The ninth season of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL9), which got underway in Bengaluru on Friday, will see three rule changes: the controversial lobby rule has been done away with, teams are allowed bigger matchday squads and can make more substitutions.
Here's a TL;DR version: a defender following a raider into the lobby will no longer be eliminated, teams can now name 14 players in their matchday squad and can make seven substitutions during a game [plus one at half-time].
Here's a detailed explanation of how the new rules will work -
Farewell to the lobby rule
This is the biggest rule change of the season. The lobbies are the strips on either side of the mat which are activated when a raider tags a defender. As per the lobby rule, if a raider steps out of bounds and a defender follows him, then the defender is also ruled out and the raiding team gets the point.
The rule was widely contested as being unfair to the defending team. A prime example of this was when the entire Bengaluru Bulls squad of seven followed Bengal Warriors' Mohammad Esmaeil Nabibakhsh into the lobby last season. The Warriors got eight points and won the game by one point at 40-39.
However, "keeping sportsmanship" in mind, the League has amended the rule. E Prasad Rao, the technical director of PKL, tells ESPN: "From this season on, once the raider goes out of bounds before a tackle, the raid will be considered over. The defender who goes into the lobby will not be treated as out."
Two more players allowed in the matchday squad
Teams can have 14 players in their squad for each game, as opposed to the 12 players they were allowed until last season. Rao says the change was made to give teams more options through the three-month season. "The number of matches has increased and it's a long season with plenty of close games. To neutralize the possibility of injury, we've increased the number of players in the matchday squad this season."
More substitutions allowed
Coming to the final change, the rules earlier stated that teams could make a total of five substitutions during the match plus one during half-time. Going ahead, teams can make seven changes during the game and also during the strategic timeouts they're allowed in each half. This is over and above the one change they can make at the half-time interval. Essentially, a team can make a total of eight substitutions this season onwards. As strange as it sounds, a team could potentially replace their entire starting seven if they want to.
Rao feels this rule change will encourage coaches to give more youngsters a chance on the mat. "The top performers over the last few seasons have been the young players and with more youngsters coming in every season, so we want to give more opportunities to the coaches to use their upcoming players," says Rao.