That proved popular with broadcasters and fans but it was also a unique situation with lockdown in Victoria leading to more people watching TV than might be the case in an ordinary year.
The AFL is planning for 50 per cent crowds in Victoria next year and is hopeful of no return to hubs, while full capacity crowds are being planned for every other state.
The recent South Australian outbreak was a reminder of the fragility of the situation around the country and how the competition will have to remain flexible going into next year.
The AFL likes the flexibility the rolling fixture provided, enabling the league to schedule the best games in the best timeslots, and is exploring how that would be possible in a regular season with full crowds, corporate events and travel.
Players, however, may be less open to a compressed fixture after the AFL’s unilateral decision to reduce interchange rotations caught them by surprise on Wednesday.
Sources at clubs were also angry and bewildered that the decision to reduce interchange rotations from 90 to 75 per team per match had already been made before the competition committee met on Wednesday to discuss potential rule changes for the 2021 season.
The process, which saw the decision made before AFL-funded research relating to the impact of reducing interchanges had been tabled, upset players after they spent the season agreeing to quick shifts in the fixture and shorter breaks between games to ensure the season was completed during the coronavirus pandemic.
Patrick Dangerfield, who is president of the AFL Players’ Association and on the competition committee, expressed his disquiet at the decision, particularly after such a taxing year, telling SEN on Thursday he was not a fan of reduction.
“We are just going to have to live with them as players,” Dangerfield said.
However he wasn’t the only person disappointed with the competition committee unaware of the controversial moves until they joined the meeting on Wednesday and were told the AFL Commission had approved the decisions.
Several members of the committee were concerned that the effect of reducing interchange rotations could not be properly assessed until the length of quarters and breaks between goals were confirmed.
The AFL is yet to decide on the length of quarters for next season although sources expect it to either return to 20-minute quarters plus time on or increase from 16 to 18 minute quarters from 2020 to 2021.
The interchange decision wasn’t the only one affecting the AFL in 2021 with the league also changing the rules relating to what players standing on the mark can do after a free kick or mark is paid to an opponent and the location of the mark for kick ins.
The AFL also decided to trial a rule in next year’s VFL and East Coast competition, which will see a minimum of three players from each team having to be stationed inside the 50-metre arcs (including one player from each team in the goalsquare) all all kick-ins and boundary throw-ins.
The radical shift will be monitored to see whether it should be introduced into the AFL in 2022.
The AFL is yet to determine a fixture for 2021 although they are discussing several options with clubs at the moment with uncertainty still surrounding the effect COVID-19 will have on the competition next season.
A compressed fixture would need player buy-in again in 2021 if the AFL wanted to repeat this season’s football frenzy however sources said decisions made without consultation made gaining player approval more difficult.
Several players remain concerned about a heightened risk of injury and the desire of the AFL to increase fatigue to open up the game however AFL football operations boss Steve Hocking said player welfare was a consideration in only reducing the cap by 15 rotations when he spoke to the media after the decision.
Club sources also expressed concern that the potential for rule changes were not flagged before the trade period with the reduction in interchange changing the value of several players in the market.
The pandemic has made wide consultation on many issues difficult in 2020 but the process for these changes was in stark contrast to the exhaustive, evidence-driven process the AFL managed before nine rule changes were implemented ahead of the 2018 season in an effort to increase scoring.
The competitition committee was introduced in 2018 with members to sit on the panel for three years before being replaced with Essendon, Carlton, Fremantle, Melbourne, Western Bulldogs and St Kilda the clubs to not yet have had a representative on the committee.
Michael Gleeson is an award-winning senior sports writer specialising in AFL and athletics.
Peter Ryan is a sports reporter with The Age covering AFL, horse racing and other sports.