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The AFL is proof that you can have too much of a good thing

I don’t want to be the “when I was young” man who complains about a past that’s gone, but I really regret a past that’s gone.

Growing up in the 1980s, the football landscape was sparsely dotted.

Thursday night would be Competition teamswhere Lou Richards, Jack Dyer and Bob Davis would chat as they announced the teams for the week.

Each game was played on Saturday afternoon at various suburban grounds. There was also a novelty to see how scores from other matches – especially if you needed results to fall a certain way – came up quarter by quarter on the big old manual scoreboards.

On Saturday night Peter Landy would host Seven’s Big Leaguewhich would show a quarter and a bit of the game of the round, about a quarter of another game and a cross to Scott Palmer for all the football heads.

Late at night it had ABC The winners, which would often show a different part of the match of the round or game. They also had segments for mark and purpose of the day.

Come Sunday, we had Channel 7’s World of sportswhere the panel would talk about the matches, interview coaches, and then have segments like “mark of the day,” “goal of the day,” and “what’s your decision?” bringing a referee to clarify several controversial decisions .

Sunday was the domain of the reserve competition. About the only extracurricular football was the preseason tournament, which was played simultaneously with the start of the home and away seasons but only halfway through the week. It was also taken semi-seriously by clubs. Then there is the state game.

All week I would look forward to Saturday, excited to see Collingwood in action. My older brother had a community of friends that I immediately felt part of. We watched the game, cheering as a group or moaning as a tribe.

If we won, I’d love to go home so I could kick off the ball and relive the highlights of the day. If we lost, I’d really like to go home so I could kick the ball around outside and somehow knock the result over – or at least suggest I did.

Gary Rohan is tackled by Taylor Duryea.

(Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Now the competition has clearly evolved over the years. It’s migrated games to Friday night, then Sunday and the occasional Monday, then to different timeslots. More football shows appeared, and even more so when cable became a thing. The games were separate, so there was little or no overlap. More teams came in.

We got more and more football.

But the reality is, that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Football has gone from this precious commodity to market saturation. If it was a stock, you’d unload. There are games and football shows everywhere.

There have also been times when we had games from Thursday through Monday, and then the football shows take over the other three days. If someone bombarded me with product marketing in the same way in email, that would be called spam.

The mechanisms introduced to create equalization have all but done. Ever since the salary cap was rigorously implemented (I would mark the early 2000s as when it happened, right when Carlton was severely punished for infractions) and the draft became the road to reconstruction (around the same time, where it was more science than speculative), we let one dynasty after another dominate the competition.

In that time, Hawthorn’s won four flags; Geelong, Richmond and Brisbane three; West Coast and Sydney two. That’s 17 flags. Doesn’t seem right, doesn’t it?

Jarryd Roughead and Lance Franklin of the Hawks celebrate with the Premiership Cup after the Hawks won the 2013 AFL Grand Final match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the Fremantle Dockers at Melbourne Cricket Ground on September 28, 2013 in Melbourne, Australia.

(Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

The expansion of the league has watered down the talent pool, leaving so many so-so teams stuck in long rebuilds. If they don’t get it right, they have to go around again. Look at Melbourne and Carlton, who had access to top picks in the early 2000s, became finalists but were never really contenders and ended up having to start all over again.

The dilution of the talent pool and these long precarious rebuilds mean there are always a lot of so-so teams, and they go head to head in mediocre games. Check the program every week – most of the games are uninteresting. Check them out and we’ll see a litany of skill flaws, dull defensive swamps and mediocre matches.

While the league’s nationalization may be a good thing, creating teams in states where Australian rules are not native has been problematic. Gold Coast has struggled since their inception. Greater Western Sydney has regularly played in finals but has barely converted any fans.

Some might say this is a generational project. Well, North Melbourne joined the then VFL in 1925. How are they doing for fans and finance nearly 100 years later? Even with their dominance in the late 1970s and 1990s, they are still struggling. Do we think it will be different for the Suns and Giants?

It would have made more sense for existing clubs to migrate (or be forced into) those areas, a la South Melbourne’s move to Sydney and Fitzroy merging with the Brisbane Bears. That would have given those new teams core support, history and, most importantly, a semblance of marquee.

Where I used to look forward to the weekend, now it often feels like there’s nothing but football — if it’s not games, it’s football shows and social media clickbait headlines. Even if any game used to be a great game, there would still be some desensitization as a core product because there is so much of it.

But every game is not big. Most are substandard. Then we go back to really awful (if not unpleasant) times for games, interpretations and rules that change erratically and some cover that forces you to reach for the mute button on your remote.

“Turn off” could be the popular counter.

I do, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is the reality of the competition I invest in.

Even if I just watch my game that week (which I often do), I know that all those problems thrive and the existing mechanisms don’t really level the top of the table, but spots the next 15 or so, leaving them in mediocrity, while a team usually runs rampant.

You can have too much of a good thing, and in this case it’s not a good thing. It’s too much of a so-so thing.

It is not surprising that the crowds are decreasing.

The product used to be a piñata full of goodies.

Now it’s a piñata that’s been beaten, smashed, trod on, and its treats spilled everywhere so that people have trampled on them and they no longer have the splendor they once enjoyed.

Yet we are still told that it is a precious loot.

How long will the league take for the AFL to realize that the very things they’re advocating — rule changes and tweaks, more and more games, expansion, equalization, and so on — are the very things that scare people away?

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