AS THE AFL prepares to embark on a festival of footy that will see 33 games crammed into 20 days, the League is eagerly anticipating the lessons it can take from the condensed schedule into future years.
Recovery times, rotation policies, training schedules and broadcast figures will be on the radar of the AFL's football operations manager Steve Hocking, as both players and clubs prepare for an unprecedented slate of matches.
ROUNDS 8-12 Check out the full fixture
Starting Wednesday 29 July, games will be played every day for 20 straight days, with some clubs forced into a remarkable run of short turnarounds in order to complete the season in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Collingwood will play four games in 13 days, while Geelong will play four matches in 14 days, with Hocking keen to gauge how teams, staff members and most importantly players respond to the hectic fixture block.
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"It's one of the really exciting things for all of us … we've never seen this," Hocking told reporters on Wednesday.
"We've certainly seen this in the NBA, but we haven't seen this in our great game.
IN THE MIX Who's pushing for selection in round eight?
"What we'll see happen here is that we'll definitely see quite a bit of rotation of players, as far as their lists go. Players will get opportunities, so we'll see some new faces … which is really exciting.
"The other part will be the recovery-and-play model. We haven't seen that at all, at any stage, in the AFL. Seeing how that plays out … you'll have teams that will just be living in a recovery model, then having a captain's run and playing.
"How we see the game the develop during that period will be of interest, particularly to me because everyone will have their eyes tuned to that. I'm actually quite excited about that, I genuinely want to acknowledge that it's an exciting phase we're about to go into.
THE FULL INJURY LIST Who is racing the clock?
"We'll play 33 games in 20 days. How clubs and players embrace that is going to be exceptionally compelling viewing."
As for whether the fixture cram could be used in future years, should it prove a success this season, Hocking is unsure.
"This is 2020," he said.
"It's not a normal year. We'll certainly work through it in this next phase and take the learnings from it, but as far as what that means for the future … it's not something I'll talk to now."
The AFL held its regular Competition Committee meeting on Wednesday, with Hocking addressing the media in the aftermath. Here are the key takeaways from the AFL's footy boss.
ON THE INTERPRETATION OF THE HOLDING THE BALL RULE:
"I refer to Monday night. We've apologised to the two clubs (Adelaide and St Kilda) that were involved, and also to our football supporters. There was a lack of consistency around decision-making on Monday night. Over the weekend – and that adjustment was made three weeks ago – by and large the consistency around that has been very good. It was certainly evident across the weekend that it was good. Players have the ability to change within a game. They watch so much football, the amount of training and so forth that they do, the game finds its rhythm. I'm very confident that we'll get this to where it needs to be. I'm very comfortable with how the umpires are currently working through it."
ON WHETHER SUBS OR BIGGER BENCHES WILL BE INTRODUCED FOR THE FIXTURE CRAM:
"The challenge with that is the integrity of that, if we were to change it mid-season. We've got clear evidence that players are recovering well from games, so the management load of players has been good with the adjustments to the game that we've made. We put that in place leading into round one, with the approval of the AFL Commission. That will remain in place. There won't be any additional interchange or subs added. Those adjustments were made leading into round one for this very phase that we're heading into. We got ahead of it, we understood that there may have been some requirement to adapt the game. We reduced the season to 17 rounds, we reduced the length of the game, we maintained the rotations at 90 even with the reduction of game time, there's longer breaks at quarter and three-quarter time, there are also longer breaks post-goal … all of that, and the evidence and the data we've collected and also the discussions with players and a range of different people through the game, is that it's worked really well. It was done to support a compressed fixture."
ON WHETHER A DECISION ON LIST SIZES IS CLOSE:
"It's still a fair way off. Clearly, we've got the 2020 season challenges currently. That's what we're working through and that's related to the fixturing of the games. We're about to ask all of the people in our industry to be ready every night of the week. I know that a lot of the areas that I manage – MRO, the ARC, the umpires – we're going to ask a lot of our industry. That's really our prime focus at the moment. Those discussions are going on in the background. We're still some time off before we have any answers on that."
ON WEDNESDAY'S COMPETITION COMMITTEE MEETING:
"A fair bit of the discussion was related to the injury data and how that's tracking against 2019. The other thing was the acknowledgement that this is just such a different season. You've got to be really careful that you don't hypothesise around how this compares to other seasons, because it's so unique. No one has ever seen a season like it, and potentially we won't in the future. That's what we're embracing. We did ask some questions to people as to what are some of the things that they're picking up and that type of information was shared. That's really helpful to us. There was a bit of a gathering of information, as to what's going on in the industry, what the tension points are at the moment and how we can best address them."