THE AFL's war on congestion in the game is to be ramped up in October when the laws committee decides whether to alter the interchange rules again.
The league yesterday flagged three options as it fights to keep the ball in play for longer: no change to the current three-and-one interchange set-up; a two-interchange-two-substitute system; and the current system, along with a cap on interchanges.
The AFL and its laws committee are convinced there is a link between the growing number of interchanges (up to 130 a game per club this year) and congestion of play. It has data to suggest the ball is in play for 60 per cent of games, up from 50 per cent in 2004, but it wants to make sure this number does not drop again.
The league's general manager of football operations, Adrian Anderson, said supporter feedback had increasingly mentioned ''stacks on the mill, 'a bit like a rugby scrum', the numbers of players around the ball. We're questioning whether we need to do something about that at the current time.''
The two-two system was trialled in the NAB Cup but is profoundly unpopular with clubs.
Players have also expressed concerns, including at a recent meeting with Anderson and game analysis manager Joel Bowden.
Retiring Essendon player Mark McVeigh gave an example yesterday, saying: ''I've heard that the AFL are looking at two-and-two on the bench and I'm so glad I'm getting out. That would be so hard on the players.''
But Anderson said the level of player discontent at the meeting had been overstated: ''We're very much aware that the players are feeling that they're being pushed harder than ever before.'' He said the league did not hold a view about what should be done and that the consultation process would continue.
Other options to cut congestion include: umpires throwing the ball up rather than bouncing at around-the-ground stoppages; defenders being made to kick in from behinds more quickly; and a tightening of the rushed-behind rule.
Currently, defenders are not penalised for deliberately conceding a behind if they are considered to be under pressure. The laws committee will discuss removing this concession. ''It would potentially create more exciting play around the goal mouth but it's tougher on defenders,'' said Anderson.
The laws panel has two other major topics marked for discussion.
One is the increase in below-the-knee contact leading to serious injuries. The league asked umpires to apply the rule prohibiting such contact but is not happy that it is being used often enough.
The committee is also to consider whether the separation of ruckmen at around-the-ground stoppages, trialled in the NAB Cup, should be introduced.
In the trial, ruckmen were precluded from making contact until the ball left the umpire's hands.
Anderson also flagged the possibility of an umpire crackdown on ''blocking and checking'' by defenders in 2013.
The laws panel has discussed ducking and shrugging in tackles after feedback from players.
Bowden is to complete a second round of feedback sessions with players and coaches before the laws panel sits in October. Anderson said the game was ''in good shape'', as he released a survey from 2011 rating the AFL the most popular sporting competition in the country.