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Professor Football asks: Is the AFL in danger of strangling itself?

Victoria University's football experts kick off the season with a question for the AFL: Has player management gone too far?

Associate Professor Bob Stewart, from the University's Professor Football stable of Aussie Rules experts, says the league is in danger of turning players into clones as they are forced to comply with a growing number of regulations and behavioural codes.

"Regulation starts with the draft, where players are offered to clubs which can do what they like with them. It's akin to a cattle auction," Professor Stewart said.

"But it doesn't stop there. Players are required to behave impeccably because they are expected to be role models for impressionable children and adolescents and to uphold the reputation of the AFL.

"The league's player policies cover alcohol abuse, violence, sexual assault, homophobia, bullying and racial vilification. Players can be punished for using or trafficking in performance enhancing drugs but also for illicit drugs such as cannabis, ketamine and cocaine.

"Many players have had a difficult time meeting these expectations. Brendan Fevola and Mathew Stokes are two high-profile recent examples.

"This is not surprising, since it's hard to think of any other occupation where young men's conduct is so heavily proscribed.

"Given their biology and the roles constructed for them throughout their adolescence, it's little wonder that many players come off the football assembly line with a few behavioural faults.

"The AFL needs to take care it doesn't get too tough on players. Fans don't want a parade of look-alikes without any rough edges or idiosyncrasies.

"AFL is probably the world's most regulated professional sporting code. It is also one of the largest in terms of match attendance. The very measures designed to protect this commercial success could be its undoing if fans start to turn away."

The Professor Football team of experts in sports science, law, history, culture, communications and psychology is available for comment on all aspects of football.

Bob Stewart teaches in VU's School of Sport and Exercise Science. His research interests include AFL club and player management and the code's fan base. He is available for comment.

Media contact: Jim Buckell, A/Senior Media Officer, Victoria University. 03 9919 4243; 0400 465 459; jim.buckell@vu.edu.au

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