"Is the game too long?"

That's the question Collingwood coach Craig McRae asked when discussing the growing injury lists that have plagued the AFL in 2024.

Heading into Round 11, 155 players occupy the competition's casualty ward, albeit some could potentially return given their "test" status.

So what's the reason behind the staggering number?

Is the quarter length of 20 minutes plus time on the real cause? Or the number of games played in a season?

Since 1970, the V/AFL teams have played at least 22 games (plus finals) while an increase by one match was introduced ahead of the 2023 campaign to facilitate the very popular initiative Gather Round.

BALLARAT, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 24: Nick Coffield of the Bulldogs is seen with his arm in a sling after sustaining an injury during the round two AFL match between Western Bulldogs and Gold Coast Suns at Mars Stadium, on March 24, 2024, in Ballarat, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

MORE: What the AFL will look at to potentially reduce the game time

In 1994, the AFL reduced quarter lengths from 25 minutes to 20 and has held steady, with the exception of the COVID-impacted 2020 campaign, where terms were cut back to 16 minutes to facilitate shorter turnarounds between matches in a condensed season.

So what do the numbers say?

As it should be, the AFL is taking concussion and head trauma seriously as studies continue to reveal the serious issues with repeated knocks.

With an eager eye on ensuring players aren't denying symptoms and passing on protocols before returning to play, there has been no doubt that the increased surveillance in the matter has yielded a larger number than in the past, which is a good thing.

Of the 155, 18 players are listed as within the concussion protocols.

And while it is an unfortunate reality of a contact sport, the remaining 137 players have become victims of physical collisions or soft-tissue injuries, with the latter potentially a result of a club's strength and conditioning regime.

In 2020, the AFL in their annual report, revealed that there were 33.1 new injuries per club for the season, in fewer games and shortened quarters.

However, the surrounding seasons (2019 and 2021) disclosed minor increases compared to the unique year, recording 37.9 and 33.6 new injuries per club, respectively.

But when considering 2020, the 33.1 injuries didn't factor in the shortened quarters or fewer matches (22 down to 17), which would extrapolate to roughly 42 injuries in normal circumstances.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 18: Dylan Grimes of the Tigers leaves the ground with a possible injury during the round 22 AFL match between the Richmond Tigers and the West Coast Eagles at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on August 18, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

So if the injury toll is not directly linked to the increased matches or the quarter length, what else could it be?

The AFL introduced an interchange cap in 2014 of 120 to limit the amount of rotations throughout the game, which has been reduced to 90 (2016) and then 75 (2021).

Pushing players toward their aerobic and athletic ceilings would no doubt be a cause of certain injuries like soft-tissue while the reduced cap could also cause more contested situations and further fatigue, making it hard to bounce back from week to week.

Former GM of Football Adrian Anderson said in 2010: "The use of interchange has created more congestion, more stoppages (and) more defensive pressure and has contributed to a drop in disposal efficiency."

But in the modern day, it could be a contributing factor to the rising injury crisis that has supposedly plagued the game whilst also holding little to no bearing on congestion.

If coaches were given the freedom and luxury of making on-field changes as they see fit as opposed to being restricted to a certain number, players wouldn't be forced to stay on the ground for obscene periods.

This in turn could assist in reducing injury tolls and also give players a safeguard for not pushing themselves beyond their capacity to not waste an interchange on fatigue or minor injury.

Reduced times come with reduced scores

The AFL is always looking at ways to increase scoring.

Rule changes like 6-6-6 and the 'stand' rule were implemented to free up the game and ultimately tick the scoreboard over.

As mentioned, season 2020's matches and quarter lengths were reduced due to scheduling obstacles and COVID-19 implications.

Grand finalist Geelong was the highest-scoring team throughout the home and away fixture, averaging 68.5 points per game.

Adelaide, who received the wooden spoon for their three-win efforts, had a mean score of 45.9 across the 17-game season.

In 2024, ladder leaders Sydney are averaging over 100 points per game while Richmond notches up slightly over 10 goals week to week.

Tigers champion Matthew Richardson believes that the reduction in quarter length would diminish the spectacle of the game and one of its most exciting elements: scoring.

"It's too simplistic (to reduce quarter lengths amid the injury crisis)," Richardson said on 3AW.

"We got through a season we had to get through and do things that were drastic but I don't want to see games being won 45 to 31.

"That's not Australian Rules Football."