But while the rhythm and overall dynamic of the game is undoubtedly different, the biggest issue may well be the impact the shorter quarters have on scoring. The issue of declining scores has been an ongoing headache for the AFL, so much so it introduced new rules last year to help open up the game and increase scoring.
It didn’t work. The 2019 season was the lowest-scoring for a whopping 52 seasons, with the average team score a miserly 80.4 points per game. The year before it was 83.5 and in 2017 it was 89.5. At the turn of the century the average team score was 103 points per game. Mind you, back then a full forward could still kick 100 goals a season.
Those days are long gone. Last year’s Coleman Medallist, Jeremy Cameron, kicked just 67 goals during the home and away season. In fact, since 2012 only Josh Kennedy, in 2015 and 2016, has kicked more than 70 goals in a home and away season.
But those dreaming of more goals shouldn’t hold their breath. Naturally, shorter quarters on the clock leaves less time to score. As you’d expect in a season where games are 20 per cent shorter, the current average score this season is about 20 per cent less than last year.
After three rounds, the average is 65 points, but worryingly, in round 3 it was only 59 points.
Perhaps the biggest concern is that shorter games will also lead to even less time and space on the football field, which means scores won’t be increasing any time soon.
For decades in the amateur and semi-professional eras of sport, coaches tried to win by creating more time and space to move the ball quicker and more fluently from one point of the ground to the other. The idea was to score as often as possible.
But in the serious business of professional sport, where winning keeps players and coaches in jobs and revenue streams flowing, the focus on time and space has changed. Now the focus is on reducing the opposition’s time and space by protecting zones, applying pressure, causing turnovers and stoppages and ultimately restricting the opposition from freely moving the ball.
This has led to a very different game, one that has all but eliminated high-scoring contests.
The only thing that can sometimes open the game up is fatigue. When the players tire, they simply can’t stop the opposition as effectively. But here’s the thing: while players are still finding their optimum fitness and skill this season, once they do, shorter quarters will only ensure they are better at closing down time and space for longer portions of the game.
Of course, this could all change if the coaches focused more on attack than defence, but in an age where a tackle, turnover or goal assist has become as valuable and celebrated as a goal, this seems less likely than a 100,000 crowd at the MCG next weekend.
So, if it’s higher scoring you’re after, you might have to wait another year, at least. In the meantime, the real interest in scoring for season 2020 may well be reduced to seeing how low we can go.
Sam Duncan is a lecturer in sports media and marketing.