Friday, November 28, 2008

Eight rule changes - Mouth of the Mersey

Like a love affair, if a sport isn’t improving, it’s dying, especially in an age when there has never been more competition for diminishing attention spans. Sports’ rulebooks have always been mutable things, intermittently updated to move the sport forward, but not too far forward – you can leave your core audience behind. The best rule changes should simplify and not complicate – the competitors are perfectly capable of complicating matters themselves. Lastly, rule changes should work at all levels of a sport, not just for the elite.

So what rule changes do sports need today and do they meet the three criteria above?

Football – the distance defenders must retreat from a free-kick to be increased to twelve yards (eleven metres). This change would give full value to free-kicks just outside the box and encourage the return of the
free-kick specialist (preferably temperamental and feuding with whoever is available). Prosaically, the extra two yards in the rulebook would guarantee the full ten yards on the pitch, as opposed to the nine or so granted to attacking sides by most referees too reluctant to stop the charging defender or the creeping wall.

Football – No automatic red card for the “professional foul” if a penalty is awarded. This is simply a re-interpretation of the current rule – a defender fouling an attacker in the box does not deny a goal-scoring opportunity, but creates one through the award of the penalty. The punishment would fit the crime and the fans would have the eleven vs eleven match they have the right to expect.

Football – the fourth official to keep time, stopping the clock for all breaks in play (at his sole discretion and not including time when the ball is off the field in the normal course of the game, eg preparing for a goal-kick). The fourth official to blow the whistle at half-time and full-time himself. 90 minutes football should mean exactly that, not 88 minutes football and 2 minutes sorting out substitutions or getting the physio on and off the field. In the often crucial and frenetic closing passages of play, the referee could concentrate fully on the play, not be glancing at two watches every ten seconds. When there is no fourth official, timekeeping reverts to the referee.

Cricket – “Bad light stops play” to be modified to “Dangerous light stops play”. Just one playing condition to apply worldwide. Floodlights must be used if available. The judgement of light to rest solely with the umpires and the deciding criterion to be danger, taking account of the protective equipment worn by batsmen. This is the de facto situation in the recreational game, so the change would apply through all levels of cricket.

Cricket – The match referee to decide on each session’s reasonable number of overs (with 15 the norm adjusted for genuine hold-ups in play) and penalise the fielding side one run for each ball not delivered, updating the extras on the scoreboard before the start of the next session. Everyone would know where they stand, as would spectators, who would get value for money. Outside the professional game, there are often local conditions for failure to bowl the required overs in the stated time – such conditions would remain.

Formula 1 – Pit stops for tyre changes to be allowed only if the tyre is “burst”. No re-fuelling allowed during the race. Managing tyre wear is a driving skill (as is fully accepted in motorcycle racing). Fans want to see overtaking on the track, not in the pits. Pit stops should be exceptional, not the product of computers modelling telemetry data. If a discarded tyre is assessed as functional in the parc ferme after the race, the driver is re-classified as DNF.

Boxing – Judges’ scores to be displayed on a scoreboard updated at the end of each round. The audience and the boxers would know where they stand, making fights more interesting and tactics towards the end of the fight more considered.

Tennis – Allow just one serve. The game would become more varied with the big serve a tactic instead of the norm. The serve earns too many cheap points, especially at junior level.


mac millings said...

Great work, Mouth. I see Seani says it got close, and rightly so - deserved to squeak in, if you ask me.

Maybe they just considered it too sensible. Right-thinking people could only possibly have disagreement with the run-a-ball time penalty (and even that isn't unreasonable) - everything else just makes sense.

Of course, sporting rule-makers don't seem to be the most sensible types...Do they have a blog? Send it in there!

MotM said...

Thanks Mac - I trust your effort will soon be here.

andrewm said...

Not sure the freekick rule change is necessary, Mouth. It's annoying when players encroach, but does anyone really want the return of the freekick specialist? In fact, have they ever gone away? I could name plenty of players whose reputations are built largely on freekicks.

Is the freekick specialist really that different from the big-serve specialist in tennis, who you're trying to get rid of?

On another note, I'm personally disappointed you were only chosen for the piece I didn't like ... but seriously, congratulations for that anyway, and hopefully for our sakes you'll keep this creative run going.

philwest said...

Nice piece Mouth.
Agree on most points except the F1 and tennis.
F1 is about getting round 70 laps as quickly as possible, and the tactical pit-stop has made it more interesting rather than diminishing the pleasure. The final race this year was fascinating even before the rain turned up!
As for tennis serves, they appear to be so important - but how many titles did Roscoe Tanner win? Do we really want 4-5 hour games as the norm as in Paris?
Even so - I think this piece is better than most of the finalists (where have we heard that before?); perhaps we need a video replay of the decision :))

P.S. Exam week at school, so nothing from me this week!

Metatone said...

F1 - no need to create problematic tyre inspection rules, just get rid of refuelling. It worked back in the old days - without refuelling tyre changes are much more balanced against the time lost. Also, strategies were much more variable, where the "overtake when refueling" is so successful because it's pretty easy to estimate a window when your competitor will pit.

mac millings said...


It's just personal taste I suppose, but I like a goal from a great free kick. When I was 10, I wanted to be Eder. The only thing that stopped me was that I couldn't bring myself to practice free kicks barefoot.

And yes, free kick specialists are very different from big serve specialists. The serve is the single most important shot in tennis - the importance of the free kick doesn't compare. Other than Beckham against Greece, the free kick specialist doesn't get hundreds of attempts to get it right - plus, Beckham only had to get it right once.


It seems to me that pit-stops are there out of habit. I can't see a genuine reason why fairly short a car race should have a rule where you get to stop. As you say, "F1 is about getting round 70 laps as quickly as possible." So why stop?

Re Roscoe Tanner, I think Wood Age technology may have something to do with it, but am no expert. However, in recent times, how many players in the Men's game with a crap serve have won on fast surfaces. Agassi and who else?

I thought I should actually comment, rather than just do what I did before, and say "That was good", which is pointless.

Oh, and as for the cricket
slow play penalty - if fines aren't working, then an on-field penalty would be good. They do it in American Football ("delay of game" penalty), basketball (I think), in football you can be carded. Baseball has a rule for slow pitchers, but it's rarely enforced, and no one sems to care.

Allout said...

Well done Mouth. I'm not sure that I agree with the free kicks in football - why not just apply the existing rule properly?

That said it was as good as a lot of the ones chosen in the final six and a lot better than Blog C which I didn't think was any good because of the reasons I gave in GU (sorry if it was someone here's but that's my honest opinion.

bluedaddy said...

I like the boxing suggestion. At the end of each round, the promoters could get someone to walk slowly around the ring with those boxing scores, held up on cards so all the crowd could see them.

Boxing seems to be a sport dominated by men so, as a contrast, perhaps a woman might be asked to do that job. But what should they wear?

offsideintahiti said...

Excellent piece for a blog, Mouth, that would generate a lot of debate.

I agree with your "No automatic red card for the “professional foul” if a penalty is awarded". Especially for goalkeepers (OF COURSE, they're the last defender,who else?)

Your cricket suggestions also make a lot of sense. :)

Flying tonight, will be in the south of France from December 8th, if anyone is in the area, you know how to get in touch.

See ya!

MotM said...

Thnaks for the comments - pretty much what I intended to provoke, as the discussion is what makes a blog fun.

Free kicks - at the moment, the only way to impose the rule is through multiple yellow cards and it just won't be done. And even compared ten years ago, the players are a lot taller, but the goal hasn't changed. Free kicks? I love them!

F1 - maybe tyre changes alone should be allowed, but there's a cost and it adds nothing to the spectacle (unless it's wet).

Tennis - Matches would only be too long at the Slams as the others are three sets. We might see some tactical intimidation of the serve and we might see shorter matches due to less time wasted having another go.

Boxing - Perhaps those scorecard holders might wear the same kit as the boxers?

MotM said...

Safe travelling Offie - wrap up warm.

andrewm said...

mac/Mouth, there must be tennis fans who love big serves as well. I know Ivanisevic had a lot more to his game than the serve, but it was an essential part nonetheless, and people adored him.

mac, I accept that the two things aren't exactly comparable, but my point is that some football teams carry less effective players because they're excellent in deadball situations - Nakamura at Celtic for one (I've never seen a player less deserving of the label 'genius', yet he gets it all the time). That's what a freekick specialist is to me - a passenger.

PS. mac, I remember Agassi having a very effective serve in the second part of his career.

David Barry said...

I've been wondering about how to fix the over-rate problem for a while. Going session by session is I think the wrong way to go about it. The goal should be 90 overs in 6 hours. But requiring 30 a session distorts play - you expect the quicks to bowl th evast majority of overs in the opening session with the new ball, then a spinner comes on sometime after lunch. And it'd be a bit daft to require 27 overs in the first session, 32 after lunch and 31 after tea.

So, let's see....

No allowances for drinks and wickets.

No penalties if a team is dismissed within 6 hours. A clock should be displayed showing the playing time elapsed (regular clock's not sufficient, since it doesn't take into account delays).

Four (or five) run penalty for each over that they're behind the required rate.

Over-rate violations should be bumped up to Level 2 violations of the Code of Conduct (I think that's the level...), so that the captain is automatically suspended if the over-rate is too low. This is to dissuade slow over-rates in cases where it's advantageous to slow the over-rate down even with the run penalties.

MotM said...

Dave - I think the quicks can get through 30 overs per session if they want to. The session by session approach keeps the scoring up to date and avoids sides getting too far behind the clock and trying to bowl 19 overs per hour in the last session. And it makes it easy to deal with a side who (say) dismiss a side in 80 overs but do so so slowly that they only face 2 overs themselves. They only get the "no penalty" bonus for dismissing a side in the last session.

Bowling overs too slowly is a plain advantage to the bowling side (or they wouldn't, universally, do it) so if they are too slow, the correct penalty is runs.

David Barry said...

I don't see over-rates as a problem when sides are being dismissed inside a day though. The match would finish early enough anyway.

Quicks could easily get through 30 overs a session - they used to bowl 110+ in a day. But I think that 90 a day is a good goal.

Requiring only 30 overs in the "spinners'" session means that they can artificially slow down their overs. I'd rather see the "natural" slower over-rate from the quicks and the natural quicker over-rate from the spinners.

Also, consider this (somewhat pathological) example. Plenty of wickets fall on the first three days, and the fourth-innings run chase starts a bit before tea on day three. The game is close approaching lunch on day four. Run penalties for slow over-rates would now have a distorting effect on the game, when no-one in their right mind would care about them.

MotM said...

Dave - Play that is too slow can spoil even exciting Tests.

Anyway, if the penalty is runs for 99% of sessions, we will see 30 overs and for the other 1% 1-3 balls fewer.

In First Class cricket here, it can take three minutes or more between a batsman being given out and the next one facing up: in Twenty20, it takes about 45 seconds. All this stuff is just a matter of will and preparation.

guitou said...

great piéce, I don't qualify to comment on the style but I found the content very clever , changing the rules to improve a sport it's more than a necessity for both, the actor and the spectator- I agree with all your suggestions.... except the one about cricket:-))-
-"No automatic red card if a penalty is rewarded" yes because it doesn't make sense to penalyze twice for the same mistake, but if it's regarding an intentional and dangerous foul the red card rule should be applied- Isn't prevention of injury an important way to Improve a sport? In this regard, because most injuries occur during tackling from behind , what constitues a dangerous tackle should be red-carded-don't you think?

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed that and I think the suggestions are mostly sensible. I couldn't agree more about the red card plus pen for a professional foul in football, and the idea about scorecards in boxing would liven up many a dull contest - while preventing the loser from doing a Bernard Hopkins and claiming that he expected to win.

My criticism would be that some of the suggestions are pretty minor tweaks that wouldn't have a big impact on the game in question. Maybe the rule change we need most is simply a reversal of the awful ELVs in rugby union.

I also note that the subject of the article is quite similar to a Sean Ingle column from a while back - might have been a factor in missing out on the final six.


MotM said...

Guy - I agree. The suggestion is that the red card should not be automatic - if the foul warrants a red, off the defender goes. There should be no compromise with those who may injure a fellow pro.

PD - I wasn't aware of the Ingle column. Thanks for that - I'll look for it.

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