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Aug 19th 2010

How to Fix the Beautiful Game of Soccer

This week, it was reported that FIFA may do away with ties in the group stage at the world cup to make the games more exciting. That change sounds interesting, but I have (what I think are) several better ideas. After the problems with officiating at this year’s tournament, someone suggested we all write Sepp Blatter urging rule reform. I haven’t yet, but here are my proposed rule changes:

1. Abolish the offside rule to open up the game and increase scoring. It is a dumb rule anyway and it is almost impossible to call offsides correctly in close cases. This is why about half of offsides calls go the wrong way.

Besides, the most exciting play in soccer is when a long pass is played to someone in front of the play. Teams will adjust by spreading the field defensively and the game will hardly notice the change — except that offense and fan excitement will increase. Bad refereeing will be marginalized with this change.

2. Institute instant replay sparingly. Offside, hand ball, and red card scenarios are where replay will be most useful. Maybe add a back judge behind the goal to provide another set of eyes in each penalty area. Have a delayed call like in the NHL where the play can be reviewed at the next natural break (stoppage in play) so as not to disrupt the game. Have a replay team up in the booth. Both basketball and hockey in the US have taken cues from the NFL model and that is great. The NFL was the first to make clarity and tranparency in officiating a reality. Soccer needs this very badly, if only at the world cup once every four years. This change will also help diminish the impact bad refereeing will have on games.

3. Shrink the penalty area by 1/3 or create a ball spot further out — like at the edge of the 18 yard box — for penalty kicks that correspond to edge-of-the-box fouls. Those fouls are whistled too rarely now, and if they are, they can disproportionately impact the game. This change will help insure that players decide the outcome of games, not referees.

4. How hard would it be to have a game clock like most every other sport?How hard would it be to put a guy up in a box who stops the game clock when there is an injury, etc? Then we could all see the time and not have to guess. I don’t mind this soccer quirk, but I think it would help the game’s popularity in the US.

That’s it. Also of note, about 12 years ago, Michelle Kaufman of the Miami Herald wrote one of the laziest columns imaginable on the US men’s olympic ice hockey team.

Recently, she redeemed herself in my eyes with a truly thoughtful piece on FIFA’s reluctance to modernize the game of soccer.

One Response to “How to Fix the Beautiful Game of Soccer”

  1. Marshall

    Outstanding suggestions.