24 June 2010

Sports Mutation

Richard Epstein's article in Forbes about reforming the rules of soccer has been getting some attention.  I think there are some interesting ideas there.  I like the penalty minutes idea much more than having two-point goals from the field and one-point goals on penalty kicks.

I'm actually pretty pleased with the rules of soccer right now,* but I've been thinking about different ways to play various sports ever since talking about the different cricket formats when I was in St Lucia.

What if baseball was three innings of nine outs each? What if the World Series winner was whoever got more runs in 63 innings, rather than four games out of seven? What if (American) football was three matches of 30 minutes each, and the winner of the game would be whoever won two of the matches?

Like cricket, these new rules wouldn't need to supplant the old ones. You could play both versions of the game simultaneously. There are various versions of poker being played. Various versions of chess too (at least with regards to timing, right?). All sorts of amateur games and sports have tons of variations.  Why not big time ones?

* One exception: there should be no way a referee can call a foul without stating what the foul is and who it's on. I'm looking at you, Koman Coulibaly.

Via Jacob Grier.

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Ed Felten thinks soccer rules should be left just the way they are in the name of scalability.
So here’s the logic underlying soccer’s rules: the game is supposed to scale down, so that an ordinary youth or recreation-league game can be played under the exact same rules used by the pros. This means that the rules must be designed so that the game can be run by a single referee, without any special equipment such as a scoreboard.
Fair enough. That's a good a reason as any I've heard.

I would counter with cricket.  It's vastly popular even though people don't play by the same set-up as the pros, and many different forms of the game coexist.

I'm not so sure scalability is really such an important thing though. Felten overextends himself in his conclusion:
It’s no accident, I think, that scalable sports such as soccer and baseball/softball are played by many Americans who typically watch non-scalable sports. There’s something satisfying about playing the same game that the pros play. So, my fellow Americans, if you’re going to fix soccer, please keep the game simple enough that the rest of us can still play it.
What are the non-scalable sports that Americans watch? By Felten's own reckoning, football, hockey and basketball. I'd guess that basketball is actually played by more Americans than any other sport. Football and hockey are non scalable, but they're also contact sports. I'd say that's a much bigger reason Americans don't play than the need for more referees and such.

What are the other sports Americans watch a lot of? Car racing. We don't participate in that because it's too expensive and dangerous. Golf. We do plenty of that under pretty much the exact same rules as the pros. Tennis. Also lots of that, with different rules than the pros. I don't see any correlation between the scalability of sport and how much people play.

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Ultimately I'm enough of a conservative when it comes to sports* to be happy if the rules stayed pretty much the same.  I guess I'm also a big enough of a supporter of emergent orders to want to see a league somewhere try and make some modifications and let the fans judge how they work, rather than just assuming that all adaptation will be disadvantageous.

( * "The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers; it has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.")

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Aditi Kinkhabwala and Scott Cacciola argue that the mess of college football that results from the conference and BCS systems should be resolved by adopting a system of relegation and promotion like the English Premier League does.    I've thought that was a good idea for a while.  120 teams is just too many to have in Division 1-A. (Or the "Football Bowl Subdivision," if you insist.)  Kinkhabwala and Cacciola's idea about making 4 regional superconferences is less appealing to me.

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