Time and Overtime: The Metaphysics of the World Cup

Time and Overtime: The Metaphysics of the World Cup

Soccer is the most popular sport in the world because it’s most like the real world.

I had the joy of watching a World Cup elimination game in a London pub two weeks ago. London crowds have a greater appreciation for soccer (or “association football”) than American crowds do. My friend Michelle and I drank local beers and rooted for the U.S. against Ghana. The game progressed into overtime. Since this was the “second stage” of World Cup play, the game couldn’t end in a tie (as soccer often does). Michelle and I had to quiz the locals on what the rules were for overtime during an elimination match. This opened a lot of speculation on the rules for overtime, in-game review and sports as a whole.

As the World Cup enters its semi-final rounds, now’s the time to compare soccer to other professional sports. It’s always been something of a mystery why soccer hasn’t caught on as big in the U.S. as it has in the rest of the world. Part of that may have to do with the unique quirks in the rules of soccer. And since soccer, like every sport, is a metaphor for life, we have to consider what the metaphor of soccer tells us.

A game is a human’s attempt to make sense of life. It breaks down activities we recognize – competition, cooperation, success, setback – into a set of known rules. Every game has to have rules. A game without rules could not be distinguished from regular life, and it’s understood that there’s a point where the game stops and life begins again. In fact, bringing in elements from outside of a game to the interior of a game is considered “unsporting.” You don’t call your opponents names; people within the game-set abandon their identities. You don’t pay them to throw the game; people within the game all have equal wealth. The game exists for a set duration, then stops. Life goes on afterward.

(There are of course games without such clearly defined boundaries, like Calvinball or Nomic. But these can be more properly defined as thought experiments than true games)

(Also, Richard Sharp, in his treatise on the board game Diplomacy, recounts an apocryphal anecdote in which Germany knew France was sleeping with England’s wife, the result being a German victory in record time. Since the point of Diplomacy is to be “unsporting,” this might merit a post of its own)

What defines a game’s duration, though? Sports do not share the same period of time. Some sports take hours; some are over in time for dinner. But every sport can be defined by having a set period. This is another way in which sports are different from life. Everyone knows when a basketball game is going to end; if not the exact minute, at least the conditions that will need to be fulfilled for it to happen. But nobody knows when a life is going to end. The “threescore years and ten” benchmark from the Old Testament has gone by the wayside.

Different sports use different clocks. This makes sense, since different sports use different paces. Basketball is a game of sudden shifts: sprints up and down the court, quick hustles beneath the basket, then sprinting out again. Hockey and soccer are games of constant motion: fewer hectic scrambles but a more continuous revolution around the field. American football has moments of intense violence followed by equally long periods of rest. And baseball has the slowest pace of all. Excepting perhaps golf.

What does each sport’s clock say about the game? And, if each game is a microcosm of life, what does each game’s clock say about its metaphysical outlook?

The Arrow of Time


The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that the entropy present in a closed system tends to increase over time. Fuse hydrogen and oxygen together and you get water. Dissolve water and you get hydrogen and oxygen again. However, the total “useful” energy present will not be the same now as it was before you started. You cannot take the blocks apart and put them back together again with equal ease.

In macroscopic phenomena, this is referred to as the arrow of time. It means that time is not an illusion of the consciousness. Time has real physical properties. The universe knows how old it is (even if we don’t). Time goes in one direction.

If a china cup falls off a table, it shatters into a thousand pieces. We can glue it back together again, but the effort of gluing it means the “closed system” of the table, the kitchen floor and the utility drawer with the Krazy Glue in it has lost some useful energy. We can never restore the universe to exactly the way it was. Something has been lost.

Consider the England vs. Germany elimination match in the World Cup, two weeks ago. Frank Lampard lobbed a shot on the German goal just before halftime, which would have tied the score at 2-2. It struck the crossbar and landed well inside the goal. Yet the referee never called it. The goalie fielded the ball before anyone else could react. Despite persistent arguments by all the English players and coaching staff, the game continued on.

This is because FIFA soccer has no rules for official review of instant replay.


Compare this to American football. Let’s use a comparably close game: the AFC Divisional Playoffs on Jan 19, 2002. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is hit just before passing the football. The ball comes loose and the Oakland Raiders recover it. Under the rules of the NFL, this looks like a fumble by the possessing team, which means possession changes hands. However, the officials review the play and determine that Brady was in the midst of a pass and had tucked the ball before throwing. This meant that Brady had thrown an incomplete pass, not a fumble, and the Raiders could not have taken possession. The ball remains in the Patriots’ hands. They tie the game and eventually win in overtime, going on to the Super Bowl.

In American football, a coach can challenge an official’s ruling and force them to review game footage to validate their call. It’s easy for English soccer fans to long for such technology. But note that this addition to the rules is fairly recent: it’s only been an option to coaches since 1999. Professional football in the United States survived for over eighty years without official review.

So, in fact, have most sports. NBA basketball allows official review to determine if a shot taken right as the shot clock expired was valid, but that’s only been a part of the game since 2002. Tennis allows line judges to review shots on the line, but the technology for instant replays wasn’t always available. And baseball only added an instant replay system in 2008, which is used only to determine fair or foul balls and boundary home runs.


We never know when we're about to make history.

Official review is late in coming to most sports. One could argue that the technology wasn’t there before now, but that’s just a question of preference. So long as there have been cameras with zoom lenses, the technology has been there. But what does official review mean for a game’s philosophy?

The real world does not have official review. Even if we can determine the exact causes of a misfortune, we cannot rewind time to unmake it. All we can do is grit our teeth and try harder next time. But a sport – like any game – is a fenced-off version of how we’d like the world to be. It’s the World Plus Rules for Fairness. The arrow of time has less hold in the world of sport. We have the power to wind back the clock.

Gridiron football, baseball and basketball all incorporate some form of official review. They’re also all American sports. While the rest of the world has contributed to these sports – Baltic forwards in basketball, Dominican fielders in baseball, Samoan safeties in football – they have a distinctly American character. The world looks to the States for how these games should go.

Something about the American character, then, prefers the idea that the arrow of time should not always hold sway. America has always been a nation that prides itself on being “self-made.” Their presidential myths invoke their origins in common log cabins. Their heroes are pioneers, explorers in space and captains of industry who were born poor. Even today, their national rhetoric on divesting from petroleum hinges on “energy independence” – the idea that America should not need the rest of the world. America can master an entire continent, incorporate multitudes of ethnicities into one nation and command armed forces that can scour the globe. Of course American sports can turn back the arrow of time.


America can turn it back as far as it damn well pleases!

But soccer is a distinctly non-American sport. FIFA reigns strongest in South America, Europe and Africa. And soccer does not allow official review. When a play is called by a referee on the field, that call stands. Nothing takes it back. In fact, consider this comment by FIFA general secretary Urs Lanzi in 2005:

Video evidence is useful for disciplinary sanctions, but that’s all. As we’ve always emphasised at FIFA, football’s human element must be retained. It mirrors life itself and we have to protect it.

Are Europeans and South Americans more fatalist than the U.S.? Do they have less desire to master the world? Or do they not get the point of a game – that it’s supposed to reflect life as we would wish it to be, not life as it is? Debate the answer if you like, but there’s one safe bet. Professional soccer will not adopt an official review system until Americans take on a more prominent role. Only then will the arrow of time turn back.

30 Comments on “Time and Overtime: The Metaphysics of the World Cup”

  1. Valatan #

    Pedantic note: you discuss the thermodynamic arrow of time, but display a graphic discussing the cosmological arrow of time, which is a distinct notion–in fact, there is a solid argument to be made that the cosmological expansion of the universe during the dark energy phase, by adding net energy to the universe, will ultimately prevent heat death in the Big Rip. Not to mention a bunch of other possible scenarios for the birth/death of the universe.


  2. Ed #

    “It’s always been something of a mystery why soccer hasn’t caught on as big in the U.S. as it has in the rest of the world.”

    American exceptionalism. This is pretty obvious, but the term has different definitions depending on who is using it, so I will try to provide more explanation (plus this is Overthinking It).

    Compared to most countries, the US was really isolated in the nineteenth century. With no planes, phones, and internets the oceans were a real barrier. So all sorts of things developed in American culture that you didn’t have elsewhere. We developed three sports, baseball, football, and basketball, that proved more than sufficient for whatever purposes sports are supposed to serve.

    Soccer was an English sport that was spread around the world mostly by English and Scottish workers, who would travel throughout the British empire and South America to do things like build railroads. Americans built their own railroads, and so this wasn’t a factor. Its really more of a mystery why soccer never caught on in Canada and India. But it never caught on the U.S. for the same reason rugby never caught on in the U.S.

    Now when this period of relative isolation ends, with World War I and more definitively World War II, the U.S. is a superpower. It is the most successful country on Earth, both politically and economically, with the highest standard of living. Americans didn’t import cultural things from other countries -in fact it was a point of pride that we didn’t- instead we exported our culture.

    So the willingness to get interested in something like soccer is really a sign of relative weakness. Like in other areas, the U.S. is becoming a net cultural importer instead of net cultural exporter. This is why the American right hates soccer, and they have a point.

    However, its fun game, plus growing American interest in soccer is happening at the same time the rest of the world has been adopting two of the American-made sports, basketball and baseball. This might stop if globalization goes in reverse, but it seems a fair exchange to me.


  3. Ed #

    OK, I read the whole post. Jesus Christ.

    First, the whole argument seems to be that Americans don’t take to soccer because Americans uniquely value fair play. I don’t think I’ve read any other analysis of American culture that said that fair play is a strong element of it. The United States is a Matthew society (Matthew 3:12 “To him who has, more will be given”).

    Second, apparently now hockey is an American sport but baseball isn’t.

    Then there is the issue of other sports putting in replay and review only recently, after which soccer became more popular here.


  4. John Perich OTI Staff #

    because Americans uniquely value fair play.

    I think Americans value the appearance of fairness (while still stacking the deck in their favor) more than actual fairness.

    And like I said re: baseball – baseball is weird. But at least in baseball you know what has to happen for the game to end. There’s never a chance the umpire will run on the field with 2 outs left in the 10th inning and say, “All right, everyone stop playing. The Yankees are up now, so they win.”


  5. John Perich OTI Staff #

    @Valatan: we encourage pedantry! I may update the image later.


  6. Timothy J Swann #

    Okay, it’s detecting repeat posts without actually showing my post…


  7. John Perich OTI Staff #

    @Timothy: I’m not seeing any other comments by you in the queue. Um – try posting it again? Sorry? :\


  8. Turin Hurinson #

    There’s lots of reasons soccer is popular while there are several other sports that are distinctly American. One that hasn’t been mentioned here yet: soccer is cheap. At its most bare, you just need a ball and the ability to take off your shirt and use it for a boundary marker. American football requires expensive protective gear; basketball requires pavement and hoops, neither of which can be easily improvised; and hockey requires an ice rink, which just isn’t gonna happen unless you’re in a really cold country. I suspect this has a lot to do with why soccer’s the most popular sport in third world countries.

    I don’t really buy the “Americans like fairness” argument, a perhaps related argument that I find more convincing is that Americans like logical progressions, sequences, and systems that can be empirically and statistically analyzed. Baseball has strikes, balls, outs, innings; football has the downs system, but soccer just flows freely in between goals, which, perhaps, unnerves people. (I know I don’t like that aspect of soccer particularly.)


  9. Connor #

    I don’t think you’re right about the fact that it’s irrational to play differently towards the end of a period in basketball or football–the part you’re missing is risk tolerance. This is perhaps most clear in the Football example. The two minute drill is a very risk-seeking play. You’re a lot more likely to score in a short period of time, but you’re also a lot more likely to throw an interception or turn over on downs. Throughout most of the game, both teams are probably roughly risk-neutral–they want to maximize their expected return in terms of points (although there are a number of behaviors, like failing to go for it on fourth down that are conventional but insanely risk-averse, but that’s a whole different plate of spaghetti). The calculus changes completely as the clock ticks down–suddenly one team is ahead and the other behind. Losing by one point and losing by seventy points is basically the same thing, setting aside oddities like the coach’s polling in college football. Therefore, a team that is behind towards the end of the game should become very risk-loving with regard to points–there is virtually no downside risk for them (they can’t lose any more than they already are) and all the upside potential in the world. The leading team is in the opposite situation. Teams who are ahead in the last couple of minutes of the game do not break out the two-minute drill–they run out the clock sacrificing upside potential in terms of points for a lower downside risk of the other team scoring. Basketball has some different issues–the fact that there’s no need to “save up” time outs or fouls before fouling out when the game is almost over. While there is certainly irrational behavior in sports, the fact that play changes when the clock ticks down is not part of it.


  10. CG Morton #

    I think that America’s distaste for soccer does have to do with fairness, but in a completely different way. One major difference between soccer and the American sports is that soccer tends to have very low scores. In basketball, if one team plays better, that is directly represented in the scores because it will average out over so many points. Football is a game where all but the biggest mistakes are largely forgiven; if you get no yards on a play, you’ve still got three more to make it. And baseball’s weird. The point is, these games are about consistent effort that slowly stacks up to victory.
    Soccer, meanwhile, can at least appear to be ridiculously luck-based. A shot that hits the post would have gone in if kicked just slightly differently. Corner kicks are essentially the ultimate in luck: the ball flies in and a whole crowd of people all jump for it at once. Maybe a defender clears it, or maybe an attacker knocks it in. But the random nature of it, I think, does not suit Americans. America is all about the idea that consistent hard work and excellence are the keys to success. Although soccer takes consistent hard work, that hard work seems to have the purpose of creating opportunities for getting lucky, and frankly this is a hard truth of the world that the American culture tries to deny: even if you work your ass off, you still need to get lucky. And that’s just not fair.


  11. Valatan #


    You don’t find American football insanely prone to luck, at least relative to soccer? Miracle touchdowns that turn the course of games? Or that arcane tuck rule that makes no logical sense, the more I think about it? Or, for that matter, the fact that you’re limited to two challenges, win or lose?


  12. Johann #

    First off, really nice post!

    Second, @Ed: Although this may not be the place for international disputes, I have to point out that the US does NOT have the highest standard of living in the world. It may be the strongest political and economic player, but if you take various measures for standard of living (like GDP per capita, etc.), the US is usually at rank #5-10. See for example:
    There simply is too much poverty within the US population to occupy that top position in the world.

    Third: As a European soccer fan, I say that the one thing they should change is introduce electronic goal recognition: build a chip inside the ball and sensors inside the goal posts, and let the electronic magic work to tell you EXACTLY when and if (or if not) there was a goal scored or not. Considering the huge luck factor, and the immense weight that lies on a single goal in a match (again, different from American football or basketball), this would make it a lot fairer, as in the England-Germanny match. And I say that as a German!
    As for official review: It is true that introducing this would really change the game, because it would also mean you need to introduce clock stopping.

    Fourth: I think the real difference between soccer and other sports is the amount of weight you put on the referee in interpreting the rules. American football and basketball rely much more tight, “objective” interpretation of rules – and that’s why you need “technology” like clock stopping and official review to enforce the rules). Soccer, on the other hand, relies much, much more on the ref’s calls.
    When I watch soccer games with friends, and the instant replay shows for example an offside that the refs didn’t call, someone usually solves the argument of whether or not it was offside with the claim: “It is offside when the ref calls it offside”. Which is true!

    In a similar way, it is not true that in soccer there is no way of knowing when the game ends: It simply is over when the ref calls it.


  13. Rob #

    I think there’s a lot in some of the posts. Certainly, I’ve heard arguments about American Isolationism/Exceptionalism before.

    I’ve also heard the argument that CG makes before, suggesting that ‘American sports’: a. have a lower luck percentage than ‘European sports’; and b., are based more on the regimented repetition of key tasks. Certainly, American sports superficially appear to be more regimented and attritional than others: compare the rounded tracks of NASCAR to the street circuits of Formula One; the relative success of Americans in short, regimented sprinting events compared to their almost complete absence in longer distance races; the tennis of Andy Roddick versus the tennis of Rafa Nadal. The basic claim being that Americans like to reward the successful, quality achievement of a simple task compared to a more European (read also African and South American) taste for a chance-prone continuous flow of activity, in which errors will occur, but moments of ‘the beautiful game’ will also appear (genuine question: can Baseball or Basketball ever be beautiful?).


  14. fenzel #

    Baseball umpires retain a lot of the same subjectivity as soccer referees, and while modern professional baseball games have 9 innings, when people play them on their own terms, the number of innings tends to vary, and you often just play until there isn’t any more time.

    The strict use of clocks in so many American sports is probably more a consequence of the power and influence of the American railroad industry, which is what made clocks necessary in the first place.

    Americans never caught on to soccer because football took up the same niche — the proliferation of soccer was supported in its early days by its adoption in British schools — American schools picked up American football instead, and by the time it became apparent that a random English game was going to become a global sport, Americans had already figured out which sports they liked and there was no need to change that.

    American football, Aussie Rules football, rugby, and soccer all have common ancestors in England — there used to be a bunch of variants of football (“rugby football” was one of them) and Americans and English came up with the notion to standardize the rules at roughly the same time – in the mid 1800s.

    The English went one way, separating “football” and rugby and setting up specific rules for each, and the Americans went another way, changing rugby enough that it eventually became a different sport entirely.

    (Although most of those changes were gradual. The story of the forward pass is pretty interesting — American football didn’t used to have forward passes, but because the line of scrimmage setup made the “scrums” really fixed and intense, without the fluidity of rugby, kids in college teams were dying in football games. The group of people in charge of the rules first wanted to make the field wider, so people could run around the blockers more easily, discouraging up-the-middle plays — but Soldier Field at Harvard had already been built at great expense, and it was too narrow to accommodate a wider field. So, Walter Camp invented the forward pass.)

    The oldest American football college rivalries are about as old as the oldest British soccer tournaments — they all started in the 1870s; which, by the way, was right after America had a big Civil War, was heading into a series of giant financial panics, and wasn’t particularly interested in foreign influence.

    So, in America, you have three main sports — football is the sport they played in colleges, baseball is the sport they played on farms and in rural or suburban areas, and basketball eventually became the sport they played in cities and gymnasiums. Hockey was around, of course, but it’s always been more of a Canadian sport than an American sport — and of course, it is played on ice, which meant for a long time it was only played in certain places.

    Each of these sports had big stars that were part of the marketing pushes that popularized them and made them “professional” — but they all took root in the public consciousness long before they were professional sports.

    It’s not like soccer is older than these sports — baseball is of similar ilk to cricket and modern baseball predates modern soccer by a good 30 or 40 years (a very important 30 or 40 years in American history).

    So, why would people who are already playing a modern sport adopt a new one en masse? I’d understand why, in a place where games were traditional and ad hoc, you’d want to adopt a new sport with standardized rules that you could play against people from other towns, and I understand why colonists would bring their game to their imperial possessions, or why post-colonial authorities would look to sports played back at the mother country for ideas on what to do with themselves — that explains why soccer spread so widely to so many places, as well as tennis — but America had already been independent for a hundred years, it already had modern sports with standard rules before soccer even got started. Why switch to a different variant of the same game?

    Kids play soccer in the United States en masse because it isn’t safe for them to play American football yet. As soon as they get old enough to play American football, the relative popularity of soccer collapses. I don’t think it has to do with the values associated with each game.

    I’m a firm believer in the notion that the circumstances that exist when something enters the culture, the economy, the world, persist and influence what happens for long afterward. A lot of the structural circumstances around race and gender in America have less to do with contemporary attitudes and more to do with the circumstances from a hundred years ago that still stick with us, because old habits die hard.

    And @Rob, yes, baseball and basketball can both be very beautiful. Basball in particular is a phenomenally beautiful game — but it doesn’t play nearly as well on television as it does in person. The beauty of baseball is contingent on the park it is played in — its geometry, its slight asymmetries, the relationship it has with the surrounding area — because of its markings, shape, and cleanly separated, different textures of earth, a baseball field creates a strong impression that a soccer field or American football field, or even a basketball court really doesn’t. It has a quality of timelessness. A baseball field is a suspended space, almost hallowed ground.

    Most of the great, beautiful moments in baseball involve the park in some way. Willie Mays deep in the outfield, racing backward into the sea of green, making his basket catch. Mickey Mantle smashing the light at the top of Yankee Stadium. Babe Ruth’s called shot, pointing out over the fence. The vibrant trigonometry of the double play. The arcing slider grazing the corner of the plate. The rising dust and sound of a slide — even the oiled leather of a glove. Baseball is about the place and what is there more than it is about the people in it, and it can really only be appreciated live.

    Basketball has the good luck of being one of the most beautiful games if viewed in slow motion — the acrobatics, the leaping, the urgency presented by the proximity and position of the basket. Dazzling dribbling skills, which are as artful as those in soccer, and made the more kinetic by impact with the gruound. Playing it, you get a sense for all these, but if you’re watching it from far away at full speed, the beauty of basketball is kind of lost.


  15. Valatan #


    The dominance of non-Americans at distance events is a relatively recent phenomenon. When Alberto Salazar, the last American citizen to win the Boston Marathon, won in 1982, the US had long been a dominant force in distance running.


  16. Gab #

    A little late to the party.

    The topic of instant replays has come up at least once a day on ESPN between the hours of one and four (on the west coast). But that demand seems strictly (or at least mostly) to be an American one. And I’d argue it doesn’t really matter much, because if you look at the goals in question during this World Cup, they wouldn’t really have won the games for the teams they were “taken” from. If they demoralized the teams, well, that’s the fault of the players, not the game mechanic or rules. So I’d agree, if Americans want replays and stoppages, we’re going to have to take soccer more seriously in general- but I also think it’s really arrogant for Americans to demand an entire system change because it doesn’t fit the way *we* play all our other sports. World Cup football isn’t Americn-style sports, it’s an international event, and Americans need to respect that and, if necessary, endure under the international standards. (I’m opinionated, yes. But I’m not anti-American- the avatar isn’t meant to be ironic. I recognize when something is unrealistic, and calling for replays and stoppages is making a pretty hefty demand without much capital to stand on.)

    Perich, I loved your ending about kids as a reader and stubbornly optimistic realist. But, erm, I have to ask you something about little league soccer: Are you sure it follows the same time rules as FIFA or professional-level soccer? When I played as a young-un, we had two fifteen-minute halves that were iron-clad. Although, to be fair, we did “go as long as we were allowed,” but in a different sense- we went until the ref blew their whistle for whatever reason, were slaves to the ref’s clock. And, on that note, there were a lot of stoppages when girls got fowled (we did this weird thing, I forget what it’s called, where the “victim” got basically a kickoff from where she was fowled at; or they would take the ball out of bounds and her team got a free-throw back in)- and those had no impact on the time. I’ll admit this could be because of the gender of the league, or it could just be that Las Vegas is rather… odd (conspiracy theory about this, but for somewhere else). Maybe both- a weird league protecting/babying the “fairer sex.”

    Which leads nicely to an @Fenzel: “A lot of the structural circumstances around race and gender in America have less to do with contemporary attitudes and more to do with the circumstances from a hundred years ago that still stick with us, because old habits die hard.” I’d also like to piggyback/specify a bit and point out how, as such, there are far more opportunities for girls and women in the U.S. to play what Americans call soccer than what we call football. And the same can be said about baseball, too.

    I was also going to bring up the class thing, but from a different angle. American-style football is, indeed, much more expensive- even a football costs a lot more than the kind of ball one could play soccer with (although I disagree with the notion that people don’t play pickup football games without pads, but I will concede it probably happens less often); then you have pads and helmets and such to account (HAH! I’m talking about costs, get it?) for. As such, the conspiracy theorist, anti-classism, pro-proletariat blowhorn in me wouldn’t be surprised if American-style football became a status symbol because of how much playing “properly” (i.e. with the right equipment) would cost. This would also explain why it was selected for promotion by colleges (and high schools) as their premier sport, as a way for the institutions (or counties, districts?) to try to demonstrate they can be “quality” ones- if they can afford *football*, they must be great! So football became the status-quo because the haves made it so, to the point where poor communities invest every last cent they have on their football team because they are led to believe “it’s all they have” or whatever, thereby causing other programs to suffer. I’m not saying no other sport ever gets priority, either- clearly there is an imbalance in how schools are funded across the board, and in myriad ways; and correlation doesn’t mean causation. But still, I wouldn’t be surprised, I wouldn’t be surprised at all.


  17. rtpoe #

    A couple of thoughts, coming in late to the party.

    On the Role of Sports Officials (referees, umpires, etc.):

    Their precise role depends on the view of the nature of the Reality of the Game. Does the Game exist as an objective reality, and the officials are there to confirm what really happened, or is it subjective, and we endow the officials with the authority to decide what the ‘official’ reality is? If the latter, then there is no such thing as a blown call – and there cannot be.

    One could also consider a “play” as something in a state of quantum indeterminacy, and it is the call of the officials that (so to speak) collapses the wave function of the play (Case in point, the triple play turned by the Mets this past May 19 – the triple play wasn’t confirmed until after a consultation amongst the umpires).

    On Instant Replay:

    If one believes that the Game exists in an objective reality, instant replay review becomes a useful tool for the officials. But at what point do you stop using it? A baseball game can see literally hundreds of plays (every single pitch is a play!) – do you want to use replay on every single pitch to confirm whether it was a ball or strike?

    And why limit replay to just key games, or key plays? There was much ado when umpire Jim Joyce blew a call that cost Tiger’s pitcher Armando Gallaraga a Perfect Game back in May. Since it happened on what would have been the final play of the game, there were calls for the Commissioner to overturn Joyce’s call (which he later admitted he blew). But would there have been the same level of uproar if the blown call happened much earlier in the game?

    One needs to apply some sort of Categorical Imperative to the use of replay/review.

    But enough Overthinking sports officiating….

    One other reason baseball rules: It’s the only major team sport where the shape of the playing field is not a standard, and in ways that affect the play of the game. One soccer field is exactly like another (or at least it’s supposed to be). Hockey rinks, basketball courts, and football gridirons all adhere to unalterable rules of conformity. Baseball has things like Fenway Park’s “Green Monster” that have a clear and direct effect on the play of the game.


  18. Valatan #


    I’ve never heard of anyone not on an organized team playing American football WITH pads. Most of the backyard football I’ve encountered has been of the ‘guys get together and throw a ball around’-type. Either two hand touch for downs, or with a friendly understanding to limit the intensity of the hits for tackle downs. So i don’t know if I guy the pads are expensive = rich person’s game.

    The sport I saw being used that way was hockey.


  19. Gab #

    @Valatan: Well, I think there’s a significant change in street/pickup v. official football in what you have right there: without pads, the rules change to “two hand touch” and the like. I’ve seen that happen, actually, but hadn’t even thought of it until you mentioned it. So it’s not “proper” football, it’s a (one could say literally) poor imitation of the “real” thing because they aren’t tackling (or at least aren’t tackling as much), it’s not as gridiron, etc. Rules about contact and such that would, indeed, change the way the game is played, don’t really occur in pickup soccer. You’re right, pickup football doesn’t involve pads, and that’s the point. Whereas I’ve seen (and participated in) pickup *soccer* games where some participants had pads before, some of these padded players not even being involved in leagues or anything elsewhere- they just have their own sets of pads and sometimes cleats, too. I wouldn’t know if football cleats are more expensive than soccer ones, but I can’t testify as to whether I’ve seen pickup football players in cleats, too.

    I started getting pretty off-topic there, so I’ll stop now, but yeah.


  20. Timothy J Swann #

    I wrote a long comment that did not get successfully posted so I emailed this to John – in it, I noted that despite their unAmerican nature, Rugby and Cricket both use technology to assess decisions (as does the Anglo-French sport Tennis, but that has popular and successful American influence, so I skipped past it) – only football (aka real football, our football, the footie) has kept away from embracing it. The culprit in this is said to be Sepp Blatter, FIFA President (or President-for-Life, so it seems), who demands that the game remain the same at the highest level as the most basic.
    (For more on this, especially the potentially hypocritical influence of sponsorship in a fun way, try Baddiel and Skinner’s podcast, possibly the most popular podcast in the UK, having had a million downloads over the course of 12 20 minute shows on Absolute Radio ).

    However, it might just be that Blatter believes in Time’s Arrow more than any American ever could.


  21. Timothy J Swann #

    Oh, one final thing – do they call it overtime when commentating on ‘soccer’ in the USA? Because I would always call it ‘extra time’, and I wondered whether that was just peculiarly British.


  22. Lara #

    Heard an interesting comment (on another podcast) about how some people like soccer partly because it’s like an alternative history of the world, where the US isn’t a superpower, and poorer nations can outshine wealthier ones. Plays into theories of international sport as an outlet for dealing with tensions between nations. Like a junior sized war substitute.


  23. Lara #

    Sorry for the double post, but that last comment was “#comment-19999”

    Which means this comment HAS A POWER LEVEL OF 20,000!!

    Congrats on the website milestone OTI :)


  24. Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

    Thanks, Lara. Just wait till you see the milestone we hit at the end of this coming week. :)


  25. Lisa #

    I think that the lack of review can’t really explain soccer’s poor relation’s status in the US, because, as you said, it’s relatively recent to most sports. As others have said, the presence of US-born games can be a big part of the explanation, especially as kids grow up and want to emulate their sports heros, of which there aren’t that many soccer players, because no sponsors have bothered to make much of a deal out of soccer players, because soccer’s not that popular. A vicious cycle, in other words.

    Tied to this somewhat is that soccer is NOT a high-scoring game. You can go for over an hour with no score. Unless you know the rules of the game and have an eye to tell what sort of play is happening, that can seem really boring to someone used to a basketball game.

    I think a key factor, if you want to get into the US mentality, is that a game can end with a tie in most variations of league play. For the US, the competitive aspect of sports is key. We think of sports as a way to prove how much better we are than other people. Many of our sports movies focus on the little guy overcoming the odds to win. (Except Cool Runnings, but that’s not about the US team, so it’s okay that they don’t win.) We have intense rivalries between teams that require a definitive resolution to “prove” who is superior. With soccer, you can have a tie. What does that say? That both teams are equal? What’s the point, then? How do we prove who is right and who is wrong if there’s not a clear winner?


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