With the sickening injury to Harris Andrews at the hands – or should that be elbow – of Giants star Jeremy Cameron, the idea of an in-game penalty has again emerged. The last time the idea of a red card was raised with regards to the AFL was when Melbourne’s Tom Bugg planted a left jab on Swan Callum Mills’ jaw, knocking the young gun unconscious and sidelining him for the remainder of the match.
In response the great Chris Judd, himself no stranger to on-field indiscretions, suggested a red card system utilising video referees and an in-game review, with the decision handed down and enacted during a stop in play. And now, with Andrews suffering bleeding on the brain as a result of an intentional – if instinctive - act by Jeremy Cameron, the footy industry yet again turns its collective attention to in-match penalties.
But does our great game need to undergo yet another paradigm-shifting rule change? Or are lengthy suspensions enough of a deterrent for these sorts of acts?
The red card is no laughing matter. It’s not a simple rule to introduce, no matter how it may appear. A 2011 study (using data from the German Bundesliga) found that the probability of winning decreased for any team who received a yellow or red card. A 2015 study by Marquette University contended that "after penalties and goals, red cards are the next most significant event that can impact the outcome of a soccer (football) game". So let’s not rush in yet another massive change to footy without considering the consequences.
“What about the consequences of an illegal punch or high hit?” you may ask, and justifiably so. No one wants to see Harris Andrews out for weeks, or Callum Mills concussed on the bench.
But instituting a red card system would be complex, for a variety of reasons. What constitutes a red card-worthy offense? Is it a deliberate punch, or intentional bump, which causes injury to the extent that the injured player cannot take part in the rest of the match? When does that have to be determined? How long is the offending player allowed to remain on the field during deliberation? What happens if it looks deliberate but was actually accidental? What if it was intended to have minimal force, but was exacerbated by circumstance (a third player pushing the injured player towards the offender, for example)?
Who, on the day, adjudicates whether any individual act fits the definition of a red card-worthy offense? Would it come under the purview of a panel of officers who’d sit upstairs combing through vision, as Chris Judd suggested last year? We don’t even have acceptable goal-line technology – who can say for sure that any red card-worthy incident would be captured on camera?
Would field umpires be responsible for handing out red cards for incidents that aren’t captured on video? There's already plenty on the plate of your average AFL umpire (the ever-shifting holding the ball rule, executing a perfect bounce, ignoring the influence of the 'noise of affirmation' from home crowds etc). Back in 2016, Umpires Head Coach Hayden Kennedy told AFL.com.au that should red cards be instituted and umpires be responsible for handing them out that “There would be a lot of pressure, but the guys are up to it.” Seems like ‘a lot of pressure’ is a bit of an understatement.
So that panel, or individual, watching at the ground or in studio, would have the responsibility. Would this be similar to the goal reviewers who’ve made multiple errors this season? Imagine the uproar should a player incorrectly receive a red card in an important match.
The issue of deliberate provocation raises its head. Will players start fights in the hopes of copping a punch from the opposition’s best player and having them sent off?
Red cards would introduce yet another grey area to our already hard-to-adjudicate game. Surely suspension is enough of a deterrent. Yes, it’s unfair that a valuable player can be removed from any individual match due to the actions of an opponent, but the potential for a red card system to introduce negative complications to an already complicated game is too great to risk.
Do you think the AFL needs to introduce red cards?