Why Do Soccer Players Dive So Much

Dear Sports Fan,

I hate to take your lofty discussions into the gutter, but I have to know: why do soccer players fake fouls so much?!

Sincerely,
Russ


 

Dear Russ,

Thanks for your question and your concern over the tone of our discussions here. Faking being fouled in Soccer is officially known as “simulation” but commonly referred to as diving. It’s rampant. Players dive in absolutely every sport where there are fouls[1] but you’re right that it seems most frequent and visible in soccer.

Diving is in the news right now because there was a very silly and very obvious dive in the fantastic Women’s World Cup Quarterfinal match between the United States and Brazil. The U.S. women were down a goal and down a man[2] with only a minute left in the overtime period. After almost 45 minutes of playing with one fewer player on the field, the U.S. team was still pressing the Brazilians. Some normal soccer stuff happened and then all of a sudden, like she had been shot by a sniper, number 13 on the Brazilian team, Erika, crumpled to the ground. She lay there for a while and was eventually taken off on a stretcher. As soon as her stretcher reached the sideline, she hopped off it and ran onto the field as soon as she could get the ref’s permission. The ref, offended by her chicanery gave her a yellow card.[3]

There are three things about soccer that contribute to it being the worlds diviest sport. First, the official time is kept only by the referee on his or her watch. The ref can stop the clock at his discretion for things like injuries, etc. but it is at his discretion… so, there’s a chance that you actually will kill some time by pretending to be injured unlike football or basketball where the clock is managed by sideline officials along strict rules and visible to everyone in the stadiums. One of the reasons (at least that I’ve always heard) for soccer working this way is that if the crowd knew exactly when the game was going to end then there would be riots.

As you might imagine from the way the time is managed, the soccer ref has an enormous amount of power over the game. And unlike many other sports, he or she is pretty much alone in that power. There are two refs in hockey, three in basketball, and lots in baseball and football but only one in soccer. With one ref policing 22 players, it’s much easier to fool him.

The last factor that I think encourages diving is the usually very low scores in a soccer game. Most soccer games are decided by a goal or two. This swings the risk/reward factors way in favor of deceit. The ref in the U.S. v. Brazil game, as bad as she was, was unusual and admirable for punishing that dive with a yellow card. The in-game consequences are usually limited to some whistles[4] from the crowd.

Hopefully this helps explain diving in soccer. For your enjoyment, here is a video of some absurd diving in soccer games:

The next game in the U.S. Women’s National team’s attempt to win the world cup is tomorrow, Wednesday July 13 at 11:30 on ESPN. Go USA!

Ezra Fischer

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Does this exclude competitive diving? If so, does the world turn in on itself and implode?
  2. I know what you’re thinking, but the women themselves repeatedly used that phrase in post-game interviews.
  3. Two yellow cards get you kicked out of the game.
  4. international for “boo”

Why do Sports Have Seasons?

Dear Sports Fan,

Why are sports played during certain seasons?

Thanks,
Jill


 

Dear Jill,

That’s an interesting question. Oddly enough I could find barely any answer for your question online. So… I’ll just have to make up an answer.

Sports seasons once made sense because the weather fit the sport. Football was played in the fall because it’s best played on cool, crisp autumn days. Playing football in the summer would be tortuous and dangerous for players running around in what basically amounted to heavy leather armor. Baseball cannot be played in the winter and because the season is so long and games have to be canceled on even the hint of rain, it’s important to get started as soon as spring begins to spring. Hockey is played on ice so… winter seems like a natural time for it especially in the days before super-powerful air-conditioners made it feasible to play hockey in South Florida and Texas. Since real Americans don’t play hockey, they needed something else to play in the winter. Enter Basketball, a sport that could be played in the summer but could be played in the winter!

Everything made some sort of intuitive sense until serious money got injected into sports leagues. With few exceptions, the more games a league scheduled, the longer the season, the more teams made the playoffs and the longer the playoffs were, the more money owners and players and television stations could make. This is where things started getting mushy. In 1960, when the NFL began it had a 12 game regular season. The next year they expanded to 14 games which lasted until 1978 when they added another 2 games. It’s been that way since then although they are now discussing moving to an 18 game season as part of the lockout negotiations. The first Super Bowl was held on Jan 15, 1967. This year’s Super Bowl was on February 6! Similar transformations have happened in the NBA and the NHL. The first NBA championship was on April 22, 1947. The Philadelphia Warriors beat the Chicago Stags. This year’s NBA championship ended on Sunday June 12! The NHL is not far behind. Actually it’s ahead. This year the NHL Finals ended on June 15. That’s not hockey weather!! The first NHL championship was back in 1893 and I can’t figure out the date, but the first modern championship ended on April 19. As for Baseball — the World Series has shifted from October 13 in 1903 to November 1.

Everything used to be better. Now nothing makes any sense. Or so says the grumpy old man…

Thanks for the question,
Ezra Fischer

 

Do Sports Fans Use Sports as a Reward?

Dear Sports Fan,

Do sports fans use watching sports as a reward for doing work? If not how do they ever get anything done?

Confused,
Bette


 

Dear Bette,

That’s a loaded question isn’t it? I don’t use watching sports as a reward for doing work but I’m not big on consciously rewarding myself for behavior. Also I don’t often bring work home with me. I’m sure some people use watching sports as a reward for cleaning a room, working out, or getting some work task done just the same way people use a hershey kiss or a half hour with a magazine or tv show. It’s probably a bit harder to do though because watching sports is one of the few television events that you still want to watch live. So it’s not like you can just watch the sporting event whenever you want once you’re done with a task. Instead, I think most sports fans plan their life around events that they really want to see. Certainly a swath of our culture plans itself around doing not much but watching football every Sunday during the fall. The Super Bowl (or the day after) should be a national holiday. I try to not take on too many after-work commitments during the spring because I know I will want to come home and watch the NBA and NHL playoffs on most days.

There are three other answers to your question some of which contradict each other:

  • We don’t get much done. Being a sports fan requires a lot of time and therefore is really only sustainable if you don’t have a lot to get done. Of course sports fans are sometimes productive members of society but they do seem to find ways to contribute that don’t take all day…
  • We can get stuff done while watching sports. As discussed in a previous post answering the question of why sports fans seem to pick even sports they don’t like over any other entertainment, watching sports doesn’t take your whole attention like watching other television does. Sports fans can usually grade papers, write memos, or (ahem) write blog posts while watching sports.
  • We don’t do anything else. You may think we spend a lot of time watching sports and you’d be right. But you don’t know that we don’t window shop online, garden, read, listen to the radio, clean our houses, cook, bathe regularly, or talk to our families. If the games are really good that day we might stop moving, blinking, eating, or breathing just to be sure we don’t miss anything.

Jokes aside, there is a lot of time floating around out there and I bet if you looked closely you’d be able to add up the time that you use for a few avocations and equal the amount a sports fan spends on sports.

Thanks for the question,
Ezra Fischer

What is More Scary — a Panther or a Tiger?

Dear Sports Fan,

What is more scary —  a panther or a tiger?

Thanks,
Raule


 

Dear Raule,

Technically there doesn’t seem to be a single animal called a panther. Panthera is a genus[1] of cats which includes lions, leopards, jaguars, and tigers. In North America we also use the word panther to refer to the couger or mountain lion so I am going to assume that’s what you mean by panther. The panther is the second largest cat in North America (after the Jaguar, the South American form of Panthera) but it is more genetically akin to house cats than to lions. This shows in the sounds it makes. It cannot roar, but instead “hisses, growls, and purrs, as well as chirps and whistles.” It does not frequently attack humans although when it does it can be a serious problem. Full grown males can be up to 8 feet long and 220 pounds. By comparison, the largest tigers can be up to 11 feet long and weigh in at 660 pounds! They are the solitary animals and unusual for cats, they are strong swimmers that enjoy the water. According to wikipedia, “Although humans are not regular prey for tigers, they have killed more people than any other cat, particularly in areas where population growth, logging, and farming have put pressure on tiger habitats. Most man-eating tigers are old and missing teeth, acquiring a taste for humans because of their inability to capture preferred prey.” This really makes me feel good about our species…

Now in terms of sport, I can only assume that you are referring to the Carolina Panthers (NFL) and the Detroit Tigers (MLB.) The Detroit Tigers are having a pretty good season, having won 47 and lost 42 games so far. If the season ended today they would be half a game[2] out of a playoff spot. The Carolina Panthers on the other hand are spending the summer locked out by their owner. Last season they were by far the worst team in the league, only able to win 2 games out of 16.

A fun game to play is trying to categorize all of the team names in a sport. Take the NFL. You may think there are a lot of cat names, and there are: Bengals, Jaguars, Panthers, and Lions — but there are more birds: Cardinals, Seahawks, Falcons, Ravens, and Eagles. The largest category that I can come up with is wild west: 49ers, Redskins, Cowboys, Broncos, Chiefs, Colts, and Bills. Another category I enjoy is the mythical creature: Titans, Giants, Saints… How about industry? This category has a few teams: Steelers, Packers, 49ers (again,) Cowboys (again,) Raiders, and Jets (maybe.) Fun for the whole family!

Thanks for the[3] question,
Ezra Fischer

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Remember “King Phillip Came Over For Great Sex” — Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.
  2. A game behind in wins, but having played one fewer game than the team they are behind.
  3.  Admittedly weird

Chris Ryan on Relegation

This article by Chris Ryan on Grantland is an exploration of relegation. Relegation is a rule that British soccer leagues have whereby the bottom few teams at the end of each season are actually replaced by the top teams in a secondary league for the next season. The financial benefit/penalty for moving up/down a league is enormous. There’s also a great amount of pride in your favorite team being in the top league. Relegation makes the season exciting not only for the few teams that have a chance to come in first place, but also for the teams that are at risk of being relegated out of the top league. I think it’s genius and I’d love to see some version of it in American sports leagues.

You may ask why seeing teams fall to pieces or make some kind of Icarus-like journey to the sunny climbs of top-flight football (only to again scrap for their league lives) can be as compelling as who wins the Premier League. But think of it as an inverted March Madness; a tournament of desperation and despair where Cinderella’s glass slipper turns out to have an anvil tied to it, dragging teams into the dreaded relegation zone, causing thousands of fans to reach for their Prilosec, lager, and rabbit’s feet.

Sam and Max Kellerman

This is an old story but it’s one of the few that I have kept a physical copy of and moved from one apartment to the next. The death of Sam Kellerman is a tragedy in the old sense of the word and in Gary Smith of Sports Illustrated it found its bard. Be warned: this article is well worth it for its inspiring depiction of familial love, kindness, and breathtaking talent, but it will make you cry. It is sports related only insofar as it has to do with people who play and love sports.

Max began to sharpen his power of reasoning, to strip the sentiment from an argument and make it stand on the legs of logic, knowledge … and will. The dinner table became his workshop. Pick a topic. Any topic. Hakeem Olajuwon, best center in basketball? How can you say he’s better than Patrick Ewing? Didn’t matter what the conventional numbers said; Max unearthed factors that nobody else at the table knew, debated in a way that made you feel he’d already rifled through the closets and drawers of your argument and discarded it. He became an animal of logic. That’s what brother Jack said.

One boy kept entering the animal’s lair. Sam, as a fourth-grader, wrote a story about a monkey in a barrel whose keeper pelted him with numbers–big, heavy ones like 110–until the monkey heaved back a huge one, 1,186, the sum of all the numbers hurled at him, and knocked out the shocked keeper. All the brothers, as sons of a shrink, knew it was a story about Sam and Max. Sam could think and articulate as fast as his big brother, lie in wait listening and then wreak havoc with a reply. Once, debating why man had invented sports, Sam unloaded this haymaker: “Sports is man’s joke on God, Max. You see, God says to man, ‘I’ve created a universe where it seems like everything matters, where you’ll have to grapple with life and death and in the end you’ll die anyway, and it won’t really matter.’ So man says to God, ‘Oh, yeah? Within your universe we’re going to create a sub-universe called sports, one that absolutely doesn’t matter, and we’ll follow everything that happens in it as if it were life and death.'” Which delighted Max, because he craved a foil, someone who would compel him to hurl ever bigger and heavier numbers.

What's a Down in Football? I've Been Pretending to Know but I Don't!

Dear Sports Fan,

What’s a first down? How is it different from a 2nd down? And how many downs can you have? I’ve been pretending to understand football for years but i really have no idea.

Thanks,
Julia


Dear Julia,

Admittance is the first step and we are very proud of you for admitting that you don’t know what a down in football is. You are not alone — many people don’t! If you keep reading, by the end of this short blog post, you should be able to understand and explain the concept of a down!

When you are watching football you will often hear or see the phrase N Down and X.

  • N can be either First, Second, Third, or Fourth.
  • X can be any number from “inches” to 99 although it is normally between 10 and 0.

When a team gets the ball in football, they start out each possession with four chances to do something. Each chance (N) is equivalent to one play.

  • First down = Four chances left
  • Second down = Three chances left
  • Third down = Two chances left
  • Fourth down = Last chance!

If a team is successful in meeting their goal during any one of the downs, they get a brand new set of downs (four chances, not four new ones plus however many remained from their last set) and the pattern starts over.

You may be wondering what the goal is — the goal is to move the ball past an invisible[1] line which starts out 10 yards from where the ball is placed to start out on first down. This goal is expressed (X) as the number of yards between where the ball is now and where your team needs to get it to earn a new set of four downs.

  • First down and 10 = Four chances left to move the ball 10 yards
  • Third down and 2 = Two chances left to move the ball 2 yards
  • Second down and 18 = Three chances left to move the ball 18 yards[2]

The last wrinkle to learn is not about rules, but about strategy. Although it is totally legal to use all four downs to try to matriculate[3] the ball towards the yellow line, usually teams only try for their first three downs. Remember that if the team tries to move the ball past the line on fourth down and fails, the other team gets the ball right there. So, on fourth down teams will either punt the ball (conceding that the other team will get possession of the ball, but attempting to make them start from way on their side of the field) or try to kick a field goal (three points for the good guys) if they are close enough to try. In effect, this means the while First down = Four chances, normally only the first three of these “count.” On rare occasions, a team will chose to use their last chance to actually try to move the ball past the line. This is called “going for it on fourth” and is extremely exciting.

Now you won’t need to pretend anymore![4] Keep the questions coming,
Ezra Fischer

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Although it’s not invisible anymore when you watch football on TV. Thanks to some work by Princeton Video Tech (Astle family represent!) the line your team is aiming at now shows up as a yellow line superimposed onto the screen.
  2. Also it means that something pretty bad/stupid happened on first down.
  3. This is one of those strange words that only seems to exist in higher education and football.
  4. Although if you still have questions, please leave a comment on this post and we will try to do some better explaining!

Why Will Sports Fans Watch Any and All Sports?

Dear Sports Fan,

I feel like personal preference exists in all forms of entertainment. How is it that sports fans will choose any sport over anything else, even when the other option is something they like and the sport is one they don’t?

Confused and a little frustrated,
Sarah


 

Dear Sarah,

What a great question! This is a great point about sports fans. Many of us watch an enormous array of sports often at the expense of other forms of entertainment. It is apropos for me to try to answer this on the Fourth of July, a day when each and every year I find myself horrified and fascinated but glued to the television for the annual hot dog eating contest on Coney Island. Why do I do this? It’s really, really gross but I suppose I watch it for many of the reasons I watch other sporting events:

  • Competition — No matter how good an episode of 30 Rock at the end there is no winner and no loser. Err… I guess usually Jack Donaghy wins and Liz Lemon loses, but you know what I mean. The natural tension of sports does come from competition. Even when I don’t really care which team wins, it’s clear that the competitors care and that passion is contagious.
  • Habit/Cross-Promotion — Okay, you got us, a lot of the time a sports fan will be watching sports out of sheer habitual inertia. You get used to getting home and turning ESPN on. When the best thing that’s on is a college lacrosse… so what, it’s still something to watch. There is a limit though, and every fan has a different line. For me it’s usually somewhere around golf or baseball; for others it may be soccer or women’s basketball. ESPN and other sports channels have an interest in pushing that line back so that it includes as many of its programming hours as possible. To that end they have gotten really, really good at promotion. Their pitch is usually effective and it centers around the next of our reasons…
  • Potential for Memorableness — In the long-run, one of the payoffs for being a faithful watcher of sports is that you will be watching when some really crazy things happen. Most people turned the Monday Night Football game off on October 23, 2000 when after 3 quarters the Miami Dolphins were up 30 to 7. But, like you noticed — some sports fans favor even the most seemingly meaningless, settled sports game over other forms of entertainment. I kept watching the game. Sure enough, the Jets came back in the fourth quarter and ended up winning the game 40 to 37! It’s games like this that contribute to us leaving the game on the tv no matter what.
  • Strategy — Most sports, especially team sports, share certain elements of strategy that are immediately recognizable. If you are a big soccer fan then watching a basketball game will be familiar because of the fluid passing of a good point guard. A hockey fan may not love that football keeps stopping all the time, but a good solid hit is a universal. Even more unusual sports, like water polo or cycling often have recognizable strategies if you are a fan of other sports; and part of the fun is the translation.
  • We’re not REALLY watching — Watching sports, unless it’s a particularly important game (defined as involving your favorite team OR in the playoffs) doesn’t require as much attention as other forms of entertainment. I can read the newspaper, write a blog entry, clean my apartment, organize my life (ha ha) while I watch a basketball game but if I’m watching an episode of The Sopranos or Boston Legal or even Chopped, I feel like I have to be more fully attentive.

I hope I’ve been able to answer your question. I’m off to watch the hot dog eating contest although I will probably switch back and forth to Versus’ coverage of the Tour de France. Later on there’s some international Under-17 Year-old soccer.

Happy Fourth of July!
Ezra Fischer

Why Don't Coaches Wear Suits Anymore?

Dear Sports Fan,

Why is it that when I look at classic footage the coaches are always wearing suits, but now they all look like models for sports authority?

Thanks Pat


 

Dear Pat,

On this issue, football’s no different than any other area of American business – forty years ago you couldn’t picture businessmen wearing anything other than a suit, even to sleep. Now, Mark Zuckerberg proudly states that he never wore a suit until he met the President.

The worst sideline dresser in the NFL is Bill Belichick, the Mark Zuckerberg of professional football. He’s the New England Patriots coach who looks like he should be holding a sign asking you for change…and is also widely acknowledged as the most brilliant coach of this era. Now, he’s partly a mad scientist, which is why he can get away with wearing cut-off sweatshirts (yes, they exist,) but if you’re a coach and you see the guy dominating your profession wearing pajamas to work, why the heck would you dress up in a suit?

There’s no doubt that it’s impressive to see Tom Landry, the legendary Cowboys coach,  striding along the sidelines in a sharp suit and a fedora, barking out orders. And I have no doubt that more coaches will come along and, as part of their persona, decide they want to look sharp on the sidelines – so the suit’s not gone forever — but if you give people the choice between dressing formally or dressing in Nike or dressing in Brooks Brothers, 95 percent of the time they’re going to take the tracksuit every time. That’s science.

Thanks for your question,
Dean Russell Bell

[Editors note: Hockey coaches still wear suits. Another of the many reasons it’s the best sport around. EF]

How do People Choose Teams to Root For?

Dear Sports Fan,

How do people choose a team to root for?

Thanks,
Meng


 

Dear Meng,

That’s a great question! It must seem somewhat unclear, especially in a big city like New York where there are many people from all over the country and world and where there are multiple local teams in most sports. I’ll do my best to break this down for you:

Primary Reasons:

  • Heredity — If you are a child of sports fans, they start indoctrinating you at an early age. There’s baby clothing, hats, and pennants. They take you to games, which is fun for any number of reasons that don’t involve sports but which gets associated in your mind with the home team. You learn to not bother Daddy and Mommy while they are watching their favorite team and that if you are in the room, you have to root with them!
  • Location — Most places in the country have a clear regional alliance with a set of sports teams. If you grow up in Western Pennsylvania you root for the Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates. If you grow up in Utah, you’re going to root for the Jazz. If you grow up in New Orleans, you are a Saints and Hornets fan. Why? Because they are the only games in town!

Heredity and Location probably account for 80% of all the sports allegiances. But, there are always oddballs like me whose parents didn’t have any strong allegiances (except to the Brooklyn Dodgers, but that’s another story…) and who grew up in an area like Central New Jersey where there were no clear home teams in some sports. When that happens, people tend to fall back on…

Secondary Reasons:

  • Style — It is rare, but sometimes a team will play with such panache that their actual play attracts fans. Even more rare is a team that plays so poorly that they repel fans. This was the case with my favorite hockey team. I started watching Hockey seriously in 1993-94 and even though I was from New Jersey, I quickly decided that I could not in good conscience root for the New Jersey Devils. Their strategy in those days was to compensate for their lack of skill by playing a rigidly disciplined, passive, and defensive style of hockey that involved negating their opponents skill by hanging onto their shirts the whole game… meanwhile, over in Pittsburgh, the Penguins were playing a wide open, offensive game. They tried to beat you 9-8 instead of 1-0. They were fun to watch and I soon became a fan. Other examples of teams whose style could have attracted fans are the Philadelphia Flyers on the 1970s (they beat their opponents bloody,) the Dutch national soccer team of the late 60s and early 70s who pioneered the “Total Football” style, or the Brazilian national soccer team of the… well… just about anytime…
  • Bandwagon — Sometimes it’s not about how a team plays, but how well they do. Most people enjoy rooting for a winning team, so winning teams tend to have more fans. There was a pretty cool article about this the other day on The Big Lead that showed that Super Bowl winning football teams see a 4% increase in fans identifying them as their favorite team in the year after they win. If you know someone who is a Lakers, Yankees, and Cowboys fan, this is probably why.[1]
  • College — This one is pretty straight forward. When it comes to College sports most people root for their Alma Mater. Go Rutgers!
  • Friendship — When you watch sports with a good friend, as long as it doesn’t go against your own favorite teams, you begin to pull for the teams they root for. Over time, these topical rooting experiences add up. If you don’t have a favorite curling, swimming, or netball team, maybe you adopt theirs.
  • Video Games — Believe it or not, I think a lot of people root for teams at least in part because they enjoyed playing as them in a video game. Sports video games are a great way to get into a sport that you’re not familiar with and while playing them you do develop a relationship with the team you most often play as.

Hope this answered your question,
Ezra Fischer

 

 

 

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Also stop being friends with them.