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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Things college football should adopt from soccer

Every time I opine about soccer, I get a bunch of e-mails. I don't particularly like soccer. It's just not my thing. This, however, generally leads people to call me as an uncultured fool, a xenophobe that looks down on the world's sport.

Believe me, that's not it. I just don't really like soccer that much. There's nothing more to it than that. No deeper meaning. No hidden agenda. I like watching baseball and golf, sports many classify as boring. Agree to disagree, I guess. I won't take it personally. (I will say that this tweet comparing soccer to the "Twilight" movies is pretty funny, though.)

But I am transfixed by the World Cup. I can't stop watching it, vuvuzelas aside. I like the passion, the energy, the stakes, the organization, everything about it ... just not the soccer. Which makes me wonder: what is the World Cup doing so right that even a soccer-watching novice like myself refuses to turn the channel? Well, a bunch of things, some of which I think can translate well to the world of college football and improve the game. Let's take take a look at some of them, shall we?


The red card/yellow card system: Love it. Absolutely love it. It's a great way to police unsportsmanlike behavior in the game. And let's face it, all unsportsmanlike penalties in college football are not the same. An incidental grabbing of the facemask is 15 yards. So is grabbing and twisting until a player's head nearly comes off. I think there should be some sort of accountability for plays like that. If you blatantly hit a player in an unsportsmanlike manner (like, with intent to injure), it should be more than 15 yards. That player should get a yellow card. Get two and you're gone from the game. Keep getting them throughout the season and you can sit on the bench for a game. If Brandon Spikes wants to eye gouge somebody, that's a red card. Enjoy the next game in street clothes, no questions asked. Wouldn't this police some of the chop blocks, late hits and intentional helmet-leading hits that are dirty and don't belong in the game? The NFL can punish its players with fine for illegal actions. What can the NCAA do? It's powerless in that regard. Take it out of the coach's hands, because those decisions are generally blurred by how important the player is to the team.

Unrestrained celebrations: Goals are so infrequent in soccer that when someone scores one, he celebrates like he's been greeted by God and the only way to get into heaven is to dance, dance, dance. After the requisite boogieing and/or gymnastics move, teammates mob him and bench players in their warmup suits get into the action. And on and on it goes, just pure, unadulterated joy. Why is this a problem? Why do we treat our sports celebrations like they are some sort of indication of the moral decay in society? Is jumping around and dancing after doing something exciting really that damaging? Lighten up, people. Let the kids dance. Let them high five. Let them acknowledge the screaming crowd (I'm sure Georgia fans would agree with this). Don't leave it up to a subjective definition of excessive celebration. Each referee has a different idea of what that means, and quite honestly, they have larger matters to concern themselves than being the prudes who have to tell everyone to turn the music down after a touchdown.

Outlandish fan costumes: The above picture is of Argentina fans. You can tell this because ... well, look at them. There is no mistaking who those guys are fans of (unless you guessed Uruguay, which has a similar color scheme). The point is, soccer fans really get into it. If you're at a game, you're wearing the team colors ... and possibly a team scarf ... maybe with your face painted the team's colors ... probably with a festive hat. And everyone else around you is dressed with a similar zeal. Some college football fans go this far, but let's be honest: it's time to step up your game. I realize the shirt and tie/sundress thing is an SEC tradition, but it's a football game, not a yacht club meeting. Dress as such. If a TV camera happens to pass you by, leave no doubt which team you're backing.

Coaches in suits: If Diego Maradona can suit it up, so can you, Gene Chizik. I'm not saying you have to do it for every game. But how about the big ones? What says, "I'm classy" quite like a three-piece suit. Basketball coaches do it all the time. And the well-dressed ones get noticed. Football should follow suit (see what I did there?) and get these guys dressed to the nines.

No commercial breaks: How fantastic is being able to watch a soccer match in two hours? Just continuous action, with no momentum-shattering two-minute stops while a guy with a red hat comes onto the field and says nobody can play. Notice I didn't say no advertisements. You can't look at a soccer field and not see an advertisement. The scoreboard in the upper right-hand corner is clearly sponsored by Sony. Giant Visa ads surround the playing field. I'm sure it's not cheap to advertise that. Why do we need to stop the game to show everyone an ad? Maybe this will cut down on the 3.5 to 4-hour football games that have become so common of late. Nothing is more frustrating that the commercial break-kickoff-commercial break sequence that football loves so much (maybe that's only in the pros; it's maddening nonetheless). Take away the break. Everyone will be happier.

A single-elimination tournament to determine a champion: Even soccer gets it, college football. Why can't you? The World Cup would be kind of boring if, after the qualifying rounds, they determined that, based on the world rankings, No. 1 Brazil would play No. 2 Spain for the championship. Give us a playoff, college football. Every argument for it works. Every argument against it is bogus. There's no denying it.

Relegation: This is not related to the World Cup, per se, but it's a staple of all the major soccer leagues in Europe and around the world. In short, in a relegation system, a small number of teams at the bottom of a league's standings are moved down to a lesser league after each season, while the top few teams in the lesser league are bumped up. It guarantees competitiveness in the highest levels and lets less-talented teams match up against similar competition.

Here's how I think it can work in football: unite the non-BCS conference schools under one umbrella and divide them into tiers. This is football only, since football seems to operate by its own rules in college athletics. Have the teams in those tiers play each other and, on a yearly basis, promote and relegate three teams between the levels. This way, the top tier faces top-notch competition. Teams like TCU and Boise State, whose schedules come into question every season, play a slate of competitive teams. Give the winner of that tier an automatic BCS bid. And, quite honestly, if you're second, you should deserve BCS bowl consideration as well. Look at the top nine non-BCS schools from last year (end-of-season Sagarin rankings in parentheses):
  • TCU (4)
  • Boise State (5)
  • BYU (15)
  • Utah (24)
  • Air Force (35)
  • Navy (38)
  • Central Michigan (42)
  • East Carolina (51)
  • Houston (53)
Have them play each other, just like a regular conference. You mean to tell me whoever comes out of that group wouldn't warrant a BCS bowl bid? By doing this, you 1) let non-BCS teams play their way into marquee bowl games and 2) appease the big-conference teams that think teams like Boise State and TCU don't play tough enough competition to earn premier bowl consideration.

Once the most recent conference realignment is done, there will be 67 BCS teams and 53 non-BCS teams. Split the non-BCS teams into five divisions of nine and one division (the lowest one) of eight. Each division plays eight "conference" games (the bottom group plays seven). The top three teams in a division at the end of the year move up a level; the bottom three move down. Sustained excellence gets rewarded by moving up to higher-tier divisions and greater exposure/bowl possibilities. Plus, the divisions should pit teams against one another that are close in terms of talent. It's a winning situation all around.

(And yes, before you e-mail me to tell me I'm an idiot, I realize this system is completely implausible. But it would be cool, wouldn't it?)

Now, soccer viewing isn't perfect. Naturally there are some things that I'd rather do without, leading to ...


Vuvuzelas: It's American sports fandom's biggest scourge since the great Thunderstix invasion of the early 2000's. These vuvuzelas are annoying. There's no getting around it. Keep them away from the football field. Thankfully, the SEC has already drawn a distinction between the soccer horn and a similar noisemaker, the Mississippi State cowbell. Both are kind of irritating. Both are there for the sole purpose of making noise. But only one has historic ties to an SEC school. College football fans can put up with the latter. Introducing the former would help ruin the gameday experience.

Diving: Single-handedly the most annoying thing about soccer. These theatrics are just plain cheap and embarrassing and, based on my limited viewing, very effective, unfortunately. (This isn't the World Cup, but it's my favorite example of how stupid this whole diving thing is. The ridiculous part happens about 12 seconds in.) Personally, I wish FIFA would review some of these dives after the fact and retroactively retract cards given out by an egregious dive. In fact, give the diver a card and a suspension. That's how much I dislike this "gamesmanship" aspect of the sport. The closest example in football is the lengths most kickers and punters will go to get a roughing the kicker penalty. If any hittable player tried that nonsense, they'd feel it on the next play.

Extra time: Soccer should know, we have the technology to start and stop a clock these days. The future is now. This ambiguous extra time that only the referee knows about until the very end would not fly in the world of SEC football. Can you imagine the conspiracy theories if Alabama was allowed to score a last-second touchdown to beat Auburn because of three mysterious minutes added to the clock. Reverse the roles or substitute any great SEC rivalry in this situation and you're dealing with an extremely loud and passionate group of people who will cry foul. The point is, we have a clock capable of starting and stopping. Let's continue to use both of those functions, OK?

Ties: A very un-American way of ending things (well, except for the Korean War, I guess). Yes, the SEC has some famous ties in its history, but they're so unsatisfying. Somebody wins, somebody loses. That's how football works. I don't care if we disgrace the game and skew the statistics by having a final score of 122-116 after 15 overtimes, I'd rather have that as an outcome than a tie. This is America. Once you turn 13, only one team gets juice boxes after a sporting event.

Have any thoughts? Comment below. And be sure to follow the blog on Twitter.


David in Opelika said...

Why stop at relegation for the non-BCS teams? You could pair up BCS conferences with non-BCS conferences. So the Conference USA champ and runnerup would get to replace the bottom dogs of the SEC. The MAC would pair with the BigTen. Of course, the ACC would pair with the Big East. The beauty of relegation is that it brings meaning even to the most woebegone teams in the SEC because they'd be fighting for their BCS bragging rights.

Jason said...

If the world cup worked like the BCS Championship, wars would be fought and blood spilled.

Acid Reign said...

.....One thing I'd add is that Rogers Reddings SEC crew looks positively expert compared to some of the World Cup officials. They've not held up well under the all-seeing electric eye of ESPN cameras!

.....Any time there's a HINT of a collision, you'll see a playing or two hit the ground in "agony," trying to draw a penalty call. It's ridiculous. It's as fake as pro wrestling! You'd think any official with half a brain could suss these things out, but no.

Andy Bitter said...

I didn't include the BCS teams because they are so entrenched in a good place. None of them would give up that BCS status (as if this realignment would ever actually take place).

The non-BCS teams are the ones who would be open to some sort of radical realignment to get a seat with the big boys.

Simmons B. Buntin said...

Bloody brilliant, Andy. Thanks for this great read!

Anonymous said...

Soccer = communism = new world order (without Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash & Scott Hall) = loser sport. Why doesn't Hackey Sack have a world cup competition? Please tell me the difference other than the players don't have a field, and there isn't a score or referees? Please, tell me the difference.

Clint Richardson said...

Jack Del Rio wears a suit every now and then for a few games for the Jacksonville Jaguars. I think it classy-ups the sport, and I agree that Chizik could wear one, but then we'll have Saban in one, and noone wants to see that. And that older guy who coaches FIU I believe, wears a suit for every game.

Anonymous said...

Andy, they used to have the yellow card/red card system...it was the 5 and 15 yard penalties. I wish they would go back to that. It brought out the coach cpeak of "hustle penalties", ala Nick Fairley facemask at the end of the Outback Bowl. As for the suits, that would be great but UnderArmour surely has a clause intheir contract with Aubrun stating the most recognizable person on the team and field must be wearing the products at all times...An Under Armour suit!!!

Andy Bitter said...

I'd like the return of the 5-yard/15-yard difference in facemasks, but with the red card/yellow card system, I want something to punish really flagrant hits. Right now there's no penalty for someone who gets those kind of unsportsmanlike penalties on a regular basis. Hold them accountable this way.

As for the suits, I seem to remember the NFL allowed coaches to wear suits, but they had to be Reebok designed or something like that. On the suit scale, they weren't very fancy. I can't imagine an UnderArmour suit would look good. I'm sure it would breathe well, though.

Soccer Uniforms said...
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Tar Heel Tiger said...

I'm a bit slow. Finally got around to reading "Things college football should adopt from soccer." I found it far more entertaining than watching soccer.

Soccer Uniforms said...
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