What the World Cup Could Learn From Ice Hockey II

The first and most important tip from Ice Hockey is that officiating must be up to snuff. No refereeing “uncertainty principle” will add to the charm of the game. Players quickly learn that referee deception is easy and thus the proliferation of shoves, pulls on pants and   shirt, out and out wrestling on corner+free kicks,   plus late tackles and other “fine” footwork. But even worse has been the outbreak of thespian diving and writhing as a weapon of mass deception that slows and ultimately ruins “the beautiful   game”. The adding of one more referee dividing the pitch roughly in half is vital to the game – as the superb World Cup TV coverage has made abundantly clear.

The second lesson of Ice Hockey for the World Cup and football is that wilting defense wins games and championships; but at the cost of a Pyrrhic victory. Defensive, low scoring games loses fans in the long term. This year’s World Cup is a dramatic example. Many of the games in the group elimination were defensive struggles for which blowing the vuvuzelas was most appropriate – Boring Big Time. Ice Hockey had to learn this lesson over 30 years.

Look at what the goalie comes packed with to defend his net. Ever expanding padding, much bigger glove, and generally greater bulk to cutoff shots at the net. And the same applies to the other players equipment – so the frequency with which players dive to the ice to block shots has increased manifold.

Big surprise! The number of goals scored in a hockey game had been gradually   falling nearly every year for 25 years. The game, which is fast and exciting, was losing its most important element – scoring goals. So the NHL over the past ten years has modified its rules. Toughened checking from behind penalty calls, limited the size of goalie and player padding and blockers, and even considered widening the net. But the bottom line is that scoring has seen an uptick and the NHL is constantly monitoring the goal scoring status of the game.

Now except for the goalies glove , football does not have the equivalent padding for   defensive advantage as in hockey. So FIFA is going to have to seriously consider actions that will bring about more goals scored. Certainly improving the officiating with an additional referee will cut down on diving, wrestling on corner + free kicks, and shoving and tugging on body or clothing, plus late tackles. But that may not be enough.

FIFA will have to consider more offensively oriented rule changes. perhaps scoreless or 1-1 games would see offside rules relaxed for the last 30 minutes. Perhaps the first pass over the midline would never be offside. Imagine the number of goals that would produce! Or maybe no offside once the ball has been passed over the top of the box line. But as soon as the ball passes back over the top of the line, offside applies again until the ball recrosses the line. Maybe rigorous enforcement of no player contact rules now that an additional referee is available for scrutinizing the action   on   corner   and free kicks would produce more goals.

But goals is what soccer/football needs to make the game exciting again. Now FIFA can say “What, Me, Worry? We have the most popular sport in the World – it is even taking off in North America”.   Two answers to that. Golf and basketball are picking up ever greater popularity world wide. And just see what a few more World Cups and other Football Championships won by penalty kicks does for the game as goals become ever harder to come by.