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The Nat Fyfe rule: Brownlow Medal shake-up

Charged: round two Matt Thompson and Nathan Schmook go through all this week's MRP incidents
Nat Fyfe of the Dockers in action during the 2014 AFL Round 16 match between the Melbourne Demons and the Fremantle Dockers at TIO Stadium, Darwin on July 05, 2014. (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)
Nat Fyfe's ban for bumping Michael Rischitelli last year was a major talking point in the lead-up to the Brownlow Medal count
It's a borderline one, but depending on what the Match Review Panel determined it could well be deemed a fine (under the new system)
Mark Evans, on Nat Fyfe's controversial suspension last season
BROWNLOW Medal eligibility has been relaxed as part of the biggest Match Review Panel shake-up since the system was introduced by Adrian Anderson in 2005.

AFL football operations boss Mark Evans has simplified his predecessor's system, removing the possibility of players being ruled out of Brownlow contention despite being found guilty of an offence that did not result in them missing a match.  

As part of the MRP overhaul, low-level offences that would have drawn a penalty of 125 points in 2014 will now result in fines, meaning more players will remain eligible for the AFL's highest individual honour.

Another key element of the new system is the increased scope for the MRP to take the circumstances of a bump resulting in a head clash into account.

Rather than being bound to issue a prescribed penalty based largely on the outcome, the MRP can consider:

- Whether the degree of force applied by the person bumping was excessive for the situation
- Whether the player being bumped was actively involved in the passage of play
- The distance the player applying the bump has run to make contact
- Whether the player being bumped is in a position to protect himself
- Whether the player bumping jumps or leaves the ground to bump
- Any alternatives available to the player instead of applying a bump

Fremantle star Nat Fyfe could have escaped suspension for his contentious high bump last year under the revised system.

Fyfe, who polled 25 votes in the 2014 Brownlow Medal, was later suspended again in round 21 for striking Hawthorn's Jordan Lewis, a charge he would have struggled to overturn under the new system.

But his bump on Gold Coast’s Michael Rischitelli in round two, which resulted in an accidental head clash and was a point of contention for much of the season, could have resulted in a fine under Evans' new structure.

"It's a borderline one, but depending on what the Match Review Panel determined it could well be deemed a fine (under the new system)," Evans told AFL.com.au.  

"The MRP would have to ask the question about force and the suitability of bumping in that case, and I think they would determine that he had other alternatives.

"But if they thought all the other components of that bump were OK, they would have had the ability perhaps to downgrade the impact and process it as a fine."

Around 70 players each season have been ineligible for the Brownlow Medal under Anderson's MRP structure, with 34 players ruled out in 2014 because of low-end offences that drew 125 demerit points.

In 2011, Hawthorn midfielder Sam Mitchell polled 30 Brownlow votes and finished second to Dane Swan (34 votes), but he was ineligible because of a rough conduct charge that drew 125 points and was reduced to a reprimand with an early guilty plea.  

Under the new structure, players will be fined $1500 (reduced to $1000 with a guilty plea) for their first low-end offence, which would have drawn 80 or 125 demerit points in 2014.

A second offence in the same season will result in a $2500 fine (reduced to $1500 with a guilty plea), with a third offence drawing a $2500 fine and a one-match suspension, with the fine component removed with a guilty plea.

"I think for many years a lot of these lower end incidents escaped attention, but with the multiple angles we get and the Match Review Panel now, it's pretty hard to escape them," Evans said.

"We feel it's a more appropriate way of dealing with lower-end offences and this returns the Brownlow ineligibility to when you've received a suspension, which was the way it was under the previous Tribunal system."

With more fines certain to be issued in 2015, the League has been in discussions with the AFL Players’ Association about directing funds towards concussion research.   

General manager of player relations Ian Prendergast said the AFLPA held concerns about fines being issued more frequently and hurting young players.  

However, he said the association was supportive of the new system and hopeful that money paid by players through fines could be directed to help them.

"We're happy for this money to go towards concussion, we just need to clarify how it's going to be used and who's going to decide on how it is spent," Prendergast told AFL.com.au.  

"Overall, these changes simplify the system and make it fairer for players, hopefully bringing greater consistency with the penalties handed down."