Thursday, February 28, 2008

Point: Let's Big Brother the Little Leagues

So like everything in fútbol this week, this discussion was precipitated by the Eduardo injury.

And the thought of his fibula and tibia shearing cleanly above the ankle, still makes my spine curve, the same way Fielding Mellish's does every time someone says the word "castration."

Fortunately this quickly mutated away from that, and it's not like I'm the first person ever to float this idea, but the FA should change the way it reviews matches so that it can judge and award (award?) yellow and red cards after the game.

There are a handful of objections as to why this is an awful idea—it will undermine the refs on the pitch, it's too time consuming and it impractical, refs will come to rely and the review refs and that will impact the game, etc.—and you know what?

I agree with all of them.

Well, save for the time-consuming one. That's stupid. Game tape can be edited on the fly so that officials are looking at 15-20 minutes of tape per game. And even if you don't—and you want to have the full match reviewed—okay, 10 EPL fixtures at about 2 hours each, that's 20 hours give or take. You're telling me the richest league in the world can't hire enough eyes to review all of that by end of day by, say, Tuesday.

But, for all of the other objections, I have three words: Yeah? And? So?

It's ridiculous not to try it. But try it, say, in League 2 to start. And see what happens. There is nothing much to lose right, I mean how much can you royally fuck up League 2? It's almost a no lose proposition.

Sure there are details to be worked out and still hosts of questions: What calls would you be able to review, and what standards would you use? (don't know). Can you review cards that were unfairly awarded, and rescind it? (probably not). If a bad call in the box gets a card and a PK that decides the game, can you un-award it? (Don't be stupid)

The FA could easily draw up some guidelines and give it a go. If it works in League 2, move it up to League 1. If the sky still hasn't fallen, then institute it in the Championship. When everyone has learned their cat indeed has not started taking it up the pooper from the family dog, then yep, you can bring it to the Premiership.

Look, the Eduardo tackle was horrible. And with the benefit of distance most non-Arsenal-supporting armchair pundits seem to be settling somewhere along the lines of "It was horrible tackle, but Taylor isn't a dirty player and it wasn't malicious. And we see tackles game in game out like that in the EPL."

Well, that's the problem, that late studs-up tackles have become pretty commonplace, and with that kind of blase attitude there is going to be another injury like that sooner rather than later.

But walk through this with me. What if there was less diving (ostensibly the most frequent result of awarding cards after the fact—or at least as I view it, the majority of the cards would be given for obvious dives attempting to draw spot kicks). Then fouls might start to look more like fouls, and hard fouls would start to look like hard fouls.

It would, over time, actually become easier for officials on the pitch to make calls based on how reckless the action was taken by a player. Straight reds probably go up in the short term, then begin to decline as players start to get conditioned to: "Oh shit. I can't play like Gattuso."

Yes, we're making football Skinnerian. Isn't it lovely?

Look, it's not perfect. There are flaws. It really might undermine the officials on the pitch. But to that, the most serious of the objections, I actually have a well reasoned response:

How many after-the-fact calls are really going to be made? I'd wager not a whole, whole lot. Here's why: you probably want to have match officials who are doing the reviewing. So they are probably going to want to be protective of their brethren on the pitch. They will also be sympathetic to what it takes to make calls in an instant when the game is going full speed. It would have to be a blatantly obvious blown call for anything to be done. If that's the case, why bother? Well, I kind of agree, but correcting the worst of the calls is better than doing nothing. Plus, again, what do you have to lose by trying?

So, yeah, it might not work. But, know what, it also might work.

Try it at League 2 where the stakes are so low it doesn't matter too much if it's a failure. But being able to review actions and reward cards after the fact might actually make the game, gasp, better. It will spread to other leagues. It will eliminate Mexican soccer as we know it. Peace will rule the earth.

It won't eliminate what happened to Eduardo, but it should greatly reduce the probability of it happening again. Additionally, I'll never have to see great players like Drogba and Ronaldo act like biddy little bitches again. And that might be better than world fucking peace.

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