The 1994 AFL season was the 98th season of the Australian Football League (AFL), the highest level senior Australian rules football competition in Australia, which was known as the Victorian Football League until 1989. The season featured fifteen clubs, ran from 26 March until 1 October, and comprised a 22-game home-and-away season followed by a finals series featuring the top eight clubs – an increase from the six clubs which had contested the finals in previous years.
There were several significant alterations to the laws of the game brought in for the 1994 season:
The number of interchange players was increased from two to three which, when added to the "run on" team of 18 on-the-field players, increased the standard team squad size to 21 players.
The number of field umpires was increased from two to three.
Playing time was reduced from 25 minutes per quarter to 20 minutes, but additional stoppages (including all scores and boundary throw-ins) attracted "time-on" allocations; the total reduction of playing time was approximately 10%.
The size of each club's senior playing list was significantly reduced from 52 to 42 players from the 1994 season (with the exception of the struggling Sydney, which was granted a list of 50 players). Victorian clubs could list ten players on a supplementary list to make up the numbers in their reserves teams, but those players were not eligible for AFL senior selection. The change was part of an AFL Commission plan to completely abolish the Victorian clubs' reserves competition by 1995, but this final stage did not occur until 2000.
Advertising was permitted for the first time on the backs of guernseys. Small sponsors' logos had previously been permitted over the breast and on the shorts, but the new regulations allowed for logos 30 cm long and 8 cm high below the number on the back of the guernsey, which has since become the prime advertising location on guernseys. Under the original rules, the logo was required to be consistent with the colour of the guernsey, a stipulation which has since been relaxed.
Under pressure to respond after their poor showing against Melbourne the previous week, Geelong scored their biggest win over Footscray, starting and finishing strongly to run out winners by 88 points.Gary Ablett kicked seven goals and ruckman John Barnes' masterful display (22 hit-outs and 24 disposals) would gain him three Brownlow votes. In the middle of the week, the Footscray board sacked Terry Wheeler and replaced him with ex-Hawthorn coach Alan Joyce.
Despite missing key players Robert Harvey, Stewart Loewe and Tony Lockett, St Kilda led Geelong at three-quarter time by 26 points after kicking seven goals to nil in the third quarter. However, a spectacular last quarter by Gary Ablett in which he kicked four of his seven goals, and an intercept of Rod Keogh's attempted pass in the forward pocket to Nicky Winmar in the final minute, enabled the Cats to escape with a three-point win.
All teams played 22 games during the home and away season, for a total of 165. An additional 9 games were played during the finals series. It was the first season that the AFL implemented a top 8 team finals series.
The third qualifying final between North Melbourne and Hawthorn was the first-ever AFL finals match to require extra time; this is because scores were level at full time, which had North Melbourne 12.19 (91) to Hawthorn 13.13 (91) at the expiration of regular time. (The provision for extra time had been introduced after the controversial 1990 finals series, when the qualifying final between Collingwood and West Coast was drawn.) North Melbourne dominated extra time, kicking 3.5 to Hawthorn's nil, and North Melbourne won the match by 23 points.
Fitzroy moved its match-day home ground from Princes Park (which, due to the first ever ground naming rights deal affecting an AFL venue, became known as Optus Oval from this season) to the Western Oval. However, this left Carlton as the sole tenant of Optus Oval, and an existing arrangement between Carlton and the AFL required eighteen matches to be played there during the year; consequently, Fitzroy and the MCG's four co-tenants (Essendon, Richmond, Melbourne and North Melbourne) were each forced to play one or two home games at Optus Oval to make up the balance.
Starting from Round 20, the "blood rule" was introduced in order to allay fears raised by the threat of AIDS. Under the rule, any bleeding player would be sent from the field by the umpires until his wound had been covered or closed and any blood-stained gear replaced. The rule, which for the first time ever gave umpires the ability to order players from the ground, was not initially well-received – particularly following a Round 23 incident in which Hawthorn ruckman Stephen Lawrence was unable to return to the field after the third quarter because Hawthorn officials could not find a spare sock to replace his bloodstained one.
The MCG became Collingwood's predominant home ground for the first time, however they would still play sporadic home games at Victoria Park until 1999 against mostly low crowd drawing and/or interstate opposition. To this day, the MCG has remained Collingwood's predominant home ground.