Tag Archives: soccer

Clear and Obvious

Today I will watch 2 NFL championship games. I don’t care who wins. The Bears are long gone. And the team I love to hate, New England, is also long gone. (Hurray)  So, I will watch just to be entertained. As it should be. Football is, after all, just entertainment. Right?

I can’t predict the winners of the contests but I can predict one thing. In each game, one of the teams will get screwed. There will be a play, maybe two, in which a ref’s decision will be overturned by video review. Video review. I hate it. Nothing has done more to take the entertainment out of sports than video review.

Let me explain. In theory (THEORY) video review is supposed to right egregious wrongs. To take the missed calls by the officials out of the mixture. To make sure that the game is fair to all. That is the theory. And sometimes it does just that. But just as often it is simply a waste of time. Well, maybe it does allow more time for commercial breaks, so there is that.

I am not against a fair game. Nor am I against overturning an obviously awful call. But therein lies the rub. Initially, in football, video review was intended to overturn calls when there was a “clear and obvious error”. Clear and obvious.

Now to me clear and obvious means, well, clear and obvious. But the video technology has gotten out of hand. Frame by frame replays. Can you see a blade of grass under the ball? Was he bobbling the ball after his butt hit the turf? Did his elbow hit the ground a millisecond before the ball broke the plane of the goal line? Where do we place the ball ? (I especially like this one, after a bunch of refs throw the ball around and one of them sets it on the turf roughly where he thinks it ought to go. Then they bring out the chains. Oops. Missed a first down by half a link!)

Anyone who watches football knows that IF they wanted to the refs could call holding on every single play. Not to mention unnecessary roughness! But if a possible penalty is questionable or does not influence the play they let it go. Common sense. And they will make mistakes. That is part of the game. So, back to video review.

My rule change. Video review should only be used on placement of the ball. Did he step out of bounds? OK. Did the ball break the plane of the goal line? OK. Otherwise, dump it. It slows down the game.  Often it interferes with the flow of the game. One team has momentum, then, we have a 5 minute break while some guy in a studio decides if a bobble is a bobble or a fumble is a fumble. We used to call those “tough breaks” and they usually evened out .

OK, if you MUST have your FAKE precision of video review in football, do it this way. If a call is made on the field that has been challenged, here is the process. The ref goes into his little booth and has 30 seconds to review the play. Within 30 seconds ANYONE should be able to tell if a “clear and obvious” error was made. If it is not OBVIOUS….duh…it should stand.

OK. Now that I have solved football, lets look at my favorite sport, soccer. A few years ago soccer implemented goal line technology. The idea was simple. Because the ref and linesman are not is a position to clearly see if a ball has crossed the plane of a goal line, let the technology decide. So, we have VAR (Video Assisted Referee).  That technology is very good and the implementation makes sense.

So, of course, the technophiles had to go further  (or did they go farther? anyway, they went too far). So now the technology is used to overturn any CLEAR and OBVIOUS errors on offsides calls. And possible handballs. And other stuff. So, the offsides rule. For anyone who is ignorant of the rules of soccer (in other words, an American) let me explain. If a player is RECEIVING a pass from another player on his team, there must be at least TWO opponents between him and the goal WHEN the pass is made. Not when he receives the pass, but when it is first kicked to him. Since the goal keeper is almost always between every player and the goal, that really means there must be ONE field player between him and the goal. Clear enough? I thought so.

Now, this is difficult for a linesman to call because he or she must keep one eye on the last defender and one eye on when the pass is made. So mistakes are sometimes made. PART OF THE GAME. Now, however, we have VAR.

So, if there is any question about an offsides call we stop the game. The VAR official (not on the field) will use precise stop action video. Now, was the player level, which is OK, or was he behind the last defender. But “behind” can mean he has part of his head just a teeny bit behind. Or he had a knee extended an inch behind. So, we stop the game and spend a few minutes checking. Lines are drawn on the screen. AHA!. His left elbow WAS just a teeny bit behind the last defender when the ball was played. But when was the ball “played” really? When it leaves the foot? When it starts the motion of the pass connected to the foot? Who knows.

My solution. If there is any doubt about a goal or an offside (forget about handball, don’t even include it) the VAR official has 30 seconds to make a decision No decision means the call stands. Clear and obvious.

Ok. Basketball. Pro basketball. I have to say I stopped watching pro basketball years ago. See one game, you’ve seen them all. We have teams of men whose body size and type are well out of the range of anything approximating “normal” for a human being. And two things happen. Someone who can jump 23 feet in the air dunks a ball and then acts like he cured cancer. Or a small guy (only 6’7″) shoots a three pointer because he can’t possibly get closer to the basket without being mauled. But I digress.

I have tried officiating basketball. It has to be the hardest sport to officiate, especially at the pro level. So I empathize. What really grinds my turtles is the clock watching. A typical game is about 2 hours long for the first 46 minutes, then another half of an hour for the last 2 minutes. Time out. Stop the clock. Check the clock. Is there .5 seconds left on the clock? Or .2 seconds? False precision.

It takes a human being an average of .25 seconds to respond to visual stimuli. So, if I am timing the game and I see the inbounds pass tipped, by the time I start the clock .25 seconds has already gone by. FALSE PRECISION. Oh, but wait, you say. NBA has precision timing whereby the ref can use his whistle to start the clock. Of course, the problem is the same. The ref still will have a lag of .25 seconds before he blows his whistle. False precision.

Which brings me to baseball, professional level. There is no sport that could be hurt less than baseball when it comes to slowing the game down. What’s a couple more hours at the ball park. Unlike football or basketball which demand some attention, or soccer which demands complete attention (hey, I just figured out why soccer is so unpopular in the USA), baseball demands non-attention. Talk with your friends. Grab a hot dog. Relax. Don’t worry. Be happy. A nice way to spend an afternoon.

But now the insidious replay has invaded baseball as well. So be it. Let em replay, just pass the mustard.

However, there is one thing I fear for baseball. The strike zone. On TV we see the strike zone, as decided by whomever decides these things on TV. A little box going roughly from a players armpits to his knees. Or thereabouts. So we can see every bad call made by an umpire. And there are plenty. It’s called “tough break”. But in reality each umpire has his own strike zone. Some give low strikes, some high strikes, some inside, some outside. Which is fine. The players all know how the ump calls strikes and balls and they adjust accordingly. Which is how it should be. But someday……

In all sports. The false precision of technology is taking a lot of the “entertainment” out of “entertainment”. As I used to tell the kids I coached in soccer, baseball, basketball and softball. “Don’t let me hear you criticize an official. They will make mistakes. Its part of the game. When you play a perfect game then you can criticize”.

I know. I know. Once you introduce technology into any arena it does not go away. And for some reason people pay homage to technology over human decision making (forgetting that technology is created by human decision making). So, I have no illusions that video review and VAR and Strike Zone Purity  (it’s coming) will only get more and more intrusive in the future.

I guess by now that should be clear and obvious.

 

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Filed under entertainment, NFL, Society, Sports, United States

Soccer, The All-American Game

The upcoming soccer World Cup in Brazil got me to thinking. Always a mistake. There is no sport that more fully embraces American values than soccer. What the rest of the world calls football. It is strange that the “typical” American sports fan rejects this sport. Usually for two reasons.

First, it is low scoring. Can’t deny that. Second, it is low scoring. Can’t deny that, either.

Yet, if an unbiased anthropologist from Mars visited Earth she would come to the conclusion that soccer is an all-American sport. If she had studied the  values that “real” Americans articulate regularly.  Sports like baseball and American football, on the other hand, would be seen as throwbacks to the pre-democratic days of authoritarian rule. Likened to a Dickensian vision of America.

Some examples.

American value:  Freedom and individualism. There is no sport in which an individual is expected to act on his own more than soccer.  Every soccer player constantly adjusts during the match. Sometimes playing offense, switching back to defense, then offense again…oops, back to defense. Constantly. For 90 plus minutes. While you have a formation , that formation is in constant flux. Fluidity. Personal freedom abounds. Thinking is essential. Making the right decision on your own. What is more American that that?

Compare with baseball. Every pitch is dictated by a catcher or manager. Every at bat is proscribed by the coaches. Take a pitch. Bunt. Swing away. Hit and run. For the pitcher. Throw a curve ball. A slider. An intentional walk. The manager decides each minute detail. Signals are given to the players to tell them exactly what to do. Authoritarian to the extreme. Make no decisions on your own.

Or football. Every play is called by the coach. Every defense is called by the coach. Even when the quarterback calls an “audible” it is still a play that was practiced and practiced before the game. A play determined by the coach. And after each play we stop. Get a new play from the coach. Then play on. Authoritarianism run amok. Do not deviate.

In the two most popular American sports thinking is discouraged. The manager or coach has the brains. The players have the brawn. Cogs in the system. Don’t deviate. Do your job. The boss knows best. Do as you are told. We don’t pay you to think.  Freedom ? Not if you want to play.

American value: Fair play. While every sport has its poor sportsmanship issues, there is a custom in soccer that emphasizes fair play. It has to do with injury. A  casual observer might conclude that in American football the attempt to injure an opponent is, in fact, an essential  part of the game! During a play if a player gets injured he is run over and ignored. The cornerback pulls a muscle and writhes in pain on the ground. That is an opportunity to score a touchdown.  The game goes on. We will pick him up later. Same in baseball. Two fielders collide  and knock each other out. That is an opportunity to score a run. It is considered a lucky break. Fair play?

But not in soccer. If an opponent is hurt (really hurt, not diving) the opposing team will intentionally kick the ball out of play. They stop the match even though they have the advantage. And when play continues, the other team will kick the ball back to them. Sportsmanship. This occurs even in championship games. With millions of dollars at stake. In fact, if a team breaks this unwritten rule they will be roundly booed by their own fans. Fair play.

American value: Hard work. Let’s look at soccer. 90 plus  minutes of running, jumping, kicking, jogging. Almost continuous action. Players do take breaks within the game, but only for a few seconds when the ball is not near them. No time outs. No rest periods. One 15 minute half-time. No substitutions. You play offense . You play defense. You play the entire match. Three substitutions. Period. Eight players on each team play the entire match.

Let’s look at baseball. YAWN. Each player stands at his position when on defense. He waits. And waits. And waits. Maybe the ball will come to him, but probably not. The catcher and pitcher do most of the work. And the pitcher seldom plays all nine innings. Too tiring ! Then after standing around for three outs the team jogs to the dugout and…sits. And waits. And waits. For one turn at bat. Usually 4 times a game. And if  you do get on base you may get a chance to run or jog 360 feet ! Hard work ? Hardly work.

Now football is a bit more brutal.  After all, you are trying to decapitate your opponent. (The death penalty…that IS an American value). But each player only plays about one-third of the time or less. That amounts to about  20 minutes of real activity. Twenty minutes of hard work.  Oops. I forgot. Most of those 20 minutes are taken up in the huddle. Where you are being told what to do. The actual physical activity for the average player is about 10 minutes a game. Hard work ?

So, why do Americans hate soccer? It seems to encompass the American values of hard work, fair play, individualism and freedom. Must be something else. Maybe it is because soccer is a “communist” sport played in “socialist” leagues?

After all, an American value is capitalism. The best get ahead. The losers fall behind. Life is tough that way. Except in professional sports. In the rest of the world if a pro soccer team does not do well they get “relegated” That means kicked out of the league and another team takes their place.  Raw capitalism. Succeed or die !

But look at US pro sports. Even the worst teams get to stay in the league year after year. No  matter how incompetent. No matter how lowly. There is no real incentive to do better. There is always next year. Meet the Chicago Cubs. 100 years of futility. And still in the major leagues. The US pro sports system is actually socialistic to the extreme! Maybe communistic. No one gets demoted. In soccer, on the other hand, succeed or be gone!

So, why then is this” beautiful game” which exemplifies all of the best American “values” castigated in the USA? Baseball is supremely authoritarian. Football is minimally active for the individual player.  Neither punishes the least successful teams.

An anthropologist from Mars would say this: Don’t always listen to what folks CLAIM about their values, look at what they actually admire . Study how their sports reflect society. Authoritarian or democratic?  Take advantage of an injury or fair play? Talk about hard work or actually work hard? Success based on performance or guaranteed by a rigged system? Take orders or engage in free thinking?

Soccer: the all-American sport. Now…if they would only score more goals………

 

 

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