Jeff Gieschen is adamant AFL players are receiving less protection from umpires this season.
The former AFL umpiring director, whose 14 years in the job saw a dramatic shift in the way players were protected when they attacked the football, is not critical of the league.
But he identified a significant softening in the way umpires were interpreting the laws this season.
"Protection of the ball player at all times was our No.1 mantra," Gieschen told The Weekend West.
"That has changed now. It has been relaxed with what they pay and don't pay.
"We tried to minimise injuries by protecting the head at all times and preventing the players from playing the man rather than the footy.
"I can see a change this year. I can't comment on whether that is a direction or a natural change, but I have certainly noticed a shift."
Gieschen coached at West Perth, Geelong and Richmond and will be in Perth next week as part of the Falcons' 20-year celebrations of their shift to Arena Joondalup.
He became the AFL umpire director in 1999 and was soon involved in a push to eradicate the dangerous bumps that were long considered a fundamental part of the game.
The success of that change is evident in the almost total absence of traditional shirt fronts in modern football.
For all the debate over Melbourne midfielder Jack Viney's clash with Adelaide's Tom Lynch, or Sydney's Dan Hanne- bery's collision with Essendon's Michael Hurley, there was no suggestion either player acted maliciously.
Both players were found to have acted legally during collisions that left Lynch with a broken jaw and Hurley shaken.
"We worked really hard on protecting the player over the ball," Gieschen said. "It started back in the 2000 grand final when Michael Long cleaned up Troy Simmonds which was really dangerous. It was lucky Simmonds was not hurt more.
"And we were lucky that no one got seriously hurt by Byron Pickett, who was a fantastic shirt-fronter, but a bit crude with the way he did it."
AFL operations manager Mark Evans said the league's priority was to minimise the risk of serious injury.