AFL legend Leigh Matthews says the league is right to attempt to ease the congestion choking the life out of the game, but that head office is going about the task all wrong.
A frustrated Matthews, who revealed he went home at halftime of the infamous Richmond-Sydney snoozefest a fortnight ago, agrees changes must be made to encourage more attacking play.
But the four-time premiership coach says recent tightening of the interpretation of the holding the ball rule is not the way forward.
“The flat-earthers who say ‘leave the game alone’ are living in a fantasy land really,” Matthews said on 3AW.
“The coaches have changed the game more in the last decade than the previous 100 years and they will continue to.
“Dropping a couple of players (each) off the ground is the last resort … that’s a few years down the track if nothing happens.
“But please don’t ask the umpire interpretation to change to open up the game.
“That is just too hard for the umpires.
“This disaster of the last month is because they’ve tried to get the umpire interpretations to do what? To open up the game, to decongest the game.
“Don’t expect umpiring interpretations to do that … it is too complicated.”
Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson’s tirade on the holding the ball interpretation following his side’s frustrating win over North Melbourne in round four was the catalyst for a stricter approach by the umpiring department.
But that has led to fluctuations in the application of the rule from game to game and widespread confusion.
The umpiring of St Kilda’s win over Adelaide last week prompted a media release by AFL footy boss Steve Hocking, who acknowledged there were decisions that were either missed or unwarranted free kicks paid.
Rather than handballing the task to umpires, Matthews says the AFL must find a way to force coaches to abandon 18-man defensive zones that are making the game dull.
“If we want to decongest the game, and I’m certainly of that mind, you’ve got to somehow force (coaches) to decongest,” he said.
“That is the challenge for the AFL.”