Patrick Dangerfield Suspension Demonstrates The AFL’s Match Review Panel Problem

On Monday afternoon the AFL’s match review panel made a bold decision – they suspended the favourite for the Brownlow medal Patrick Dangerfield for a dangerous tackle. Whilst the prevailing view tends to be that precedence set by similar incidents makes this the correct decision there was also some leeway for the MRP to let him off. They didn’t though, and now the AFL must deal with the drama surrounding one of the biggest nights in the football calendar.

Dangerfield may now top the voting but be ineligible to win purely because of what was largely bad luck. Bad luck that resulted in Kreuzer being concussed from what was an otherwise fair tackle. Dangerfield’s actions gave away no free kick and were of course not outlawed in the absence of an injury to Kreuzer, but since he was responsible for the player’s well-being he is suspended for a week. Because Kreuzer happened to hit his head we must now label Dangerfield as ‘not fair’.

This doesn’t seem to be the case though. Nobody in the public seems to view Dangerfield as an unfair player as a result of this tackle, and many believe he should have got off so as not to impact Brownlow night.

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This disconnect from public opinion is clearly a failure of the systems in play. Either the Brownlow needs more flexibility in determining if players are fair or the match review system needs to be adjusted to not immediately suspend players for fair actions with unforeseeable outcomes.

Due to the history of the Brownlow medal (including past ineligible winners due to suspension) adjusting the criteria required to win would be an overreaction to what is a rare occurrence. Instead we should be looking at a match review panel that has been plagued with inconsistencies and controversy year after year.

The most logical change to the MRP would be to give them more layers they can use to assess a situation. Currently Dangerfield’s tackle must be judged as either intentional or careless. Well he intentionally tackled Kreuzer but was careless in how he did so, leading to Kreuzer hitting his head. New classifications are obviously required that make the process clear and stop both positions being justifiable or else the MRP might as well just choose a punishment based on gut feel.

A simple example would be to split ‘intentional’ into two different categories – ‘intentional misconduct’ and ‘intention to cause harm’. This gives the MRP the ability to treat intentional non-football actions (such as choosing to bump) and intentional strikes off the ball differently. Additionally, it would add some much-needed clarity to the system and allows fans to actually understand why players receive the penalty that they do.

Under this system there would be no change to the rating of the Dangerfield tackle (which was found to be careless) but it would allow for more spacing and leeway in penalties for players. Instead of careless conduct drawing a penalty only in the case of injury (and determined almost entirely on a rival team’s medical report) the MRP could instead issue fines and the associated risk of suspension that comes with accruing multiple fines.

No longer would a single careless play rule you out of Brownlow medal contention. Playing with intensity is one of the cornerstones of our game and it should rightly be protected. It makes sense then that players should be protected from a single careless incident from playing at high intensity.

The introduction of a higher classification of intent would also allow for incidences that are perceived to be worse to be treated as such regardless of impact.
In round 3 Patrick Ryder was found guilty of intentionally striking Riley Knight in the head with low impact and received a one match suspension as a result. What this decision did not encapsulate though is that Ryder violently swung at Knight well off the ball with a clear intention to harm him in retaliation for blocking Ryder’s path.

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Ryder’s intention and actions are to the naked eye much worse than Dangerfield’s and yet they drew the same penalty simply because one caused a concussion and the other didn’t. By giving the match review panel a higher classification of intent this could change, either by adding an additional loading to them or sending higher intent cases directly to the tribunal.

This is just one example of an extra layer the MRP could use to distinguish between cases. The same concept could be applied to the impact grading as well if the AFL prefers to continue with an outcome driven system. What’s important is that the penalties laid out start to match the expectations of the public, or the AFL will continue to have controversy and drama surrounding the match review panel and the Brownlow Medal.

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