Integrity, Soccer, and Ties

Kissing your sister is better than this.

Honest, this has nothing to do with disappointment over the U.S. women’s soccer team’s loss in the World Cup Finals: I couldn’t care less about soccer of any kind, at any level. But a lot of people do care (my sister and niece are probably under a suicide watch as I write this, so I think that the sport needs to address its integrity deficit.

To be specific: having a major title or tournament in any team sport decided by something as artificial and unteamlike as soccer’s shoot-out tie-breaker is a breach of that sport’s duty to its tradition and its fans. It is solution for solution’s sake, abandoning the purpose of the contest so as to have a resolution, no matter how unfair, cynical, or unrelated to what has gone before.

You want analogies to other sports?  Fine: this is like baseball settling tie games with a home run derby. It is like basketball breaking ties with a game of H-O-R-S-E , or football deciding a Superbowl with a field goal-kicking contest.  It is like the Kentucky Derby resolving a dead heat by seeing which racehorse can do the best tricks.

I know the problem soccer faces. Goals are so rare that adding extra periods of play risks games that last longer than “The Ten Commandments,” with commercials. Too bad. At least such a resolution would rest on the conditioning, endurance and determination of the two teams, not just a series of pairings of a goalie and an offensive player.

Frankly, I look at the acceptance of this wretched rule in soccer as a symptom of the culture-wide reluctance to accept the pain and suffering that is often necessary to prevail when something matters, using the public’s presumed impatience and short attention span as an excuse to degrade everything from national policy to sports. Ties can be unsatisfying and frustrating, but they have integrity. What would be so objectionable about a shared World Cup? That would more fairly represent the achievements of the respective teams than a one-team championship based on flipping a coin, playing “paper, stone and scissors,” or trading penalty kicks.

Money, television, and chemistry are threatening the integrity of most sports today, but that doesn’t mean that sports fans should accept the downward spiral, or continue to cheer no matter what swill the sporting authorities dictate that they accept. As I said when I began, I am no soccer fan. But soccer fans deserve a sport that is true to its game and its ideals…unless, of course, they prove otherwise, by letting the sport’s most closely contested games continue to be decided by a gimmick.


Update: When I wrote this post, I never suspected that I would be ending my day watching the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox paly (so far) into the 15th inning to decide a 0-0 tie. The game is into its sixth hour, but it will decided by a run, eventually, scored like every other run. No gimmicks. I love it.

4 thoughts on “Integrity, Soccer, and Ties

  1. Agreed. Time was that if there was a tie at the end of the World Cup final, the game was to replayed the next day. This never actually happened.

  2. I don’t think ending soccer games early is an insult to tradition. After all, soccer (or football, as they like to call it) is an English game. Games need to be resolved quickly and efficiently so that the fans can go watch a five-day long cricket match.

  3. For some reason, I was listening to Colin Cowherd on the radio today. He was arguing for penalty kicks because sports are tv driven, and you need the climactic ending. He attacks the Sox-Rays result as being based on which players had been out drinking the night before. I find that a perfectly reasonable way to determine a winner, and I’m someone who plays a sport (Ultimate) where never-ending mid-tournament parties are necessary.

    If Colin wants a fast solution, start taking a player per team off the field every 5 minutes (no stoppage). That would at least be something like soccer Otherwise, just suck it up and let them keep playing.

  4. The history of association football, or soccer, is shrouded in the mists of time, but certainly goes back at least as far as the 1860’s.

    The “penalty” shoot-out to decide a tied game was used very occasionally as far back as 1952, but no earlier. The shoot-out didn’t really become widespread and standard until the late 1960’s.

    Need I also append a timeline for the history of commercial television?

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