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by Lisa Albergo reporting for AFANA from Chicago

Shortly after Mick Malthouse made his comments regarding the NAB Cup interchange limits, Laws Committee chairman Kevin Bartlett blasted Mick and the criticisms on his SEN radio program. He called the coaches selfish, saying their only interest was to win games and they did not have the wider interest of the game at heart. He accused them of "running roughshod" over the rules committee.

Bartlet then invited Malthouse to address the committee,which he did. While Mick came away from the meeting believing the committee has the best interests of the game at heart and that coaches would have a say on the number of rotations, he is still adamant that 80 interchanges per game is way too low.

Malthouse also said coaches did have an interest in the game and keeping it as a great spectacle. He used an example of a coaches meeting several years ago when then Port Adelaide coach Mark Williams suggested outlawing the shirtfront bump. Malthouse said Williams suggested it was bad for the game, "virtually nailing the coffin of ... his own player Byron Pickett ... ", a player known for delivering bone-jarring hits. Malthouse pointed out that Williams made the suggestion to the detriment of his own team but for the betterment of the game as a whole.

Malthouse is not alone in his views with a number of other AFL coaches saying a limit of 80 rotations per game makes it more difficult to manage players coming back from injury, managing younger players still adjusting to the rigors of AFL and could lead to fatigue injury. He also pointed out the fact that higher rotations decreased the number of injuries, a fact that was neither confirmed nor refuted by the recent annual injury survey. He hopes the AFL, which is determined to introduce a cap in 2014, will give serious consideration to the needs of the players in determining the number of rotations.

North Melbourne Coach Brad Scott agreed that coaches do have an interest in seeing the game thrive. He also raised concern about a low interchange limit and believes coaches are very well-placed to comment on proposed rule changes. He agreed with Bartlett's comment that it was not the coaches' place to make rules but said coaches would respond to rule changes although he added that constant changes could be dangerous. "If the ... Committee and the AFL Commission change rules, they will force coaches to respond ... that's dangerous when there's a natural evolution of the game ... if you force coaches to respond I'm worried that the Laws of the Game Committee will then respond again. Then you just go back and forth ... and you end up chasing your tail."

Richmond Coach Damian Hardwick believes some of the rules, such as awarding a free kick against a player lying on top of a tackled player to prevent the ball coming out and umpires throwing the ball up around the ground have already helped to reduce congested play. He would like to see the coaches, the AFL and members of the Laws Committee hold a summit to discuss the proposed interchange limit. He concurred with Mick Malthouse saying " ... we haven't sat down and talked about it from an overall perspective ... you've got one side and the other side ... it would actually do wonders if we ... talked about it as a group ... we ... need to ...figure out how we want the game to look as a whole." He admitted that he had been involved in games which were not great as a spectacle and that there were always going to be bad games and that knee-jerk reactions were unnecessary. He believes Bartlett may have been a bit "over the top" in his criticisms but did acknowledge the obvious - that all coaches wanted to win. He said there was also pride involved in how a team played and said other coaches probably felt the same way.

Adelaide Coach Brenton Sanderson believes an interchange limit of 80 could impact player careers and change the way clubs draft players. He pointed to burst player Jared Petrenko, whom he said could find the game more difficult due to the inability to go flat out for a time then come off for five minutes to rest. Sanderson also said such a reduction could limit player diversity and that clubs would have to look at drafting more aerobically fit players.

While some coaches, like Malthouse, believe, the League will listen to what they have to say before determining the number of rotations to be allowed, Sanderson is not so sure. He pointed out a comment AFL boss Andrew Demetriou made in which Demetriou basically told the clubs to stop complaining and get used to it. Sanderson expressed concern that club opinions on the rule change would fall on deaf ears, " it's important that clubs get their say ... I think ... the 18 clubs will unanimously vote against [the cap] and it'll probably still come in ... ". Sanderson doesn't mind a cap but said the number allowed would be important.

The Players Association has weighed in on the issue. They believe the League will take another season to analyze the data before introducing the rule. Many players have already said that the NAB Cup limit had caused more mental and physical stress. The AFLPA believes the cap would damage the League's equalization policy as clubs with younger lists would not be able to keep up with stronger clubs. Association president Ian Prendergast said in part, " ... rotating players is not only tactical but also a player-management tool in respect of workloads, particularly for young players or players with limited preparation or injury concerns ... teams with young developing lists ... rotating players heavily ... allows them to stay in the contest for longer periods ... the compromised ability to compete with strong/established teams will be a significant consequence ".

A number of players have also spoken out, saying the NAB Cup limit caused greater mental and physical stress on an already demanding game. Prendergast said the association would closely monitor things this year. If they believe rotation limits further impact players unfairly, they will strongly voice their concerns to the League. Prendergast said the League had introduced rules last year to reduce congested play but had yet to present significant evidence that it was an issue. He admitted that the three interchange-one substitute system, introduced in 2011, had already slowed the game and questioned what a cap would do to ease congestion if current measures had failed.

The rule change will also affect the VFL which, in turn, will affect how affiliated clubs manage their own players and still fulfill commitments to their AFL partners. Former Geelong and Adelaide coach Gary Ayres, currently coaching Port Melbourne in the VFL, said the restriction would create problems. Not only for managing older players, those returning from injury or developing younger players, but also for retaining their own non-AFL players. He believes many of those players, especially older ones, might opt to leave and go elsewhere for better playing opportunities.


Article last changed on Monday, March 25, 2013 - 11:58 AM EDT

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