Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Bleachers Brew: Looking at football's makeover

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Looking at football's makeover
by rick olivares

Big changes are coming to football. 

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) approved in its board meeting last March 5 some major changes that will impact the way the game is played.

Here are my thoughts regarding them.

The Video Assistant Referee
First and foremost is the landmark decision to introduce a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) to the game. It is a move that is long coming. While other sports like basketball and tennis have embraced video technology to improve the game, the world’s most popular sport took several years because they needed to get the technology right. While IFAB admits it might not be 100% accurate it is still a welcome development. 

VARs will play a major role in determining if a goal has been scored or not. In the addendum to the use of video, IFAB stated that VARs will help identify goals that should not be awarded for infringement, that there are no wrong decisions in awarding or not awarding a penalty kick, that there are no wrong decisions in red card incidents, and lastly, that referees caution or send off the right player in cases of mistaken identity.

According to IFAB, “The role of VARs is to assist the referee to determine whether there was an infringement that means a goal should not be awarded. As the ball has crossed the line the play has already been interrupted so that there is no direct impact on the game.”

I like the changes because they will correct some of the inadequacies of the game. Of course, there is still some room for error on decisions on fouls, handballs, and offside calls. This still does not eliminate inefficient or even suspect officiating. 

Having said that, Frank Lampard and the whole of England wishes this was available during the 2010 World Cup.

Denying goal-scoring opportunities
One of the new changes, well, is a matter of re-wording Law 12 or “Denial of a goal-scoring opportunity.” The new ruling by IFAB adds the conjunction “or” to the rules. And they are huge!

“Where a player commits an offence within his own penalty area which denies an opponent an obvious goal-scoring opportunity and the referee awards a penalty kick, the offending player should be cautioned unless (that I capitalised and italicised for emphasis):
The offense is holding, pulling, or pushing OR
The offending player does not attempt to play the ball or there is no possibility for the player making the challenge to play the ball OR
The offense is one which is punishable by a red card wherever it occurs on the field of play (e.g. serious foul play, violent conduct etc.)
In all of the above circumstances, the player should be dismissed from the field of play.”

A corner kick is a goal-scoring opportunity. We all know that inside the box especially in fighting for those crosses, there is a battle for position wherein there is a lot of physical contact. Does even a slight push merit dismissal? Not every action one takes is done on purpose. Some are taken because of reflexes. This should be explained very explicitly because any dismissal of a player will change the game. 

This bears great watching and with a lot of concern and trepidation given how it will be interpreted. 

Moving the ball in any direction.
Law 8 says that from kick-off the ball should be moved forward. What players normally do is tap the ball a few inches forward to a teammate then send a backpass to another teammate so they can asses how best to forage ahead. 

With the new rule, players can move the ball in any direction they want from kick-off. This sounds like a simple thing but it is good. Nothing like an economy of ball movement.

Softening the impact of numerical advantage because of injured players
A referee assesses the situation on on-field injuries and the protocol is, the player goes out while the other team plays with a numerical advantage. Now, barring serious injury, players can receive quick treatment temporarily stopping the match so no advantage is given upon resumption of play.

Numerical advantage is huge. This is a welcome change if you ask me. Why penalize a team that is a man down? This prevents also dirty tactics by opposing teams.

Adding a fourth substitute
Perhaps the one new rule that I really like is the study to allow a fourth substitute during extra time (I have always made a case for five substitutes allowed). The IFAB allowed experimentation on allowing a fourth substitute in extra time within a competition or a league that is still to be decided on. According to IFAB, “The aim is to see whether there is a player benefit, whether the fourth substitute is used tactically or genuinely for player welfare, whether the potential use of all four substitutes during extra time (and thus change more than a third of the team) has an unfair impact.”

That last statement is rather silly. How and when a coach uses his substitutes is his prerogative and is none of IFAB’s concern. Of course they are used for tactical gain. If you are going to question if using four substitutes in extra time has an unfair impact then you should question late game substitutions that is really more for wasting time. 

It seems that sometimes, these new rules have concerns about the stoppage of time or as they put it, “no direct impact on a game” but we all know that sometimes players feign injury to hold up time, to slow down the opposing team’s momentum, to take in instructions from the sideline, or even to catch a drink of water. 

If you’re making all these changes, then keep it consistent to the spirit of the game.

In summary, I do welcome the massive makeovers and changes for the 2016-17 season although with concern regarding some of them. How they impact the game will tell on whatever planned improvements there are in making over the Beautiful Game.

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