Changing the Rules

by Steve Bowler on July 9, 2010 · 2 comments

in general

Making a game that stands the test of time and can endure for multiple generations is a challenge.  The rules you use to create the game define how it is played.  Sometimes they’re good enough to last, and sometimes you need to update them as the game and the players evolve.

In the case of sports, sometimes the equipment gets better, and sometimes the players get better.  International Football is no exception, and as many people have noted during this past World Cup, something needs to change.  The rules are no longer adequate for the way the teams have been playing.  Two teams were outright eliminated due to bad calls, and team USA had its share of egregious and ridiculous calls against them as well.  A lot of people blame bad officiating (and I’m in no way saying there wasn’t), but if we take the time to examine how the game is being played, I think we’ll see that the rules in place now are outdated, and are actually encouraging the type of play which creates an environment for biased or bad calls.

The game is plagued by bad acting on the part of players trying to draw fouls from the referees, because free kicks (especially direct free kicks) mean a chance for a set play or a good percentage shot on goal.  There is a secondary reason for acting injured, and that’s to delay the game and burn up the clock, because the clock isn’t stopped in FIFA football.  Two rule changes and a feature update would completely clean up the game and encourage better play and more aggressive goal scoring.

Stop the Clock.

There’s absolutely no reason not to.  Every other international professional level sport which has a league will stop the clock when necessary.  Sure, there’s “extra time” awarded at the end of a match; I guess the referee has a stopwatch or keeps track in his head about how much time was wasted on the pitch, and then awards an even number of minutes at the end of the match.  This is a horrible implementation and creates an unfair environment for everyone to play in.  The amount of time wasted during the match never matches the amount of time the referee awards, and then there’s the problem of stoppage time during Extra Time, and you wind up with five minutes on the Extra Time clock when only three minutes were awarded.  Players have no idea how much time is really left in the match, and when the whistle finally blows to end the match, it’s the most anticlimactic ending in all of sports.

With no reasonable expectation for how much time is left (when the clock says 35 in the 2nd period, does that mean there are ten or fifteen minutes left in a match?), players don’t know how hard to push themselves.  They don’t know if they should risk pushing the ball forward one last time because there’s only twenty seconds left to play, or if they should use an outlet pass out to a midfielder to guarantee posession and regroup for another strike, because hey, maybe there’s still a minute or three left.  Moreover, the ref might actually be giving one team preferential treatment by thinkin “well it’s time but I’ll just blow the whistle after this last chance on goal here.”  Who would want to play in a system like that?

Stop the clock, and you’ll see the level of play go up, and you’ll see the drama of trying to run the clock out go way down.  You can’t run out a clock that stops for an injury or a downed player on the field.  The technology has been in place for over forty years to stop the clock.  It’s about time football leapt into the modern era and adopted it.

Change how Penalties are Given

The acting has gotten so bad that players are now giving up valid scoring opportunities in a desperate attempt to draw a foul in the penalty box.  This is just stupid.  They only do it because a penalty kick has a high percentage of going in as opposed to taking a shot during regular play.  There’s a very simple way to fix this; to encourage shots on goal and playing through a foul instead of taking a dive.

Start using a Delayed Penalty.

You can see delayed penalties in sports like Basketball or Hockey.  The idea is that you notate that a foul has occurred, but you don’t stop play.  If the player who was fouled was in possession of the ball, and he retains possession despite the foul, then play continues until:

  1. He loses possession, or
  2. He scores.

If he loses possession, take the ball back to the point of the infraction, and spot the ball where you would have by the old rules, and allow the free kick/penalty kick to happen.

This encourages play, not acting.  With a delayed penalty, you’d be an idiot for not playing through the foul and taking a dive.  You get two chances to score instead of one, and the game and the fans are rewarded with better play.  Imagine how much more exciting it would be to see a player who is tripped while entering the penalty box run through the foul and take a shot on goal anyway instead of going down to the turf hoping to guarantee drawing the foul.

After a year of this kind of rule in place, players who are almost fouled would stop taking a dive to the pitch, because they’d have mentally trained themselves to play through a foul in order to gain the double opportunity.  I’d think you’d see the drama drop off dramatically.

Unfortunately, I doubt FIFA would ever adopt either of these rule changes.  Hell, we’ll be lucky if they start using instant replay to validate offsides or fouls on goals being scored.