For as long as footy has been played, players have pushed the issue and been reported. Before cameras were around, there are tales of many a king hit and an eye for an eye in a time where you gave it knowing full well you would get it back.
With the advent of television footage things didn't calm down with many a DVD released containing the 'best' hits and brawls of years past:
The premise was that what happened on field stayed on field and players had each others back. Try to maim me on Saturday? Come Monday night I will tell the tribunal I had no recollection of the incident and it was my word against yours. I was cleared, we shook hands and I would look to square the ledger next time we faced each other on the field.
As per the AFL Tribunal Handbook 2011 "prior to 2005, any player who was reported would face a hearing at the AFL Tribunal. This process had become problematic, and in 2005, a new system was adopted. The changes were primarily made to reduce the number of tribunal hearings, and to improve the consistency of penalties". Consistency of penalty was a key premise on which the new system was based, hold that thought.
Over the past two seasons the AFL has had in place a match review panel where incidents were graded on severity of incident across three factors (conduct, impact and conduct) and awarded activation points dependant on the severity. The activation points from all three categories were added to give a total activation points and assigned an offence level with predetermined bans for each level.
Players were then subject to additions and subtractions based on prior record and any early guilty plea with the end result being a highly contentious penalty that often was made to fit under a category rather than being assessed on merit.
Changes have been made in 2015 and some have been for the better. The points system has been removed in an effort to simplify the match review panel and carryover points are now a thing of the past. Each case is assessed on its merit, in theory.
Incidents regarded as lower-level such as tripping or a jumper-punch will attract fines but repeat offenders will be punished. More serious offences are punishable by two or three-week suspensions which can be reduced by one week by an early guilty plea (the fact that a two match penalty can be halved by admitting to what anyone can see seems a little off-kilter, but I digress).
The most severe incidents, or any offences where the match review panel is not satisfied with the resultant penalty after it has been graded, can be sent directly to the AFL Tribunal. This takes the rating system away from the Panel and puts it in front of the tribunal, which has the ability to impose a harsher penalty if relevant.
Assessing each event on its merit seems honourable, but there have been many instances this year where consistency seems to be the furthest thing from what we are seeing. Here are a few examples.
Take the two sling tackles below from Bryce Gibbs and Jay Schulz
They don't differ much if at all. Both players applied strong tackles, followed through with intent and knocked their opponents out. Gibbs was suspended for 2 weeks and Schulz didn't have a case to answer. Gibbs was rightly miffed
And Schulz should have been cited.
So how does a simple, modern system allow this oversight to happen? Sure, mistakes can happen but every part of what did Schulz did (pin the arms, sling, incapacitate opponent) matched what Gibbs did.
Onto the chicken wing. A vulgar act and one which tainted Chris Judd's career and one for which he rightly received a 4 week penalty
This weekend just gone, Joel Selwood did this and got penalised for 1 week.
The look on Selwood's face suggests this wasn't an accident and a skilled player such as him doesn't tackle by wrenching an arm at that angle - he is a star of the competition but that was a crude act that deserved far more. The system has changed but the inconsistency remains!
Treating each case on its merit HAS merit but when you compare Selwood's punishment to, say that of Ty Vickery this weekend then questions should be asked. Vickery has priors, having rearranged Dean Cox's face in an act unbefitting of a professional sportsman last season but at least his action on Michael Jamieson was something that you normally see on a sports field. If he gets Jamieson a few inches higher or to the side, its seen as a good block and we move on. But instead he gets a 2 week penalty (albeit impacted by his bad record) while Selwood gets a week off for a far worse act. That cannot sit well with the AFL community.
Buddy Franklin is a polarising figure whose best is as good as anyone who has graced the field since Gary Ablett Sr. But the Budster is prone to more than the odd brain fade. Take this incident from when the Swans played Richmond and Franklin steamrolled Shane Edwards. Now go back 15-20 years and this wouldn't be an unusual incident and probably one that warrant just a free kick but in today's AFL the head is seen as sacrosanct and any head-high contact punished. A decent holiday loomed so imagine the confusion when Franklin gets suspended for one week! Word is that Sydney accepted this finding within seconds of it being handed down, and who could blame them?
Lastly, we move onto Nathan Fyfe. The young man has taken all before him and is rightly considered as good a player as there currently is in the competition, but he is lucky to be playing against Carlton next weekend.
Lets take a look at the two incidents from the weekend which he was found GUILTY of:
In this one Fyfe accelerated into opponent Taylor Duryea, had no eyes on the ball and hit Duryea hard in the head. Those are the facts, and add the fact that Duryea was substituted out of the game with an injury that seems to have been related to the Fyfe hit.
Secondly, Fyfe dropped his knees into Liam Shiels and gets cleared with no case to answer. So he is found guilty twice in one game and doesn't face any suspension. Yet West Coast youngster Elliot Yeo did this earlier in the season and missed a game. Yeo was watching the ball and slowed up rather than accelerating; while there is no disputing he hit Jimmy Webster high, it is hard to see how what he did was any more severe than what Fyfe did.
Its not a matter of these things being easy to adjudicate, but at the very least the AFL community should be able to expect consistency, equality, transparency and that the Nat Fyfe's, Joel Selwood's and Lance Franklin's of the league be assessed as equally and fairly as the other more inconspicuous players running around.
AFL fans would rightly feel confused at the parity and consistency of decisions being handed down in 2015 and players would not know whether they are permitted to sling tackle, hit front on or chicken wing as they may be cleared just as easily as they are punished.
They just need to hope that their number, or name comes up as lucky when the MRP lottery wheel is spun.