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The winners guide to Australian Rules Football: How to watch, how to bet

Our friends on the other side of the world play a game they call football too, and it might be as physical as the American version. But there’s no helmets or pads. We break down the Australian Football League, how to watch and stream, and how to bet.

Dustin Martin of the Tigers and Shane Edwards of the Tigers are seen during the Richmond Tigers training session at Punt Road Oval on March 18, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images

You might remember the early days of ESPN — or even when ESPN2 was added and in need of programming — coming home at 2 a.m. before the Internet was a thing in search of some sports to watch. And often that sport would be Australian Rules Football, which looked to be a form of kill-the-man-with-the-ball before he kicked it through some goal posts. The goal judges are also wonderful for memes.

Well now the AFL is back, with the defending champion Richmond Tigers facing the Carlton Blues tonight — er, tomorrow morning at 4:25 a.m. ET.

Never seen the AFL before? Need a refresher on why the players can fair catch a kick and not get tackled? We’ve got you! Here’s a brief primer on the Australian Football League (and how to bet on it, of course).

The Schedule

18 teams will play each other once for a 17-game season. Normally it’s 23 games, but COVID-19 is resulting in an adjustment. Also they’re shortening the quarters from the usual 20 minutes each to 16 because of coronavirus. We don’t get it, either.

The regular season champion wins the “minor premiership” (think the President’s Trophy in NHL or the Supporters Shield in MLS), and from there the top eight teams compete in playoffs to get to the AFL Grand Final (basically the Aussie Rules Super Bowl).

The Rules

There’s 18 guys on the field at one time, and you can freely substitute four other players.

The ref bounces the ball in the middle of the field after a goal is scored or to start play. From there, you can kick it to a teammate, use your fist to punch it to a teammate, or run with it as long as you bounce the ball once every 15 meters. Do these things before you get tackled though, because if you do the other team gets the ball.

Here’s the big one: if you catch a kick from a teammate that was at least 15 meters away, you get a “mark” which means the other team has to be 10 meters away from you until you do something. And that something, if you’re within 50-60 meters of pay dirt, is often to try and kick a goal.

There’s four goal posts with no crossbars on either end of the furthest parts of the oval, two big ones in the middle 6.4 meters apart, and two smaller ones on the outside 6.4 meters away from the inside bigger post. Kick the ball between the big ones in any way possible (it can roll between them if needed), and you get six points for a goal. Miss to the left or right, but have the ball stay inside the small posts on the outside, and you get one point for a “behind.”

The Field

Much like baseball, it depends on where you’re playing. The “pitch” ranges from 135–185 meters long, and 110–155 meters wide, but it’s always an oval. And it’s always filled with guys on the other team that want to clean your clock if you’ve got the ball.

How to watch

With little else on in the sports world, the AFL could be in prime position for coverage. The downside is most games are late at night or early in the morning on US television, but for people with nothing else to do, it will be worth checking out. For those looking to watch in the US, FOX Soccer Plus, FOX Sports 1, and FOX Sports 1 will all offer some options. If the league does not suspend play, look for even more FS1 coverage.

Additionally, online coverage is available for US and Canadian viewers on WatchAFL (officially Watch AFL Global), a service from Fox Sports Australia and the AFL.

How to bet on it

Just like you’d think! There’s point spreads, over/unders, and money lines just like you’d see in an NFL game. Additionally, at DraftKings Sportsbook you can put together futures bets on who will win the league, and who will win individual season-long awards. The awards include the Brownlow Medal (“Charlie”) and Coleman Medal. The Charlie goes to the “fairest and best” player, as determined by officiating field umpires after each game. The Coleman goes to the player who kicks the most goals in the season.