Conflicting incentives on rule changes

FIFA/IFAB is issuing a new set of rewritten rules for soccer with significant new interpretations effective this summer.  Most of them make a good deal of sense but there are two rules that independently make sense but are in conflict with each other when we consider the trend in rule and interpretation changes over the past generation.  The major rule and interpretation changes before this round were focused on a few themes: dealing with electronics, maximizing revenue opportunities from sponsorship and tilting the run of play towards more goal scoring and offensive opportunities.

The last one is critical.  Over the past twenty years, referees have been told to allow for more advantage, to wait and see and to crack down on cynical midfield fouls that disrupt potential attacks.  Assistant referees have been told that the interpretation for offsides is tighter and tighter so that balls that miss an offensive player’s body by inches are still legal and play-able balls for the attack.  We’ve been told repeatedly that close and ties go to the offense.  The objective is to produce a few more attacks and make the defense more cautious in how often and how aggressively they step so that the field is a bit more open.

And now we get two major rule changes.

From ESPN:

Offside inconsistency

Elleray: “Part of the law book says when players commit an offside offense, you give a free kick where the offense occurred. The other part of the law book says you give a free kick where the player was when he was in the offside position. So a player can actually move 20 yards from being in an offside position … and it’s only the moment he plays the ball that he is penalized. The law tells you to give the free kick in two different places.

“So in future, the free kick will always be given where he commits the offside offense, even if he’s in his own half, because you cannot be in an offside position in your own half, but you can go back into your own half to commit an offside offense.”


From the Third Team:

“Where a player commits an offence within his own penalty area which denies an opponent an obvious goal scoring opportunity and the referee awards a penalty kick, the offending player should be cautioned [with a yellow card] unless:

– The offence is holding, pulling or pushing OR

– The offending player does not attempt to play the ball OR there is no possibility to play the ball OR

– The offence is one which is punishable by a red card wherever it occurs on the field of play (e.g. SFP, VC).

In all the above circumstances the player should be dismissed [with a red card] from the field of play.”

Why are these rule changes in opposition to each other?

The offside interpretation can allow for a defensive restart on their opponent’s half of the field. That is true. However as a practical basis, the defense may occassionally gain ten to fifteen yards worth of space but they are still in the middle third of the field. The more likely scenario is that a defense is holding a medium to high line and catch a forward offside. The forward touches the ball or becomes actively involved in play thirty yards from goal but the second to last defender was forty five yards from goal at the moment of the last legal attacking touch. Under current rules, the restart is forty five yards from goal. Under the new rule, the restart is thirty yards from goal. The cost of an offside offense goes down so we should see more attackers push forward and risk the flag. This is an offense enabling change.

However the removal of an automatic DOGSO red card is a massive defensively enabling rule change. The cost of cynical fouls that chop an attacker and stop an attack has gone down significantly. A penalty kick is only a 65% chance of goal at the professional level and it varies all over the place at lower levels of play. Smart defenders will accept a yellow card and a penalty kick when they just got beat bad in the box far more readily than they would accept a red card and a penalty kick. The cost of the foul has gone down dramatically.

We’re going to have a lot more tackles that look like this in the box destroying promising attacks:

SPA or DOGSO? (Doue) from The Third Team – Channel 1 on Vimeo.

21 replies
  1. 1
    dedc79 says:

    Still waiting on the rule that effectively prohibits the exchange of briefcases full of cash for favorable results.

    Meanwhile, re this:

    This is an offense enabling change.

    I disagree. Offsides is much more about losing possession than it is about field position. When you’re talking about free kicks taking place on the defensive side of the field, it doesn’t much matter whether it’s 20 yards from goal or 40 yards from goal.

  2. 2
    Dadadadadadada says:

    OT: NPR just reported that the Feds won’t be releasing the list of unindicted co-conspirators in the Bridgegate affair because someone whose name is on the list made a motion last night to keep the list secret, claiming that the release of his/her name would cause “immediate and irreparable reputational harm”.
    tl;dr: Chris Christie. It’s Christie. It was always Christie.

  3. 3
    superfly says:

    Don’t have a problem with the DOGSO change, gives the ref some discretion instead of requiring him or her to send someone off for being half a second late on a legitimate attempt to tackle, just because it was in the box.

    The example video could have gone either way for me, defender was relatively even with the attacker, though “behind” him in relation to the ball, he went to ground, missed the ball by a little, and fouled him, I would have given yellow (not a ref, just a former rec player), but wouldn’t have been surprised if you gave a red, you picked an excellent video to “argue” about.

    Quick Google search says penalties are converted at closer to 76% in the big 5 pro leagues of Europe.

  4. 4
    Amir Khalid says:

    I don’t see the change of prescribed penalty for DOGSO in the penalty area, from automatic red to red only in specified circumstances, as contradicting the pro-attack intent of the change in the offside rule. It addresses a quite different problem: the unfairness of meting out three penalties for just the one defensive misdeed. I suppose the defender will be happy to take a yellow card rather than a red and a suspension for his next match. But there is still going to be a penalty, so the attacking side are not any better compensated for the foul.

  5. 5

    @dedc79: Agreed that possession is much more valuable than position but position does matter. If it did not, players would not try to steal 10 yards on every throw-in, players would not sneak creep free kicks forward an extra five yards. It is a marginal change in the cost of a violation, and it is a marginal decrease in the cost of a violation.

  6. 6
    jon says:

    Encouraging more scoring would be nice, but more yellows instead of reds in the penalty area certainly isn’t going to make a positive difference. The problem with scoring would better be solved by removing twenty yards of real estate in the middle to shorten the field. Of course that’s the non-starter to not start all non-starts. Maybe institute a five-minute suspension for yellow cards to make them cost a bit more?

  7. 7

    @Amir Khalid: The point of the triple-jeopardy of the automatic red is to inflict a predictable and very high cost to Oh Shit fouls. The team gives up a .65 to .75 probability of a goal (if it truly was an Oh Shit foul, the non-fouled probability of goal is at least that high) and then plays down for the remainder of the game which significantly decreases the win probability (assuming equally skilled teams etc) and then has to deal with a shorter bench next week. It is a very severe sanction for a game critical foul.

    Now that an Oh-Shit foul if done with the feet and relatively “cleanly” the team is still giving up a probability of goal on the PK and that is it. They’ll trade a yellow card for a chance of the keeper making a great save or seeing a shank when the alternative was an in the box obvious goal scoring opportunity. The foul is much cheaper now.

    It is still a DOGSO red outside of the box for the same type of relatively clean but cynical foul. It is a trade of the red for a PK….

  8. 8

    @jon: Making the field 100 yards long instead of the full 120 yards will slow scoring down even more as long as there are 11 players on each side. The player density goes up and the amount of ground that the defense has to cover is significantly less. The midfield will get clogged so the offense will have a hard time to dislocate defenders by ball movement and non-possessive runs to create playable open space.

    A bigger field with the same number of players would create more scoring changes compared to a smaller field IMO.

  9. 9
    Amir Khalid says:

    @Richard Mayhew:

    The point of the triple-jeopardy of the automatic red is to inflict a predictable and very high cost to Oh Shit fouls.

    It seems to me that this is the very point on which IFAB has had a change of heart.

  10. 10
    jon says:

    I always thought a good overtime rule would be to dismiss one player every two or three minutes or so, but how to accomplish that in a sport without clocks would be a difficult thing to implement. And to discourage crowding, make three or four players on each team ineligible to go past the center. Purists would howl, but doesn’t that always happen anyway?

    Really just spitballing suggestions, but thanks for the response.

  11. 11
    Amir Khalid says:


    And to discourage crowding, make three or four players on each team ineligible to go past the center.

    If not allowed farther forwards than the centre line, these players would just crowd their own half, and even their penalty area, in effect parking the bus.

  12. 12
    dedc79 says:

    @Richard Mayhew: I hear you, but the range on a free kick is so much longer than on a throw-in.

  13. 13
    Rommie says:

    Is the change to the yellow-card penalty perhaps because refs (in high-level competition) were reluctant to call penalties on borderline calls? In other words, it is easier to blow your whistle when you can go to the yellow card, rather than red or nothing?

  14. 14
    scav says:

    Would this conceivably be somewhat on topic? Gianni Infantino names Fatma Samoura as Fifa’s first female secretary general Don’t know half enough about FIFA to know how grumpy certain of the usual suspects might get.

  15. 15
    daveNYC says:

    @jon: My personal windmill for soccer rule changes is full on open subs. Like hockey, keep fresh bodies out there and the energy level up.

  16. 16
    cmorenc says:

    Regarding the offside rule, the rule remains that it is not any violation of the rule to merely be in an offside position – and no offense occurs until a player becomes actively involved in play. With respect to a violation that occurs in a player’s own half because he was in an offside position in the opponent’s half when the ball was last played by an opponent or touched by his teammate – no violation can occur until the ball comes close enough to the player coming from an offside position that he either touches it or else interferes with an opponent’s ability to play it. To the extent there may be conflicting language about the location of the restart – the pair of fundamental offside principles that there is no violation merely from being in an offside position, and there is also no violation until the point where a player becomes actively involved – should clearly trump any purported inconsistent language.

  17. 17
    cmorenc says:

    IMHO the two best upcoming rule changes are:
    1) The kick-off (whether to start a half or after a goal) can now be in any direction, just like free kicks anywhere else – including the common backward-to-a-midfielder, without requiring the artifice of the kicker making a small tap forward to a teammate who then kicks it backward.

    2) When physical contact that would have been a foul had it occurred within the field boundaries happens just off the field as the result of a natural continuation of play on the field – formerly no foul could be called because fouls could only occur within the field of play (i.e. within the boundary lines). Refs could only sanction the just-off-the-field contact if s/he judged it to rise to the level of misconduct (yellow or red card), but could not cal a foul. Under the change, refs can now call the foul (even if below the level of a cardable offense) and the free kick is from the closest point along the nearest boundary line.

    The old rule was a classic example of consistency sometimes being a hobgoblin of rule-makers’ minds.

  18. 18

    @cmorenc: agreed, most of the changes make a lot of sense and remove odd edge cases and injustices (a punch may or may not be a Pk depending on location of the puncher)

  19. 19
    Robby-D says:

    @Richard Mayhew: A little off-topic, but was waiting for you to post Richard to ask your opinion of the “collision” leading to a Kudo’s broken jaw in the recent Chicago/Vancouver match.

    Video (caution, very violent collision, not for the weak of heart):

    There are other videos showing closer views, but warning it’s quite graphic. I’m curious – it looks to me like the keeper deliberately drives a shoulder or elbow (or perhaps both) straight to the head of the striker. Or is this a more benign collision? It is entirely possible this could have led to death, especially in light of some of the one-punch “murders” (manslaughter?) we’ve seen globally. Do you think this deserves a card or supplemental discipline?

  20. 20

    @Robby-D: I need a better angle but looking at where the keeper’s eyes were, this was not a red card challenge. It’s a contact sport especially in the box

  21. 21
    Soccer-dude says:

    As a sometime referee and coach for youth soccer, I look forward to your posts in this topic. Thank you for taking the time to relate these stories and analysis. Much enjoyed and educational as well.

    Here is a hypothetical for you:

    Toward the end of a small-sided youth soccer match, the coach of a team losing the match motions the goalkeeper over after the ball advances to the team’s offensive half of the field. The goalkeeper comes over, removing the goalkeeper shirt in the process. Now, without the goalkeeper shirt, which is off the field, but only wearing a normal jersey that was underneath, the goalkeeper joins the attack in the team’s offensive half of the field.

    To use the classic test question format: What is the violation and what is the restart? More generally, what do you do with a ridiculous situation like this? What are the consequences in this situation?

    Any thoughts are appreciated.

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