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A New Rule To Improve The Game Of Soccer

April 21, 2017

 

Soccer (or football) is a zero-sum game. At the end, there's a winner. And a loser. Or a tie. Only two ways the game can end, but three possible outcomes for each team. However the game ends, the total gained for the teams is zero.

Zero-Sum. 

When you think about Zero-Sum Games, you think about rules. You think about how to win. You think about how to win within the rules. 

You also think about how rule changes could make for a better game.

In soccer, you win by scoring the most goals.

But it's not easy to score goals.

Lots of soccer games end 1-0. Or 2-1. Or 0-0.

Because goals are few, players work extra hard when the ball gets close to a goal. Close to the goal, players do whatever they can to score or stop the other side from scoring. Players push the boundaries of the rules. 

Sometimes, they break the rules.

To make sure too many rules aren't broken around the goal during the run of play, there's a penalty box.

If an offensive player is fouled in the penalty box, he gets a penalty kick.

A penalty kick means just one player against the goalkeeper.

The result is a goal more than half of the time. 

It's a good rule. Most of the time, the penalty stops the defensive player from fouling. Which makes the defensive team play more fairly. Which makes for a better game.

But it only works during the run of play.

At another point in the game, soccer has a problem. 

Soccer doesn't have a good rule for when there's a stop in play and the offensive team can kick it into the penalty box.

For free kicks. And corner kicks. For what soccer commentators call "set pieces."

For set pieces, soccer doesn't have a good rule. 

If a set piece is close to the penalty box, a lot of players gather there. Usually, there's grabbing. There's holding. There's pushing.

Most often, there's shirt pulling: 

During set pieces, there are a lot of fouls in the penalty box.

Today, referees can do three things to stop it (in order of increasing impact on the game):

 

1. Give a warning

2. Give a yellow card (two yellow cards get you a red card and expulsion from the game)

3. Award a penalty kick

 

Usually, you'll see a referee give a warning for fouls in the penalty box on set pieces. Often, with a stern face and serious tone.

Sometimes, you'll see a yellow card given.

Rarely, a penalty kick.

Referees don't want to change a 0-0 game into a 1-0 game, if they can avoid it. It's not their job to determine the winner. It's their job to make sure players play fairly. 

But today's soccer rules make it hard for referees to ensure fairness on set pieces.

For fouls on set pieces, the referee must either:

 

1. Give a warning, which has little effect on the players; or

2. Give a yellow card, which can have a big impact; or

3. Award a penalty kick, which can determine the outcome of the game. 

 

Referees need another way to stop fouls in the penalty box on set pieces without having a big impact on the game. 

Something more serious than a warning. 

Something with less impact than a yellow card. 

They need something to fit between 1 and 2 of the list above.

Here it is: 

 

Expel a player from the penalty box until the ball is kicked

 

If a referee can expel a player from the penalty box, the side who fouled is disadvantaged. The fouling team will have one fewer player in the penalty box during the kick. 

If referees can expel players from the penalty box on set pieces, players will no longer be able to pull shirts. Players will no longer be able to grab other players.

The fouling will be stopped in a low-impact way.

If referees can expel players from the penalty box, they'll have four things they can do, instead of three.

Here they are (in order of increasing impact on the game): 

 

1. Give a warning, which has little effect on the players; or

2. Expel a player from the penalty box until the ball is kicked, which removes a player; or

3. Give a yellow card, which can have a big impact; or

4. Award a penalty kick, which can determine the outcome of the game.

 

It's a small rule change.

But it will stop players from fouling on set pieces in the penalty box.

Which will make players play more fairly.

Which makes for a better game.

 

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Pick up A Spy's Guide To Thinking at Amazon because you'll learn more about Zero-Sum Games.

 

 

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