CHARGES from Thursday and Friday night games will be laid within 24 hours and players launching AFL Tribunal challenges will no longer risk automatic longer bans under sweeping changes to the Match Review Panel to take effect next season.
Long-time MRP member Michael Christian will become the sole match review official under the new system, replacing the panels of former players previously used.
Where the MRP has until now been notionally independent from the AFL, Christian will report directly to AFL football operations manager Steve Hocking.
The AFL has also scrapped the one-match discount previously offered for early pleas, with clubs that elect to challenge MRP decisions now risking a $10,000 cost that will be included in their soft football department cap.
In other key changes:
- Three low-level offences in a season will no longer result in an automatic one-match suspension, with a fine now applicable for the third offence.
- Cases referred directly to the Tribunal will attract at least a three-week suspension save for exceptional circumstances.
- Staging will now attract a fine for a first offence.
- Automatic loading for players with bad records has been scrapped.
- Fines for low-level offences will increase from $2000 to $3000 for first offences, $3000 to $5000 for second offences and $5000 to $8000 for third offences.
Hocking said the MRP changes were primarily designed to ensure greater consistency with its decision-making.
"Through the recent 2017 season there was regular public uncertainty on the rationale for key decisions, with only a small number of incidents receiving an explanation or assessed via a full open examination at the AFL Tribunal, " Hocking said.
Christian will relinquish all of his media roles from 2018, but in his new role will regularly be made available to the media to discuss MRP decisions.
The Collingwood premiership player said on Thursday he knew his new role would come with considerable pressure but said he was looking forward to the challenge.
"I've really enjoyed the challenge (with the MRP) over the last three years. Yes, it's a step up but it's a role that I'm really looking forward to doing," Christian said.
"I'm going to do the absolute best that I can do. I'm sure during the year not everyone will agree with every single decision, but I'm going to be available to talk to people and talk to the media and the public and try to explain at least the reasons why the decisions have been arrived at."
Hocking said the heavy focus on Thursday and Friday night matches required the AFL to review those games the following day, which would be done on a trial basis in 2017.
"The clubs want more certainty in preparation for the following week and the other part is the anxiety that the players actually encounter as these (incidents) are talked about right through the whole weekend," Hocking said.
In 2018, Saturday and Sunday games will continue to be reviewed on Mondays, but Hocking said the AFL would consider extending the MRP review schedule in 2019 to include reviews of Saturday games on Sundays.
The AFL footy boss said the disincentive to challenge charges at the Tribunal because of the risk of longer suspensions and the impact of bad record loading on players had been among clubs' chief concerns about the previous system.
Hocking expects more Tribunal challenges under the new system, but believes the $10,000 cost for failed appeals will ensure there will be no repeat of the marathon Tribunal hearings that regularly occurred before the advent of the MRP.
It is also hoped the MRP changes will prompt players to show greater sportsmanship on the field, with Hocking saying some of the lower-level offences that had crept into the AFL in recent years were "a blight on the game".