The NBA is a pro wrestling style farce. Is the World Cup?

June 18, 2010

Back in the day, when I was an NBA fan, I just got sick of watching the NBA because it was so obviously rigged. My friends made fun of me for it at the time, but of course it turns out that Tim Donaghy was a biased arbiter. I never did any statistical analysis, but it was so obvious to me that I quit watching the NBA, whereas I had formerly been a pretty big NBA fan.

I felt somewhat similarly after watching this game 7. Whether the refs were actually pulling a Tim Donaghy is beside the point: every call is a judgment call, especially on the block. The Lakers got every close call and the advantage of some missed calls. How can I be confident that the games were called fairly? I can’t really. So why would I watch? If I wanted that, I’d watch pro wrestling.

The World Cup, I would argue, has a similar problem. Football is relatively binary: a goal is scored or isn’t, so one mistake can decide the game: a penalty call, an offsides, a red card, etc. Basketball is the opposite: 45 field goals per team are regularly scored, so a single call is way less relatively important. On the other hand, each call is very subjective.

We have more evidence that football is not a farce. Referees are evaluated stringently, and almost all domestic leagues run a round-robin style league, which greatly decreases the importance of any given call. However, most countries also run a Cup at the same time, usually stylistically similar to the World Cup. I haven’t run any statistical analysis, but the results of these Cups seem to be intuitively similar to what one would expect given how the team performed in the domestic league.

Still, I would argue that the football should reform its rules to ensure that the players decide who wins the World Cup, not the refs. Offsides calls should be evaluated with video replay. Balls crossing the goal line or not doesn’t happen often, but that should be reviewable as well. The penalty + red card rule should be carefully considered (I have no problem with it in the original context: outside the penalty area, the last man intentionally fouls to avoid a breakaway…that should be an automatic red). Although it is not traditional, the yellow and red card structure is archaic and should be reformed.

Perhaps only changing the card structure is truly a large reform: at least another card should be added and the penalties carefully evaluated for what incentives are given.

As a final note, unlike the NBA finals, this year’s World Cup finals have been excellently refereed as of now. In particular, the linesman have done an excellent job with offsides. I am frequently the first to criticize referees, so I want to be the first to praise them. World Cup refs: job well done!


End the away goals rule!

April 27, 2010

If you achieve enough success in life to be in the position to make rule changes in a sport, there’s a pretty good chance you have a sizable economic chunk in the outcome.

As a fan, I dislike the away goals rule.  This Champions League semi-final is a case in point: at the 30 minute mark, I quit watching.  I imagine alot of people did.  Bayern won the first game 1-0 at home, and then they scored in the 25th minute today to lead 1-0 away at Lyon.   So what had been a game in which Lyon had only to score a goal to tie now means that Lyon is 2.9 goals behind?  Why?  In order to win, they have to score 3 goals.  They cannot tie because they will lose on the away goals rule, hence the decimal 2.9 goals.

2 goal deficit?  I’ll keep watching.  3 goals?  Sorry, I really value my time.  I love watching football, but I’m not going to watch the game anymore, there are more productive things I can do than watch a game whose outcome is already decided 99.5% of the time.

And if alot of people did, that means ads probably go for less in these type of games, because advertisers factor in the possibility that people stop watching the game.  Actually, this is probably automatically factored in because advertisers buy ads based on an average of previous ratings.   When people stop watching because of the away goals rule, the avg ratings will be down.  So, in my opinion, the rule should be changed because fans would be more interested and thus football on the whole would make more money.

That’s the economic angle, but I think the other angles similarly argue for ending the away goals rule.  From a sporting angle, do teams really need the away goals rule in order to attack when away?  I doubt it.

Is it fair?  I argue that it’s not.  I’m not sure what the statistical advantage is to playing away on the second leg, but I imagine that it is significant, statistically.  It just seems dumb and more likely to increase the randomness factor inherent in sports (although perhaps having the occasional worse team go through is good for ratings?  Maybe, but I doubt it, and I think studies in the US have shown that dynasties are good for ratings)

My proposal: end the away goals rule.  Play the entire 180 minutes in aggregate.  If there is a tie at the end, reduce the teams to playing 7 on 7 with a golden goal (sudden death, for us Yanks) rule.  Let the 4 field players taken off be available as substitutes in the overtime period, and allow substitutions liberally.


*it’s better than penalty kicks, which isn’t football.

*it’s better than the away goals rule, which is random and sometimes leads to drab second matches as teams try to do anything at home in the second leg to prevent the away team from scoring.

*All goals count the same, rather than some goals counting for alot and other goals not mattering at all.  A goal is always worth a goal, rather than sometimes being worth 1.9 goals like it is right now.

*it will be super exciting! I truly believe this.  Plus minor rule changes are usually interesting

*The best team will win more often.


*It’s a different form of soccer (better than away goals and penalty kicks, in my opinion).

*It punishes the winner by tiring out its best players (maybe, though I think allowing liberal substitutions would help alot).

*It is a drastic departure from football tradition (dude, so are penalty kicks, and we’ve decided who wins the World Cup that way!  you can’t make it any worse than deciding the World Cup winner by PKs!  at least this is actual football).

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