Monday, November 30, 2015

Chp 25) Counting Down with Timeouts

In recent years, during extreme heat, FIFA has allowed for water breaks.  These are instituted once for each half. This is a retreat from the purists' point of view, for uninterrupted play.  In 2011, I wrote about the fabricated ideal of uninterrupted play, 'Will Water Breaks Make Their Way to MLS Permanently?'

The reality is that unofficial water (rest) breaks happen all the time in soccer matches.  They are unaccounted for by purists even though players are desperate to get their bodies rejuvenated. Basically, players run for the water bottles when another player is hurt and being tended to. This is the irony for how dense the rules are. The rules are set up to disallow timeouts. 

In Mexico's First Division and throughout all of its leagues, water breaks at the 25 and 70 minute marks are becoming more common. These breaks are decided by the weather.  If officials see the weather as very hot, they are allowing for these breaks to occur, so players can hydrate and play on effectively.

These water breaks are causing quite a stir in the staunch purists' soccer circles because there are many who believe the breaks are being manipulated by television stations to interject commercials and what started off as the perceived right thing to do for the players, has turned into a marketing ploy by those in positions of power.

There is debate as to whether these water breaks should be allowed in the first place.  Those who support the game in the most legalistic of principles believe the breaks should not be allowed because they go against FIFA edict. Then, there is the group who doesn't mind the breaks, but not for TV purposes and then there are those who don't care either way.  

Water breaks have occurred on the rarest of occasions in MLS, too.  So, how hot is too hot and will this become a permanent factor in American Soccer?

Ideally, as a fan, seeing the best possible skill is the point of watching in the first place, so American fans may not be turned off by these breaks in action.  Providing players a chance to rest a minute and reload with nutrients for the rest of the half could benefit the overall competitive flow of the game. Others, purists especially, will take a different perspective and say these breaks completely change everything and Soccer is not supposed to be played this way.

Certainly, if the breaks are being utilized to capitalize on commercial time, skeptics and purists will cry out and object.  Anything beyond the purpose of hydrating players will come off as placating sponsors and changing the game entirely.

One of the disputes heard from in the Soccer circles of Mexico regards the length of the break.  They are claiming the breaks are 5 minutes long.  The length of the break may be where there is room to compromise.  Possibly, all sides of the argument can reach agreement to accommodate the health of the players.  A solution could involve 2 minutes only.

Depending on who you believe and how fast global warming is making an effect on the atmosphere, this point of contention among water breaks may become a bigger hot-button topic in coming years for the MLS.

The unspoken part of water breaks in a typical match without extreme heat, the norm, has always been for players to wait until another player is injured and being tended to.  That's what makes all of the talk of water breaks a joke.  Why should players have to wait for other players to go down with an injury before getting re-hydrated?

Water breaks are a good starting point for a conversation on timeouts.  But, before the conversation continues further, I must explain how timeouts and a clock that counts down service the Americanized soccer experience.

As it is now, the referee is in control of when play is stopped at the end of a half.  Stoppage time is added by a fourth referee when necessary and the scoreboard clock at games or on Tv count up to 45 or 90 minutes.  This format is just plain un-American.  We know that sports are best watched with a clock counting down and operated separately from the referee.  We know this because we have watched repeatedly for generations as games have been decided fairly with an exacting display of excitement.

The first three rules for Americanizing soccer deal with how 'time' should be coordinated for the betterment of the game.  The rules are organized as follows:

I. Each 45-Minute Half counts down to 0 seconds:
a. Games may result in a tie.
b. Games played in overtime are decided by first goal scored (Golden Goal).
c. Overtime is considered 15-minutes of continuous play after the end of regulation.

II. 4 Timeouts per half:  90-seconds each:
a. First stoppage of play under 40 minutes (Stoppage of play is considered any blown whistle by referee or any ball out of bounds).
b. First Stoppage of play under 30 minutes.
c. First Stoppage of play under 20 minutes.
d. First Stoppage of play under 10 minutes.

III. Besides timeouts, the clock runs continuously except under 4 conditions;
a. When either team scores a goal.
b. When a player receives a Red card.
c. When a player is injured and must receive care on the field or player voluntarily asks to be removed from the game.
d. From the 2-Minute Mark before either half ends, the clock will stop for any blown whistle or ball out of bounds and start back counting down to 0-seconds after ball comes back into play.

Without timeouts or a clock that counts down, soccer is limited in a very important area of contemporary sports spectating, the last second shot on goal to end the half or to end the game. The amount of drama being missed out on from the potential end of halves or end of game goals is too big of an aspect to ignore.  These fantastic finishes happen all the time in American spectator sports of basketball, American football and even hockey.  Scores at the end of a half or overtime in soccer would have a familiar name for U.S. sports fans.  They would be called just like their counterparts in basketball, buzzer-beaters.

As can be seen from rule #3d, this partly borrowed rule from the NFL's two-minute warning will be the essence for how buzzer-beaters can exist in Americanized soccer.  I wrote about the difference a specific buzzer-beater made in the high-school ranks in 2015, 'Would 'Buzzer-Beaters' Work for MLS?'

I contend that yes they would.

Listen for the buzzer in this high-school game in Texas at the very last second as ball goes in.  This goal got coverage all over the internet, including Yahoo! and USA Today/sports.

MLS could use the extra coverage that 'buzzer-beaters' bring.  More publicity wouldn't hurt.  The 'buzzer-beater' is even more exciting than an extra-time goal because the game is officially over. Take a look at the team streaming onto the field.

Even though there are plenty of extra-time goals in the sport and they are fun to see, I believe there would be more end of games buzzer-beaters with a countdown clock.

It's an American ideal and players want to be heroes.  Playing till the buzzer would provide more goals and give fans more drama and common sense in their sporting event.

We're lucky to see the different effects that subtle rules changes in soccer can have from the high-school game and college game because these changes are sometimes the only comparison we have versus FIFA's 'Laws of the Game.'

The professional leagues are governed by FIFA and can't deviate from what FIFA prescribes without permission from them.  If a pro league was to deviate, it would be considered a rogue league and players playing in this kind of league would lose playing privileges for their respective National Teams.

While it's true that MLS experimented with having the clock count down early in its existence, referees still controlled when the halves would end.  There were no actual buzzers to beat.

There are a variety of rules that have a slight twist to them from U.S. high-school and college soccer. For example, substituting players in at different times so that they may come out and back into the game is permissible.

As March Madness approaches, the term 'buzzer-beater' will be heard often.  Arguably, it is the item that has driven the success of the NCAA college basketball tournament more than anything else.

College basketball is the sport that got the phrase to be so well known.  MLS should take a cue from college basketball and ask permission from FIFA for a trial period in order to have more of its own 'madness.'

The stamina required for soccer players can take its toll in the worst of ways.  Refusing more substitutions via timeouts has put FIFA in a precarious situation when having to answer for players dying.  I wrote 'Should FIFA Change the Rules to Prevent Heart Attacks?' in 2012.

There have been so many severe injuries on the Soccer field that a Wikipedia page is dedicated to all the fallen players.  According to the document, there have been more than 20 players to have died since 1990 from heart ailments while playing.  Last week, another tragedy was felt in Italy, where Piermario Morosini died of cardiac arrest during play.  Can Soccer afford to have any more of these on the field heart problems?

A few weeks back, it was Fabrice Muamba, playing for Bolton of the EPL, who came close to death after heart issues pushed him to the limits during play.  There doesn't appear to be any legitimate response from FIFA, Soccer's governing body, on whether to do anything different to prevent these occurrences from happening.

In the recent past, when there has been excessive heat, water breaks have been allowed by FIFA. Should MLS separate itself from FIFA and make water breaks permanent for all matches?  

For MLS, this would be a start in breaking from FIFA norms and providing first for the health of the players. Until now, these water breaks haven't been instituted regularly, only for extreme heat. They are only thought of as trying to prevent heat strokes on particular days.

MLS is caught up being dictated to by FIFA, so any extreme deviation from how FIFA regulates the game will be looked at as breaking the rules and sanctions could later be applied to the league. Water breaks are tame in comparison to other rule-breaking possibilities, like, substitutions that can re-enter the game.  Instead of being considered done for the rest of the game, a substituted player that can come back into the field of play would be drastic in FIFA's eyes, but it may be more suitable to the overall health of players.

FIFA will balk at any suggestions of providing more substitutions because it will argue that these changes go against the history of the sport.  Maybe these changes are what the sport needs.  Subbing in players who have already played is not the end of the world.  There is no legitimate tactical reason for why it shouldn't be allowed.  More subs in general could give the sport a facelift and a heck of a lot more strategy, too.

At the end of the day, as sports fans, should we settle for viewing players completely zapped of energy or should we demand excellence to watch players at their maximum potential?  Americanized soccer always asks for what is best for the spectating sports fans.

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