Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Improving the Game

A Few Modest Proposals

The World Cup Soccer games are in full swing and every morning I am privileged to watch whatever game is ongoing as I wait to start the day’s surgery. There are usually a number of physicians gathered around the large TV in the doctor’s lounge watching Nigeria or France battle it out. Personally, I have never been able to figure out what all the excitement is about.

There seems to be something wrong with a game where the most exciting moments seem to be when someone actually takes a shot at the goal and almost scores. I guess I can’t figure out the appeal of a game where twenty two men can run around a huge open field for ninety plus minutes and only manage to score one goal. It must be my ethnocentric upbringing that prevents me from seeing the grace and talent of the many international football stars.

So, I have put together a list; a number of suggestions that, if implemented could broaden the appeal of this sport and really make the game really exciting. Anyone of these would enhance the game by increasing the number of goals scored and elevate the obvious waning fan interest.

The first suggestion is to add some obstacles to the field. The field is huge and it is obvious that anyone, even the most inexperienced neophyte, has no trouble running over such a large, flat terrain. Adding some large boulders or some wooden sawhorses at varying points around the field would increase the necessary skills immeasurably. Fan interest would get a clear boost as they would be able to cheer, not only for shots and goals, but also that their favorite player not be maimed. Of course, the addition of such obstacles would mandate additional protective gear. Even if the number of goals did not increase the additional strategic elements that such a change would require would greatly heighten fan interest.

The second suggestion is to play the game on horseback. Now, I know what you’re thinking, this would merely convert football to polo. But, that wouldn’t be true. Polo players utilize a long mallet to strike a small ball. I propose that the soccer player still be required to kick or head the ball, just as before, only now it would be done on horseback. The new emphasis on riding skills in conjunction with the existing rules could only improve on the current game. Of course, the horse would also be allowed to kick or head the ball. The equine competitor would have some advantage, having four feet to kick the ball with instead of two.

The third suggestion would be to increase the size of the goal, perhaps to double its current size. Think about it. In basketball the player that can hit the three point shot with great consistently is highly coveted. Field goal kickers in American football are prized for their accuracy at greater and greater distances. If the soccer goal were twice as long and/or twice as tall players who could make an accurate shot on goal from midfield and not have to worry about any pesky goalkeeper swatting their shot away would be in the greatest demand. Undoubtedly the number of goals would increase and so would fan appeal.

The fourth suggestion, the converse of number three is to limit the size of the goalie. It seems unfair to have goalies that can easily reach the farthest corners of the goal. If a rule was adopted limiting the height of the goalie to no more than four foot ten inches tall, then the poor forward’s chance of scoring would be improved and scores of 12-10 or even higher could become the norm.

The fourth suggestion is that every ten minutes the game be briefly halted and the players allowed to quaff a beer or any other favorite alcoholic beverage. After the third or fourth such break I would expect that goals would be much easier to come by. Also, adding an additional drink if a goal is allowed would increase scoring even more. By the end of the game it is possible that nobody would care one way or the other if anyone scored a goal or not.

The fifth suggestion combines the best of both types of football. The game could start with the usual rules of soccer: no use of hands, minimal contact and such. However, at regular or even random intervals a horn could be blasted which would mark a time when the game would become more akin to American football. The players would be allowed to pick up the ball and run with it, block for their teammates, execute forward passes, etc. A premium would be placed on player versatility. During those periods when American football rules were in force, scoring would be worth six points instead of one. After all, kicking the ball through the goals is only worth three points at the most.

I’m sure that there are other changes that could be made that could drag soccer out of its current doldrums and elevate it to the level of its American cousin. The above proposals would require only modest modification of the current rules, but would definitely provide a tremendous boost to the current dwindling popularity of soccer. Feel free to make any other suggestions and forward them to FIFA.