Monday, June 19, 2006

World Cup Thoughts

     I'm a soccer fan by virtue of having played the game throughout my childhood. Since then, I've barely touched a soccer ball (although I have a deflated one in the trunk of my car for some reason). But I've gotten swept up in this year's World Cup fever. And I've even been watching parts of the games, which is mystifying to me, since I have no patience for watching sports that don't involve Georgia Tech. Over the past week I've made mental notes on the game and I wanted to share them with the wider world.

*    The tournament structure: Compare the straightforward round-robin first round of the World Cup with the sprawling NBA tournament going on at the same time. The NBA (and MLB) play a best-of-7 series which just sucks the life out of the sport. They say it's to determine who's "really" the best. That if the tournament were played like the NCAA's (single elimination) it would be "unfair". Screw that. It's "unfun" now. American tournaments could learn from the NCAA. But 7-game series make a lot of money for the networks. So compromise with the round-robin strategy. Each game is immensely meaningful, plus each game showcases a different matchup. Excitement and no repetition. Amazing!
*    The tournament schedule: Every day there is a different game on. I never have to miss Ivory Coast-Netherlands because ABC chose to show Croatia-Japan. In part, this is possible because the entire world shuts down during the World Cup, so viewers are available all day. But in practice, this means that spectators get the entire experience. Imagine if the NCAA tournament did this. Instead, we would have 4 games playing at once in the first round, then a 5-day break with no action.

     The guy I played tennis against last week, from South America, declared that the World Cup is perfect and refused to listen to my suggestions for improvement. I suspect that most people will agree with him. But here it goes anyway...
*    Soccer needs a backfield rule: To speed up the game and force more offense (which Newsweek declares is "the most attractive game"), soccer should introduce a rule like what basketball has - once over midfield, teams cannot pass back over to their own side. That forces an offensive game in basketball and it would do the same in soccer.
*    Implement a shot clock: Again, basketball has it right. Created in 1954 and praised by some as having saved the sport itself, the shot clock revolutionized basketball, raising scoring 20-30%. I know that for many soccer enthusiasts, what is important is the "beauty" of the game. But pressing teams to innovate on the fly and lose the delay tactics that are so common could energize the sport. Added shots translate to added goals. And added goals lower the likelihood of ties. At the very least, they lower the likelihood of 0-0 ties.

     That's all. Hopefully no soccer hooligans will show up at my doorstep. Enjoy the tournament - US vs Ghana in 3 days determines whether the US will advance to the next round!