Saturday, November 28, 2009

When Umpires Are Blind

WSJ columnist Eric Felten writes:
Europe was in a tizzy this past week. The ruckus involved the finale to last week's World Cup qualifying soccer match between Ireland and France. In the concluding moments of the game, French team captain Thierry Henry rescued a ball that was going out of bounds by grabbing it with his hand. (For some reason known only to the inventors of soccer, this is a no-no.) Shuttling the ball deftly to his foot, Mr. Henry set up the decisive goal. The referee failed to catch the French footballer's cheating, and after the game Mr. Henry proclaimed that the ref's error absolved him of responsibility: "I will be honest, it was a handball. But I'm not the referee. I played it, the referee allowed it. That's a question you should ask him."

Mr. Henry's attitude is shared by athletes in just about every American sport. They believe anything the ref doesn't call is OK.
What other attitude could the athletes possibly have? Soccer has no rule allowing players to call their own fouls. If the officials wanted to get it right, after the fact, they would look at the instant reply. But soccer rules prohibit that.
Professional basketball has been ruined by this shabby fool-the-ref nonsense. Rare is the drive to the hoop where some defender doesn't go flying in a pantomime of blunt-force trauma, trying to dupe the referee into calling a foul where there was none. Chances are that the man making the shot is flopping around just as dramatically. The proliferation of pretend fouls helps explain why NBA games stop every three seconds.
In ice hockey, a player can be penalized for trying to dupe the referee into calling a foul. If basketball has no such rule, then the player drama is part of the game. You can only expect the players to follow the rules.

The column suggests that a team should offer to forfeit the game if it benefited from a bad call from a referee. But most games have multiple bad calls. His suggestion would result in many games being followed by offers to forfeit by both sides. The fans would hate that.


AltonJohn said...

fouls, not fowls!

Roger said...

Fixed. Thanks. I had just eaten a lot of turkey when I wrote that!