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AFL Commission introduces 120 limit on interchanges

The AFL Football Operations Department today wrote to all clubs to advise the AFL Commission had approved a cap on interchange rotations for the next two years across the 2014 and 2015 Toyota AFL Premiership Seasons.
AFL General Manager Football Operations Mark Evans said the Commission had examined further data and analysis at its meeting in Melbourne earlier this week and determined that a cap of 120 rotations per match, plus any changes made at quarter breaks and the use of the substitute, would be put in place for the next two seasons.
Mr Evans said the cap would not have any quarter by quarter restrictions, with the use of the interchange numbers per match to be managed as each club saw fit across the entirety of a game. The Commission also advised it would review the interchange cap towards the end of the 2015 season, before any recommendation for future seasons.
“The AFL Football Operations Department presented detailed analysis of interchange rates, game trends, injury trends and fairness data, but also the views of coaches, players and others consulted during the process,” Mr Evans said.
Mr Evans said there had been considerable feedback that a previously-mooted cap of 80 interchanges per match, as flagged at the end of the 2012 season, was too strict a change to be introduced immediately and both the majority of clubs and the AFLPA had sought either a higher figure, or no restriction at all.
The Commission eventually determined the cap would be placed at 120 interchanges per match, plus any changes made at quarter breaks and the use of the substitute player.
“In 2012 and in the first half of 2013 interchange numbers averaged approximately 130 per game. Many in the industry have suggested interchange rotations had reached its natural maximum and that any further increases would be counter-productive. Over the past 4-6 weeks it appears that interchange numbers are once again on the rise, averaging 135-140 per game.”
Bringing in a cap preserves the current level and protects against further escalation, Mr Evans said.
The two-year freeze will allow for an assessment of the cap, and will allow for further modifications in the future
Separately, the Commission also discussed reviewing the role of officials on the field during the course of play.
“The Commission is concerned by the number of people, separate to the players, who can be on our grounds during a game and is considering moves for the Football Operations Department to modify or restrict the on-field role of runners, as well as restricting the role of trainers in non-injury situations,” Mr Evans said.
The AFL will also consider easing the penalties around some interchange breaches, particularly those when a player enters the ground fractionally early or just outside the interchange gates. The current penalty of a free kick and a 50 metre penalty against an offending team may be wound back to a free kick only, but the option of a free kick and a 50 metre penalty would be retained for any serious case where 19 players were on the field for a period of play.
“At times, there has been a practice of some players tactically holding back from entering the field of play during interchanges, in a bid to seek some advantage with a loose player, and this will also be reviewed.”
Mr Evans said the Commission’s guiding objective through the detailed discussion at this week’s meeting around the Laws of the Game and the Laws process was to keep the game safe to play and great to watch, and the Commission thanked the Laws Committee for its work and wide consultation across the industry. 
The AFL Commission remains the ultimate decision-maker on the Laws, as the independent body overseeing the game, and it will again review the interchange cap after this initial two-year period.
"The AFL’s long-term commitment to player welfare around the Laws is illustrated by other significant changes to protect player safety in recent years such as the Head Over the Ball Rule, The Ruck Rule to Protect Players Against PCL Injuries and the Rules relating to sling tackles, sliding and bumping and head-high contact.”
The Laws Committee comprises: Mark Evans (Chairman), Kevin Bartlett, Joel Bowden, Brett Burton, Rodney Eade, Tom Harley, Leigh Matthews, Rowan Sawers, Peter Schwab, Michael Sexton and Beau Waters.