A Solution to Penalties

Some academics have written a paper (membership required; here’s the abstract) on an interesting idea: hold the shootout after a tie game before the period of extra time instead of at the end of the game.  They speculate that by determining the shootout’s results earlier, one team will be forces to play more offensively during extra time instead of both teams playing tentatively, increasing the probability of one team scoring during the period of extra time by 45-60% .

I like the creative thinking here, but I don’t know if it will work for two reasons:

1) Would stopping the sequence of active playing to hold the shootout, which takes about 10-15 minutes, kill the momentum of game when the extra time eventually resumes?  I can see players getting out of rhythm and muscles tightening, which would have an adverse effect on the quality of the play.

2) Would this also diminish the spectator experience by stripping the shootout of its drama?  That is, would it merely become a dull interlude before extra-time commenced, causing television viewers to jump ship?  It would be like if the NBA, in order to improve the flow of its game, waited until the end of the quarter or the half to hold all of the free throws incurred during the previous period.  It might improve the overall quality of the active action, but would people want to watch it?

Last point: I think its important that the authors point out that the “theoretical model shows that since the effect of this rule change is ambiguous in theory, the proposal’s desirability needs to be assessed empirically.”  One of the benefits of soccer having so many leagues around the world is that FIFA could potentially pay a lesser league to adopt this rule change in order to test it without diminishing its top-level product.  After all, MLS tested out an alternative shootout method modeled on ice hockey’s model, in which the offensive player dribbles up to goal before shooting, and it supposedly attracted a lot of admirers in Europe.  MLs ultimately ditched it to fall in line with international soccer standards, which I think was a good decision to signal to everyone that MLS is a serious league, but I still like the idea of experimentation at the lower level.



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