Wednesday, June 24, 2009

If I ruled the world (of soccer)

1) Tick tick, tick tick...

Why is there a running clock? Why hasn't somebody invented a stopwatch yet? What century is this? I just don't understand why the clock should continue to run during an injury, substitution, goal celebration or when the ref is handing out a card and enduring the inevitable unending complaints, etc. Now this isn't basketball or football where it needs to be exact to the second, so the clock shouldn't stop for out of bounds or quickly taken free kicks, etc. But if play is halted for more than 20 seconds or so, why not stop it? Why let time tick on while they waive on the stretcher just to spray the magic healing water on somebody's bruised calf? This would end the ridiculous time wasting tactics employed by so many cheaters. This would also solve the controversies caused by arbitrarily determined lengths of stoppage time. The ref would at most allow a minute or so. That's it.

2) A few good men

Speaking of the ref,why is there only 1 ref on a field that considerably larger than American football fields, trying to keep an eye on 22 players? Yes, I know he has 2 line judges but they're not on the pitch. The NBA has 3 officials for 10 players and they're on a court smaller than the penalty area. The NFL has 7 ON the field. I'm not asking for 6 additional bodies on the field. I'm arguing for just 2 on the field, 2 on the sidelines, and 2 behind each goal. Simply, more eyes, more correct calls. The two on the field will be always on the opposite sides to expand their field of vision. There will still be a head referee who can overrule the 2nd official on the field. The sideline refs are still in charge of offside calls and the refs closest to the goals can help adjudicate penalty box matters. Humans are smart, we can figure out the correct system to make it work. But it is incredibly ridiculous to let 3 people try to referee 22 competitors.

3) This rule is offside.

Offsides seems to be called incorrectly just about 25% of the time. This rule was put into place to prevent cherry-picking, not to disallow somebody who was leaning 3 inches in front of the defender when the ball was played. I think that if any part of the offensive player's torso is in line with any part of the defender's torso, it should be onside. In this day and age, somebody can invent some sort of sensor into the jerseys to automate this process, can't they? Until then, the refs need to stop being so flag happy. You only need to call the obvious ones. Be more American about this, presumed innocent unless proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Additional scoring chances are better anyway, isn't it?

4) Penal, penal, penal....

Fouls inside the penalty box shouldn't automatically be a penalty simply because they are inside the white line. There should be degrees of fouls called. If a legitimate goal scoring chance was illegally hindered - for example if a fouled player in the box was taking a shot on goal, then it is a penalty kick. However, if a fouled player was standing on the ball at the corner of the penalty box with his back to the goal, it should not be a penalty. I know that there are a myriad of examples in between, but its not like soccer isn't arbitrary now. Refs aren't stupid, they know a goal-scoring chance when they see one. A fouled player who is passing or crossing into a crowd should not be awarded a penalty. A player dragged down nowhere near the ball should not be automatically awarded a penalty. An inadvertent hand-ball that did not prevent a goal, should not be a penalty, etc. So what are the other options that can be awarded for those kind of fouls? I think that fouls in the box on clear non scoring chances should just be corner kicks. There would be a level in between where more egregious fouls can be direct free kicks or possibly even a penalty taken from the top of the penalty box. Only very obvious goal-scoring chances should be called for a penalty. Over time, I'm sure this can be integrated correctly. On the flip side, how many times have we seen an obvious foul in the box go uncalled by the ref because he knows that a penalty would be too harsh? This would give referees an outlet to adjudicate penalty box fouls correctly. And ultimately, goals should be earned by the deserving players, not awarded by an archaic and outdated rule.

5) Did you see that?

As in all sports today, I believe that instant replay should be used. It should not be used for every single foul, but it can be used during prolonged stoppages of play, important calls in the penalty box on stoppages, and always on goals. Viewers can see replays within 4 seconds of the play, why can't officials?

6) Seriously, you didn't see that?

Red or yellow cards, suspensions or fines should be handed out after the game for any egregious fouls or unsportsmanlike conduct that was uncalled during the match. This is the best way to stop diving and cheap antics. Yellow and red cards should be revisited and revoked in case incorrect calls were made. I'm not sure why this is even an issue.

7) Okay fine, no golden goal but...

Extra time changes are needed. Before the OT period, a 15 minute intermission should be allowed. Then 2 additional substitutions should be allowed. I understand that sudden death, or the golden goal, encourages defensive play, so I think the silver goal rule should be applied. A 15 minute OT is played. If a team scores and maintains the lead, the game ends after that period. If not, an additional 15 minute ensues.

8) Penalty kicks are like deciding a tied baseball game with a HR derby. Wait, that's not a bad idea...

Soccer is the only major sport where essentially a coin flip is allowed to decide the victor. Penalty kicks are never true indicators of the better team. You wouldn't allow a FT or FG contest to decide a basketball or football game, would you? It IS a copout because they haven't found a better answer. Here are 4 options for your consideration:

Option a) Instead of individual penalty kicks, how about 5 corner kicks per team? Or direct free kicks from a pre-determined spot? It involves the entire team and it is a normal soccer play.

Option b) If the game is still tied after the 30 minutes of OT, teams would be allowed to substitute an entirely new squad of 11 players to go a full 45 minutes. Substitution rules are reset and expanded to 5 at the start of this 45 minutes so fit players who have played earlier in the match can re-enter after a rest. If its still tied, then 15 minute silver goal periods continue until a winner emerges. Sure, teams would have to bring around 27-30 players to elimination games, but so what? At least the game is settled on the field. And it also tests the depths of squads in addition to its quality. Most likely, games won't go over the 4-5 hour mark - Americans watch dreadful baseball games that go that long all the time. Worst case scenario, if neither team can win after essentially two full games (240 minutes of play), then the game would have to be continued the next day.

Option c) If still tied after the 30 minutes of OT, 15 minute silver goal periods would ensue until there is a winner. However, teams would each have only 7 field players and 1 goalkeeper but would be allowed to field whichever 8 players they wish, regardless of past substitutions. This would help open up play and increase scoring opportunities.

Option d) Instead of penalties, each team would take 5 turns in a 2 on 1 "fast break" lasting 20 seconds each. Starting 40 yards from goal, the attacking team would select 2 players to try and score against the opponent's 1 single defender and the goalkeeper. The chance would end after either the 20 seconds have elapsed, or the ball goes out of play, or the goalkeeper gets possession of the ball. Each team gets 5 turns and no player can be used more than once on offense until all 10 available field players have been used. Defenses must decide on its 5 defenders to be rotated. Just like penalties, after the 5 turns, alternating turns are taken until a goal is unmatched by the opposition on the same turn. The more I think about it, the more I like this last option the best.

Incompetency, human corruption and traditionalism are probably some of the major reasons why many of these solutions to these 8 issues can't be implemented, but it doesn't mean it shouldn't be.

9) Too many games.

I think the world's best footballers play too many games. Take, for example, Frank Lampard - he competes for Chelsea in the EPL (38 games), then the FA Cup, then in the Champions League, then internationally for England every other year in the WC and Euro championships as well as the numerous qualifiers that lead up them. Then there are the ridiculous random games like the Community Shield, a matchup of the winners of the previous season's EPL and FA Cup, which sounds like a good idea but is actually played at the beginning of the next campaign. The domestic soccer season essentially ends in May and every other year the international competitions occur in June. Then preseason training starts again in mid July. That means that the most footballers rest is about a month or two every year. Heck, American baseball players don't break a sweat all season and they even get to rest from November until March, and that's if they're in the World Series. Basketball players rest from June until September and football rests from February until July. Soccer, one of the more demanding sports out there, only allows 1 month per year?

Personally, I would eliminate the FA Cup, Copa del Rey, Coppa Italia competitions. Yes, I understand the great history and tradition of these tournaments, but I think the top professional squads should not have to participate. What's the point? They usually just send their B squads until the last few games anyway. By excluding the top league teams, perhaps the reward for winning this tournament should be the right to enter into the top league the following year? Anyway, I do appreciate the knockout format of these cups, so I think each league should institute a 6 team playoff at the end of their season. Top 2 teams get first round byes and each round is a 3 game series where the team with the better record hosts the 1st and 3rd game.

There should be a mandated limit on games played a year - no more than 54 club games. A 38 game EPL season plus 9 max playoff games plus 15 max Champions League games results in 62 total games possible if your team happens to have to play every single game. The footballer's season should start in September and end in April. Champions League should conclude mid May. WC should continue to be in June. That way footballers have at least 2 months off every year and less games to play.

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