being asked the question “what is holding the ball?” or why’s everybody shouting out “Baaallllll!!!?”.
I merely stare at them blankly and say I’ve watched this game my whole life and I have no frigging idea!!

Susan

Jul 03, 2024

I thought we were confused because we've only been into AFL for 4 years.

Murray Vagg

Jul 03, 2024

The AFL need not read any of your commentary Titus.
The number of people who agree with you should be enough.
A true indication of how the general attendee is feeling.

John

Jul 03, 2024

I've been watching the game for 50 years and every time the umps blow the whistle for a ruck infringement, it feels like you're one of many (including the rucks) waiting for the reading of the last will and testament of a mysterious great aunt, wondering if you're going to be the lucky one whose name is called out. I'd have a better chance guessing the sex of earthworms.

Mark Kennedy

Jul 03, 2024

Thanks Titus. A brilliant summary of the accelerating rule changes that probably have more to do with crowd dissatisfaction of umpiring, low morale amongst umpires and the difficulty recruiting junior umpires than any crowd factor. It used to be easy explaining the rules of AFL to an overseas visitor. Now it is impossible because the interpretation this week is so different to last week. They are often amused at the idea that the week’s focus from the umpires is set in the first game on Thursday or Friday night and then all other teams have to factor that new weekly focus into how they play. I cannot imagine how hard it is to accurately estimate the length of a 50 metre penalty while running backwards at high speed, so am usually able to give the umpires the benefit of the doubt. But 15 metre kick judgements are much harder to understand or defend. In any given game, some kicks much shorter than 15 metres are acceptable while others clearly over 20 metres are pinged. In the middle of all the uncertainty over the constantly changing rules and weekly changes in interpretation, we can be “comforted” with one certainty. No matter how flawed a decision and how costly in match outcome, we can always be sure that the AFL will find some way of defending the decision and/or interpretation because the AFL is always right. This year their creativity in justifying the umpires has set new records. I thought John Longmire’s response when asked about Andrew Dillon’s comment about the umpiring being as good as it has ever been was brilliant. If that’s what the AFL boss says then that’s what it is.

Sheldon Wiebe

Jul 03, 2024

I wonder what would happen if dozens (maybe hundreds) of footy fans were to forward this column to the AFL with the Subject Line reading: The comedian is right!

And following it up with actual physical letters enclosing printouts of the column and signing the letters, "Pissed Off Footy Fan!"

Catherine Thurston

Jul 03, 2024

Excellent article Titus. One thing for sure, you, and the rest of us are confused. I wish once and for all AFL would stop messing around with the rules. Have followed football since I was a young girl & thats over 65 years ago, love the game but can’t keep up with all the changes. Even the players are confused.

Peter White

Jul 03, 2024

Titus, the dance around the realm of quantum physics continues. You started this week's missive with "Alice in Wonderland", written by Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Dodgson, mathematician). Then Erwin Schrodinger got a guernsey.

Introducing Hugh Everett III, a physicist from the mid-20th century. He proposed the 'Many-Worlds' explanation of quantum physics. It's also called the multi-verse/multiverse theory (Stephen Hawking liked it - but now I'm name-dropping). Multiple universes, existing at the same time, make up all that exists! So, for each umpire there is a different universe existing on the footy field.

Or are the umpires simply cruel, sadistic bastards, taking the piss out of all of us?

Love your work.

DavidG

Jul 03, 2024

Rooboy:
Hate to confuse you with facts, but the team that got the most frees in Hawthorn’s last premiership season was North Melbourne. 50 more than the Hawks!

Across the 3-peat years Hawthorn never topped the frees-for list, and generally got the same number as they gave away. In 2013 it was exactly the same.

Donny D:
Could not agree more about the deliberate out of bounds rule. One of the dumbest additions to the game in decades.

What The Hell Chivell!

Jul 03, 2024

To paraphrase Bill Murray in Ghostbusters - "They're more guidelines than rules".

Signet

Jul 03, 2024

How far is 50 metres? Builders have a laser distance meter, a small device that could be carried in an ump's pocket.

Ponga

Jul 03, 2024

Rugby Union went down this path and ruined the game to the point where it's unwatchable.

I would hate to see AFL do the same. The only answer is to train umpires in the art of telepathy so they can determine what is actually going on in the player's mind.

terry dwyer

Jul 03, 2024

How about a word in Darcy Moore's ear, who is next?

Joel Biden

Jul 03, 2024

You're the idiot Titus, can't you see the ... um lost my train of thought. You know, they are fine gentlemen the AFL.

The Windy Hill Mob

Jul 03, 2024

The word around The Hangar is that Brad Scott is looking to hire a clairvoyant to add to the coaching staff to get an understanding of how the rules are going to be interpreted by the umpires before each game.

Andrew

Jul 03, 2024

Point well made Titus. AFL rules are about as clear as the 3 Body Problem, in fact ai would back a physicist over an umpire any day. At least the physicist understands some laws are immutable. Gil and his cronies have a lot to answer for - they failed to understand the most basic principle of all - the answer to bad rules is not more rules. All we need is clear rules!

Paul Lorenz

Jul 03, 2024

It's well past time to make Umpiring an actual profession.
We have a league which is run on a professional basis, pretty much anyone working in it from top to bottom is employed full time basis. Everyone except the umpires.
If we set up an professional body, outside of direct control by the AFL, I think people wouldn't be as down on the Umps as they are. This would mean the umps spend their time during the week going over past games and reviewing their performances, studying and teaching umpiring. This would possibly necessitate setting up of a center of excellence of some kind.
Add to that a reworking of the rules to make them easier to adjudicate with. The tribunal could use a going over as well. First job would be to get rid of the 'oh he's a good bloke' or 'he's a star of the game' defense, especially in finals.

Admittedly I've stopped watching the AFL for the most part. It's too much of a shitshow.

P.S. Do yourself a favor, read the book, 'The Boys Club'. Or maybe don't.

Knobby Knobcheese

Jul 03, 2024

@Will: And for the AFL, I suspect anger and confusion as what they seek. You see it plastered all over social media, the sort of content that promotes engagement and discussion.
Spot on.
The AFL couldn't give 2 shits about us dumb supporters. They are all about promotion, media and money, so they love this BS.
Oh and promoting the gubbermint's latest woke crap.
The ONLY way these a-holes will give a rat's is when people stop going to the games or watching on TV.
Never going to happen.

Hey Titus, whatever happened to the reply to a specific post option?

The only Alice in Wonderland I've ever seen was a 70s porno flick, makes about as much sense!

Stevo

Jul 03, 2024

Possibly the best article ever written on the shambles that is AFL umpiring and the rules that govern them.

David Ferg.

Jul 03, 2024

Great article. The Schroedinger reference is spot on. Like so many things these days, stuff that was simple must be made complex.

harry callahan

Jul 03, 2024

This might be too sensible for the AFL but in the SANFL if a player kicks or handballs the ball over the boundary line without it being touched by another player it is a free kick. No interpretation or mind reading required. Simple and works well.

Floreat Pica

Jul 03, 2024

(Tinfoil hat firmly in place).
1. The rule manipulation and subsequent chaos.
2. The Mrp and all of its decision making.
These 2 items are being skilfully subverted/manipulated/modified to ensure maximum outrage and therefore maximum exposure.
Maximum exposure = engagement = ticket sales/viewing audience.
This = $$$$$$$$.

Tarax Club

Jul 03, 2024

Titus, the AFL as the preeminent body and guardians of Australian Rules is not unlike having Dracula in charge of the Blood Bank. You may recall a former chairman was frequently referred to as ‘Vlad’. With the hold the gambling fraternity, media barons and assorted hangers on have on the game. No wonder it resembles a brokearse Transylvanian circus. Too many vampires, too many self-proclaimed ‘experts’, too many teams and too many umpires.

ChrisandAna

Jul 03, 2024

Titus:
In a world where 50 shades of grey prevail, I think it is imperative to keep an open mind. And given that the AFL does form part of this world, an open mind should be extended to it and its umpiring.

If I think about it, the AFL could be on the cusp of a best seller: "50 Shades of Grey- The Authoritative Interpretation", thus creating a tetralogy (arrh yes, easy for you to say), which could be marketed as a unique box set to supporters of the game. The supporters and critics would have a field day. All could go around in square circles for years. Dinner parties would never be the same.
As for the game day, the AFL could have breakout areas where supporters and an AFL umpiring official could quietly talk and discuss the theoretical insights of the book and practical shade of grey interpretation made in real-time. TV coverage could be given to live focus groups. Eagles games could potentially add value.

Further, my unwavering long-term view has been that the umpires should be dressed in grey. Yes, grey. That way, you know from the first bounce that you will be bound between a rock and a hard place. Depending on performance and feedback, varying shades of grey can be used to identify the umpire and signify their "shade" interpretation of the rules. Individualised shirts could have bands of shaded greys, depending on the rule or rules of the day. For comparison, the scoreboard can have the umpires preset in their banded shirt. That way, there are no surprises and confusion, which may take out some of the fun of watching and limit the spontaneous cries of "Ball" when a player is bonded, Sorry, tackled. I think supporters would be willing to show their shade of grey with a similar shirt. However, I am sure you can appreciate one of the externalities of knowing what is coming is a potential loss of excitement or greater frustration.

So, Titus, my conclusion is to be careful about what you wish for and aim to keep an open mind in this world of 50 shades of grey.

USA Russ

Jul 03, 2024

Several things.

First. I love this game. I went to a Swans game in Sydney about 10 or 11 years ago when I visited Sydney and was totally hooked. Saw Adam Goodes play. I've been a Swans and AFL fan ever since. Now, when I watch an NFL football game, I can't believe how slow the NFL game is. It takes a while to get adjusted to the change in tempo but I do get a chance to down some beer between plays and commercials.

But, this business where the player brought to ground had to keep pounding the ball with his fist so the umpire would be led to believe he wasn't holding it (or some such reasoning that I never understood) ?!? There doesn't seem to be much emphasis on that anymore. It was a silly bit of play-acting that looked funny.

Then there is the bit where high contact is a free kick. Except when someone is going up for a high ball and drives a knee into the back of the head of an opposing player or uses the shoulder of the opposing player for a ladder. The commentators cannot contain themselves with the awesomeness of the play; never-mind the rule. Amazing. Of course, the umpires don't see anything wrong. A "specie", I believe it was called but I haven't heard that term in a while.

And when is the AFL going to upgrade the cameras they use to review scoring plays? Grainy, fuzzy, inconclusive replays that would never pass muster in the NFL. And when after technical review, the replay cannot determine if a kick is a goal or a behind, the decision is left to the umpire to call (who, often, already made the call and is looking for confirmation)?!? And everyone tolerates this? Let's ditch the Go Pro cameras for something better.

Your reference to Schroedinger is very perceptive. It's a compliment to folks who commented on that; that they understood your reference. Over here, we'd have people wondering which side he was playing for.

And it would be nice if the players had their names on the backs of their guernseys. The AFL did experiment with this and found that it didn't work?!? What's not to work? It's not like it's a digital display with commercials scrolling by. I can recognize the players on the Swans, except for the new ones. The other sides, not as well.

Keep up the good work. Very enjoyable.

Yeah-nah

Jul 03, 2024

Absolute genius that Andrew Dillon! He’s got everyone talking about the AFL, and you’ve fallen into his trap! Just take a look at all the comments you’ve got! I would never post a comment about the ongoing poor quality of AFL umpiring and it’s absurd, incoherent, confusing, unintelligible, irrational, flawed, tedious, boring, bewildering rule book - never ever - whatsoever! No way! Not me!

ANTHONY

Jul 03, 2024

Reading through and just knowing Schrödinger had to get a guernsey (with or without his dead and alive cat). Not disappointed. Clever stuff again Titus

Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush

Jul 03, 2024

Follow the money and where the previous AFL CEO has gone. The AFL is now run by betting companies. Incoherent rules interpreted by confused umpires creates an increased uncertainty in the outcome of games, making it impossible to choose where to place your bet. You’ll have a better chance putting your money on Sunup at a day at the races! And with that depression era hat you don, you’d look the part too!

Fifth umpire

Jul 03, 2024

We obviously don't have 36 competent umpires, so let's go back to 3 per game. Couldn't be any worse and I could be promoted to Fourth Umpire.

Frank

Jul 03, 2024

The AFL gurus thought they were being clever by introducing the "no dissent" rule. It was applied for the first half of the 2023 season and then amazingly disappeared! Players must have been deemed to have been educated sufficiently to keep their opinions, and their hands, to themselves. What a destructive period that was for experienced players, being treated like children for just asking for clarification when a decision from the umpire was clearly wrong. Ridiculously pedantic!

Dee neville

Jul 03, 2024

Fantastic discussion on this umpiring hoodoo. Send your article to DILLON go dees

Rob

Jul 04, 2024

Don't forget when it comes to the 5m "protected" area intent is now irrelevant as well as whether they actually interfere in any with play.
Circus- and then you here that they have had a mic'd up bloke (unidentified) on TV advising pay it not pay it. Video referee has destroyed a lot of joy in sports but this is the only one where it is manned by the CIA secret unannounced and totally off record. maybe it is Chris Scott (including for Geelong games) or is he too busy in his role as match review official?
When a clown takes over the palace the clown doesn't become King the palace becomes a circus.

WindsorG

Jul 04, 2024

Umps really only have to master one ball handling skill..bouncing it in the centre. Some don't actually know where the centre is - a metre here or there is good enough, don't worry if that advantages one side over the other! Oh yeah and if you don't bounce it correctly, you get another chance...not to bounce it correctly, but do it a different way. Perhaps when players get pinged for DOOB, they should get another chance to do it a different way.

Joy

Jul 04, 2024

Love it Antonio! That’s what the males in my house say “every day of the week” and them more often!

BlackH

Jul 04, 2024

Titus this is your best stuff yet and so true. I moved to Sydney 20 years ago and in those days the locals called it "Aussie Brawls". Nowadays they call it "Aussie no-rules" and I have to agree with them.

Pupper Mum

Jul 04, 2024

Thank you Titus - In a world that shocks and bewilders me, your columns are my sunshine.

Jenann

Jul 05, 2024

"Like the Soviet Union’s constitution, the problem is when it meets reality, not what’s on the page". Titus, you've reached elite level - part Philospher, part Historian. Superb insight. Love your work.

Advahntage

Jul 05, 2024

All true observations about the way the officiating has been going down the toilet. And you didn't even touch on the farce that the AFL tribunal has become.

Fred

Jul 05, 2024

What was wrong with 80s football? Far more enjoyable to watch and no bs tinkering with the rules every year. The transition to turn this game into basketball is almost complete, with some now suggesting we need to ban jumping over another player for a speccie. The AFL is a corporate woke joke.

keith Martine

Jul 05, 2024

Thank you, Titus, on the mark as usual. Putting aside the holding the ball complete balls up, many complain about the ruck duels and with good cause. Ban ruckmen from putting hands on the other chap. Then we won't have a collective holding of breath when the whistle blows. No hands out to block, or to hold or to push. And I agree with every comment about the nonsensical standing the mark rule. Thanks again.

Darren Barber

Jul 05, 2024

darrenswaterworld@bigpond.comHeres another one.If you kick the ball forward, with probably nobody downfield, and it bounces and takes a 90 degree turn to go out of bounds, thats deemed deliberate.But if you're a defender and you punch to spoil a mark, you can deliberately punch it into the 25th row, deliberately,but thats deemed not deliberate.FFS!

Rock Sax

Jul 05, 2024

My gripe with the rushed behind rule and the deliberate OOB has always been that in essence, we’ve got an umpire telling a player “I know what you were REALLY thinking. Don’t argue! Because I CAN READ YOUR MIND!!”

Which of course is patently ridiculous.

Andronicus

Jul 08, 2024

And who would want to be an AFL umpire in this day and age?

BARKING MAD

Jul 08, 2024

Well you hit the sore toe with this article. My 2 cents:

1. Dillon is no substitute for Gillon. At least with Gill you felt seduced not flat out lied to.

2. The 'mind-reading' free kicks are the worst, most hairy, stupid invention. Insufficient intent etc

3. The choices around a tackled player are still pretty simple if you don't put your thumb on the scales:
It's either
1 holding the ball - if the player has the ball
2 dropping the ball - if the player had the ball
3 no prior - if there's no time to play the ball
4 holding the man - if the player doesn't have the ball
5 play on - if there's no clear example of 1 to 4

As an ancient AFL watcher one thing is true every year. The umpires should not determine the outcome of the game (unless its in WA). The odd bad decision isn't a matter of concern. But total confusion among the players is. And if you can't see what the hell is being paid or not paid then the game is in trouble.

Probably more than 2 cents worth..

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Jul 12, 2024

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Jul 20, 2024

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