Hocking said the AFL consider enlisting senior club figures – such as players or coaches – to be advocates for umpires.
“If we want a genuine funnel of umpires coming through I think we need to change our language and how they’re seen in the game.
“That’s my personal view and it’s well founded. If you have a look at the pipeline coming through, it’s bloody tough to get people to sign up to be an umpire because it’s even harder at this (lower) level.”
While he said umpires were supported financially at the top level, “at this (lower) level, it’s really tough.”
Hocking disagreed with the view that the multiple rule changes he had introduced were responsible for reducing support for umpires. “I think that’s an easy out, to put in on the umpires and take it back to the rules.”
Hocking, who spoke to the AFL umpires’ leadership group last week, said the AFL was “exploring” giving goal and boundary umpires the ability to make decisions.
“What role does a goal umpire have? What role does a boundary umpire have? They’re all things that we’re exploring.
“Just potentially being miked up to be able to do that in future. That’s all stuff that we’re exploring … we want to make sure that the umpires are supported.”
Hocking did not think either money or full-time umpires were the answers to the way they were treated. “No, I just think a change of attitude which is hard to do.” He said the current list of umpires were “a balanced group” with normal work-life balance and full-time umpires were not the answer.
“If you have a look at the pipeline coming through, it’s bloody tough to get people to sign up to be an umpire because it’s even harder at this (lower) level.”
Hocking said the percentage of correct decisions “sits at high eights to low nines” (for every 10 decisions) and had not changed much over the years.
Asked if the umpiring situation was a matter of urgency, he said: “Yeah, I do. I look at the pipeline and, you know, we need to recognise it is a tough role.”
Hocking acknowledged that the AFL’s score review system – which saw two goals mistakenly awarded to Collingwood against the Lions – had to improve, calling it “a continual frustration for everybody, including us as administrators.”
“We just have to get better at that.”
Hocking described the season to date had “considerable uncertainty”, with 23 upsets in five rounds, giving some credit to the rule changes, along with other factors. The 23 upsets compared to 17 after five rounds last season. “And we believe that is healthy.”
He said the new rules – such as the six-six-six formation at centre bounces – had opened the game up, even though this was not reflected in higher scoring yet.
Hocking reiterated that the AFL would stick with the one warning system before paying a free for six-six-six violations.
He said teams were still establishing their game styles in 2019, while his offsider David Rath said the days of one game plan were over, and teams were varying how they played early this season.
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age. He writes news, commentary and analysis on a variety of other sports.