Football is returning on June 11.
But it might look a little different. Subtle changes to the game – and the way the game operates – have been made in the wake of the COVID-19 shutdown.
AFL.com.au reporter Riley Beveridge breaks down what all of this means to 'keep things simple' for you, explaining what amendments have been made and why.
What changes have been made?
As things stand, only one change has been made to the way the game will be played in season 2020. Reduced 16-minute quarter lengths, down from 20 minutes, were introduced ahead of round one. It has since been confirmed that the shortened match times will be retained throughout the remainder of the 2020 campaign, including the Toyota AFL Finals Series and the Toyota AFL Grand Final. This is due to the differing loads that players will have to shoulder, having been sidelined for the best part of three months due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Are there going to be any more changes?
Only one more change is still being considered by the AFL, which is whether they will increase the size of interchange benches by "one or two" players for the remainder of the 2020 season. The proposal for bigger interchange numbers was made by a series of coaches and is still under review at League headquarters. If introduced, it would again be done so due to the increased loads that players will have to take on following the significant disruption to the game in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The AFL is not expected to confirm whether it will introduce expanded interchange benches until the week of round two, which is due to begin on June 11.
Will these changes be permanent?
For the time being, no. As both AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan and its football operations manager Steve Hocking have repeatedly said, "the way we start is not the way we finish". The changes to the way the game is being played have been made due to the unprecedented events we are currently living through and have been introduced to allow the AFL the flexibility to deal with further disruptions should they arrive. Shortened quarters, and perhaps expanded interchange benches, are therefore no certainty for season 2021 and beyond.
Have there been changes at my club?
Significant changes have been made at club level, particularly within football departments. Earlier this month, the AFL notified all clubs that no more than 25 staff members were allowed to be in physical contact with players and therefore visit training facilities. A doctor, a psychologist, a player development manager and a compliance manager must be part of that 25-person group. The remainder is likely to be made up by the senior coach, the football manager, assistant coaches, physios and other staff members. However, while some members of the football department – such as list managers and recruiters – will return to work remotely, further cuts to club expenditure means a lot of jobs have been sacrificed due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. This has particularly impacted specialist skills coaches and part-time and casual staff members. The changes are likely to extend to matchdays, where the number of staff members allowed to be in the coaches box and on the bench during the course of a game are set to be significantly reduced.
What will the finals look like?
The AFL has confirmed that the traditional four-week Toyota AFL Finals Series will remain intact, with the top-eight to progress as per normal. As things stand, the Toyota AFL Grand Final is currently slated for October 24. However, due to the rapid and ever-changing nature of the global COVID-19 pandemic, this could be shifted at any point to accommodate for any further disruptions to the fixture. The AFL is yet to announce the starting time for the Grand Final and whether it will be played in the traditional day slot, or whether the start time will change to a twilight or a night slot.