Thursday, June 29, 2006

Secret Soccer Guy

All right, you soccer bastards, I'm in.

I read The Thinking Man's Guide to the World Cup. I know that the ugly-ass way the Italians play actually has a name (catenaccio). I watched ALL EIGHTWorld Cup games in the round of sixteen. I imported Pro Evo 5 and downloaded the Gaming Access World Cup patch, so when I'm not watching the World Cup, I'm playing the World Cup.

My life is over. I've turned into secret soccer guy.

So there you go. I'm watching every game, learning about the players, and selecting fan groups for a fantasy arrest league. It's been fun.

If I was a real fan of this game, though, I'd lose my mind.

Soccer has a very big, painful problem involving math and rules.

The influence of the referee on any sport is directly proportional to what percentage of a game's total score they can influence with one call. It's just math.

So while the officials in the NBA Finals were terrible, the number of times a bad referee in the NBA could decide a game is very, very small. Any one call a referee makes could only result in 3 extra points out of a game total of over 160. That's less than 2%.

In football, the officials can call a pass interference penalty in the end zone and spot the ball on the one-yard line, which almost guarantees a touchdown. So 7 points out of an average game total of 40 or so is about 17%.

Hockey? Well, penalty shots can be called, but their success is in no way guaranteed. So out of an average of roughly 6 goals per game (thanks to the rules improvements this year), a penalty shot resulting in a goal would constitute about 17% (ironically, almost the same as the NFL).

Then there's soccer. Oh, hell. Roughly 2.5 goals a game in the qualifying rounds, then 15 goals in 8 games in the round of sixteen. So when a referee calls for a penalty shot (which is successful 75-80% of the time), he's basically determining HALF the scoring of the game. So when a referee makes a mistake on a penalty in the box, like he did in the Australia-Italy game where he called a total dive, that's the game. One bad call has decided the game.

As a game mechanic, that works really, really poorly. It's the equivalent of the boss character who can kill you with one hit. There's a word for that in gaming terms: cheap.

The referees can also disqualify players, which puts the team that goes one man down at a huge disadvantage. Again, it's an incredible amount of discretion to influence the game.

The other problem is that it puts incredible pressure on the referee. He could be almost perfect, make one mistake, and he's ruined the game, essentially.

It doesn't mean I haven't enjoyed watching the games, because I have--I've really enjoyed them. But the amount of influence the referee has on the final outcome is brutal. Absolutely brutal.

This isn't a problem for most people, seemingly. Soccer fans seem philosophically resigned about the officiating--it's just another variable of play, like the wind--but damn, if my team was eliminated because of some referee who just fell off the jackass wagon, I would be pissed.

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