While watching the 2010 FIFA World Cup yesterday I had a realization about the sport of soccer. Some of you may be thinking: “What, that it’s boring?” – and no, that’s not what I’m going to say. Although I could talk about poor officiating, the need for instant-replay, goal line monitoring, or a need to curb players’ dramatized post-foul nonsense, I’m not. I’m going to talk about something else.
In yesterday’s final match of Netherlands against Spain, there were 28 (NED) + 19 (ESP) fouls committed, for a total of 47. There were also 11 combined yellow cards with one expulsion due to a second caution – aka a ‘red card.’ So after all of that: 47 fouls, 11 yellow cards and one red, over the course of 116 minutes, the score was still only 1-0. What’s my point? Glad you asked.
In the NFL, if a player commits a foul, the entire team is penalized with either a loss of yardage and/or a loss of a down. In some instances the penalty yields drastic results, pass interference or a personal foul to name a couple. In hockey, if a player commits a penalty, the other team is awarded a power play, where the penalized team is required to play with one player short for an extended period of time. Although fouls are rare in baseball, the outcome can be devastating when the pitcher balks, or a player runs outside of the baseline. In the NBA, players can foul-out and be removed from the game. Individual fouls often give the other team automatic free-throws, where points are essentially a given.
In soccer, however, unless a penalty is committed against an attacking player inside the penalty area, or just outside of the penalty area, not much comes as a result. A set piece in the defending or middle thirds will hardly ever yield positive results for the awarded team. Fouls are a dime a dozen in soccer and players know this and commit at-will knowing that the consequences aren’t dire. I know the rules – or should I say “Laws” – of the game will not change, but I think it’s an interesting concept to examine. The less-drastic outcomes of fouls in a sport really play into the culture, or vibe as a whole. I’d like to see a study, holding everything else constant, sport-over-sport, on if the degree of negative consequence from committing a foul significantly changes the behavior of players in the sport.