Tough times at the top

Farewell: Adrian Anderson  announces his resignation.
Farewell: Adrian Anderson announces his resignation.

A LONG line of former AFL executives can attest to the fact that whatever roles they occupied, they certainly weren't doing them for the sake of popularity. But even the likes of previous league administrators like the late Alan Schwab and Ian Collins didn't have to operate under the same sort of pressure Adrian Anderson has.

The job of the departing football operations manager has become progressively harder over his nine-year tenure, spanning so many more portfolios that it is barely comparable to what the role used to entail.

That was evident in the list of achievements by Anderson which Demetriou paraded at yesterday's press conference, many of which wouldn't have been reflected upon for too long by a football public concerned first and foremost with what takes place on the field.

Things like the league's illicit drug policy, reforms to policy concerning gambling within the game, the establishment of an integrity department, a player code of conduct, and a key role in helping formulate the player concessions to new clubs Gold Coast and GWS have been key planks of the AFL in the 21st century, but were never going to inspire fans to sing the praises of their architect.

Neither, though, will the more obvious legacies affecting the game. And Anderson can leave his position satisfied there have been some significant ones.

The establishment of the match review panel to replace the old tribunal and with it a penalty points table, was an important step in dragging the game's judicial system into the modern era. Certainly, player safety has been addressed positively with greater emphasis on protection of players via changes to the rules concerning ruck contests, to head-high contact and to vigilance concerning concussion.

The penalty against players deliberately rushing behinds was another positive reform overseen by Anderson which not only helped keep the ball alive more but managed to nip in the bud what was quickly threatening to become a blight on the game. More contentious changes such as the ''hands-in-the-back'' rule were initially derided but have come to be accepted without too much fuss several seasons down the track.

Yet under Anderson's watch there's also been examples of rule tinkering which has turned on itself, with unintentional consequences of several rule changes, the AFL alternately hitting the accelerator then the brake as it first tried to speed the game up, then slow it down.

Time-keeping was altered to shorten games, which continued instead to get longer. Anderson confidently predicted the spiralling numbers of interchanges would drop sharply with the introduction of the substitute rule. They continued to rise. That was evidence that even the meticulous use of statistics and research which Anderson brought to the task can't always accurately forecast how the game will evolve.

At times in recent seasons, you felt that the football operations manager, and it should be said, the Laws of the Game committee, refused to see the forest for the trees. Like on the matter of congestion, the AFL finally two months ago adopting a throw-up rather than bounce down by umpires around the ground, saving between four to nine seconds, yet continuing to ignore an even simpler remedy - having the umpires call for a ball-up far more quickly.

It hasn't been a great year for the AFL administration, and Anderson wore much of the flak, the belated inquiries into the Melbourne ''tanking'' saga, the sloppy introduction of video goal reviews after the matter had been on the table for more than two years, and too many inconsistencies with the MRP system, which has led to an adjustment on loading for good and poor records.

They may be as good indicators as any that the game is throwing up too many curve balls now for just one man in the role, and that the apparent intent to split the responsibilities that came with the job is timely. But that would also be recognition that for Anderson to have lasted this long in the job, and to be leaving it not only with a significant legacy, but with his marbles and self-esteem intact, has been no mean feat.

This story Tough times at the top first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.