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Friday, July 07, 2006

Northwestern's new coach is Pat Fitzgerald -- yes, that Pat Fitzgerald, the one who spearheaded the Wildcat defense during their improbable '94 Rose Bowl run. He's all of 31, the youngest coach in D-I.

Hate crime! Hate crime! Prepare for more boarding calls at Yost this fall, as the NCAA has re-affirmed its commitment to making even the slightest brush along the glass a five minute major and game misconduct. The NCAA Ice Hockey Rules Committee was undeterred by the frustrating results of that decision last year, which saw games won or lost based on how many innocous bumps were adjudged mortal sins. By the end of the year boarding, cross-checking, and charging penalties were all the rage as referees desperately tried to skirt the intent of the law. Despite the awkard-to-infuriating results, the "point of emphasis" returns to plague us anon.

There is no rationale behind this save-the-children hand-wringing. The NCAA's sudden interest in those little stop signs youth players wear stems from one incident in which North Dakota's Robbie Bina was sent to the hospital after an ugly hit from DU's Jeff Paukovich. Paukovich got two minutes; the NCAA flipped out and ruined dozens of games the next year because of a single incident, tragic though it may be. The same reasoning-type substance caused goofy, vision-obstructing nets to sprout over hockey rinks across the nation because of a girl's death at a Columbus Blue Jackets game. The NHL decided that 100 years of not killing their fans was a total fluke -- the girl had a rare condition that made her susceptible to head trauma -- and overreacted. These things are undoubtedly tragic but that doesn't make them statistically significant. I'm sure that sounds cold, but Bina's injury is the only serious one I can remember in the eight years I've followed NCAA hockey and the hit that caused it was so flagrantly illegal that any competent referee would have booted Paukovich immediately without needing a reminder from points of emphasis. Instead of reprimanding and possibly spanking that ref, the NCAA lowers the standard for dismissal to levels approaching self-parody. I only wish I could feign surprise.

One bit of good news: linesmen will wave off icing that results when an attempted pass does not connect, cutting down on stoppages in play.

All hail the geniuses of SI ... er... for Kids, who rank Michigan #2 in the country for reasons obscure. Michigan Sports Center is confused.

With the World Cup reaching its end, it's time for a bunch of posts about improving soccer. This year's edicion del mundial is running short on goals: the worst output since 1990, another cup that spurred rules changes. Some blame the ball. Others get the tinkering hat out. The Sports Economist has not one but two suggestion posts; Braves & Birds chips in a set; I've got mine:

  • No more yellow cards for time wasting. Just add two minutes of stoppage time for every incident.
  • Slightly relax offsides by allowing the offensive player to be past the defender as long as some part of his body overlaps, sort of like the blue line in hockey.
  • (Maybe) remove offsides entirely once the ball enters the box.
  • Players who are stretchered off must remain off the field for five minutes unless they were fouled.
  • Review game tape and harshly sanction divers after the play is over, as Steve Wilson suggests.
  • Allow the referees some discretion on fouls in the box. The all-or-nothing nature of the penalty kick causes referees to swallow their whistle in marginal cases and thus permits defenders to get away with actions that are fouls anywhere else on the field. I'm not sure what form the foul-that's-not-a-PK would take but it could just be a regular DFK from the spot of the foul -- dangerous but not 80-90% of a goal.
PKs are deadly to attractive attacking soccer. The referee's reluctance to impose them allows defenders to use illegal tactics to prevent attacks. The illegal tactics makes scoring from the run of play difficult, causing offensive players to swan dive like mad. The rampant flopping in soccer is not due to the character defects of swarthy Europeans but rather to a cost/benefit analysis that usually comes out in favor of acrobatic falls.