After the World CupYou guys sent me quite a bit of e-mail about the rule change suggestions for soccer, believe it or not, and here's one that was frequently added: post-game video replay to catch and punish flagrant divers. I totally agree.
I've been thinking about games and rules quite a bit lately, and I realized yesterday that everything we were talking about revolved around a common hub. Here it is, and I think this is true of rules for all sports: when weakness is rewarded, play will be weak. When courage is rewarded, play will be courageous.
That's at the heart of all the things we've been discussing. Passing the ball back to the keeper because a defender is under pressure is weak. Kicking the ball sideways out of bounds to stop an attack from developing is weak. Diving is weak. They make the game less compelling to watch, because weakness is not compelling. Strength failing is extremely compelling. Weakness, whether it succeeds or fails, is not.
That's what I don't like about the offside rule. Being able to stop an attack by running away from an attacker is rewarding weakness. It's not even a question of game balance, just a conceptual problem.
Now, having said all that, I really enjoyed the World Cup. I just finished reading The Miracle of Castel di Sangro, I'm reading (believe it or not) a tactics book to improve my FM strategies, and I'm hoping that the EPL has an HD package available on DirecTV when the season starts in August.
Here's one of the many things I didn't understand until the last week or so, and it was particularly important to me: it doesn't matter that play isn't continuous. Doesn't matter at all. What does matter, though, is that time is continuous.
This is what continuous game time does: it makes it very hard for the coverage of the game to overshadow the game. Make no mistake, that's what's happening in the coverage of American team sports now. In football, there are so many %*$damn score tickers and fantasy stat tickers and replay and telestrators and redundancy that it makes we want to scream. In baseball, there's a giant digital ad board behind home plate that will take up 15% of the screen on every pitch, and in the playoffs FOX will cut away after every pitch to show five or six close-ups on people who aren't in the game. Managers, fans, hot-dog vendors--it doesn't matter. It's one big music video.
Then there are commercials. Here's my favorite NFL sequence: a touchdown is scored and the extra point gets kicked. Cut away for two and a half minutes of commercials. Come back for the kickoff, which takes all of ten seconds. Then cut away for two and a half more minutes of commercials. Seriously, if I didn't have a Tivo, I couldn't watch football anymore, and I've loved football for forty years. I've said before that if I had to lose Christmas or the NFL playoffs, I'd say farewell to Christmas, but it's impossible to watch live. The same is true with the NBA. Commercials have become so excessive that it's ruining the coverage.
None of that is really possible during a soccer game. Continuous time forces you to cover the game and limits the gratuitous excess that producers can pile on.
Cutting away for a commercial? I don't think so.
Sure, you can have announcers talking nonstop for every second of ninety minutes (like the idiotic ABC announcers yesterday, who were apparently under the impression that they were getting paid by the word). And you can pull an ESPN and drop a freaking text window down from the on-screen scoreboard every other minute. Seriously, if the play-by-play announcer had been shot in the ESPN booth last week, and the analyst had screamed "MY GOD! HE'S BEEN SHOT!" this would have been followed, within seconds, by a drop-down text window reading:
In spite of how badly ESPN and ABC tried to screw up the coverage, though--and some of their attempts were epic--the game itself resisted them. Because time is continuous, the coverage can never become more important than the game.
And for that, all I can say is thank goodness.