Now and then a sport feels like it’s boring, tired and needs a change in how things are done to spice things up a bit. Haven’t we all done that in life?
Be it changing a few rules, adding some surprise element to how a game is played, throwing a party to get more people to the event or holding a new type of format or tournament sports have a long history of trying to make it better even when it doesn’t need to.
We take a look at the weird, strange and sometimes plain ridiculous ways sporting bodies had tried to change how things are done when it probably didn’t need to happen.
AFL Pre-Season/Night Series
Recently the AFL has flagged the idea of AFLX, a rectangular version of the sport with fewer players on the field and hasn’t really captured the imagination of the football public. The AFL has a history of trying to do additional tournaments, but many haven’t stood the test of time. The original VFL night series was a tournament played at the Lakeside Oval in South Melbourne which saw the clubs who didn’t make the finals play against each other during September. It was then replaced with a night series played at the old Waverley Park where VFL clubs would play SANFL/WAFL teams in a knock out comp before turning into a pre-season night series by the time the VFL turned into the AFL. People used to care about it too. When St.Kilda won the 1996 Ansett Cup against Carlton fans streamed onto Waverley with commentators declaring “The premiership drought is over!” Until recent times the AFL changed the format of the pre-season to round robin, knock out and even had clubs playing mini matches, and how can we not mention the 9 point “Supergoal” from outside the 50-meter line! Currently, a series of practice matches are played with no trophy or prize money offered at the end of it. Such a shame. Dermott Brereton doesn’t take his five day, five-night premierships lightly you know?
The old National Soccer League tried many things to be relevant in the Australian sporting landscape during its time. From moving the season to the summer months to not compete for space with Aussie Rules/Rugby League – the NSL tried and tried to cement itself and wasn’t afraid to change things up a bit. Enter the 1994-95 season. The league responded to critics of the sport who thought the idea of nil all results and regular draws put people off from watching the game by not having any draws at all during the regular season. Wins during the regular NSL season were worth four points on the ladder with all draws decided on penalties. The winners would receive two points, and the losers are getting one. The change did not please people who followed the game and regular season draws would return the following NSL season.
Teeing off at the Party Hole
In what initially sounded like something borrowed from Caddyshack or Happy Gilmore the Australian Open golf tournament introduced a “party hole” for the 11th hole. The party hole was a place where corporate tents would be mounted, drinks would flow, DJ’s would pump out some tunes, and the players still had to play. What could go wrong in a sport like Golf? Backed by sunglasses company Oakley at the time the people behind the Party Hole described it as “We’re trying to expose some new people to golf. We’ve got a lot of surfers here. A lot of females.” It all sounded like a great idea on paper, but the players hated it. It was eventually scrapped after two years when Robert Allenby was heckled by a spectator about his sick mother one year. Allenby denounced the hole as promoting alcoholism and threatened to never return to the Australian tour. It seems there’s always one idiot in the crowd who ruins it for everyone.
Six Point Try
Fair to say Rugby Union has had some lean times in Australia of recent years. So you know what will bring the glory days back? Changing some rules. That’ll make things better! During the 2016 Rugby Championship tries were made worth six points and any form of a goal worth two points. Boy, didn’t that bring people through the turnstiles!
Hit The Sign
Before the T20 Big Bash ruled supreme on domestic cricket – the one-day domestic series was king. The old Mercantile Mutual/ING Cup was a staple of the summer of sport on our televisions. Nothing beat seeing the likes of Merv Hughes of the Canberra Comets taking on Richard Che Que of the NSW Blues from North Sydney Oval. You knew that a big summer of cricket was here when the Mercantile Mutual Cup was in full swing! The one thing that made the Mercantile Mutual Cup standout was the hit the sign promotion within the game. If a batsmen hit either the Mercantile Mutual (later ING) sign they would win a truckload of cash. Steve Waugh was one the players to hit the sign playing for NSW against WA in 1995 he won a cool $100k for doing it. The likes of Shane Lee and Andy Flower also have the honour of hitting the sign and getting the cash and what an honour it was.
Double Points in Netball
How many of you reading this have been roped into a social netball team thinking you can score from outside the goal circle on the court? No doubt there’s a few of you. During the preseason tournament of the then trans-Tasman league, a 2 point zone was introduced with the idea of making it more exciting for spectators, allow a different attacking game plan and focus on tall holding shooters. It didn’t wash down well with some of the players. Australian shooter Natalie Medhurst took to Facebook criticizing it saying “I believe the product we have, as it currently is, is a great one. We are Netball, not Basketball and already have an alternate form of the game known as Fast5, which includes this kind of shots.” It didn’t last, was not used during the regular season and it would be the last season of the transtasman Netball competition.
In recent years the NRL has trailed the Auckland Nine’s concept a nine a side, nine-minute halves with all sorts of different rules and funny looking shirts and singlets in the case of the Melbourne Storm. Held over a weekend in February during preseason the nines was popular, to begin with, but has been scrapped after this year’s tournament due to the NRL’s crowded scheduling. It wasn’t shy of a scandal either with Parramatta being stripped of its 2016 Auckland nines title due to salary cap breaches.
While these are all novelties of when sports have tried to chop, change and spice things up sometimes it’s worked. T20 Cricket is here to stay with the likes of the Big Bash and the IPL now dominating the Cricket Landscape, and Fast Five Netball is very popular in Netball circles. Who knows, maybe the likes of AFLX will be a regular staple of the Australian Sporting Landscape? Sports will always try to spice things up but its sometimes good to reflect on those times and ask “what on earth were they thinking?”