What is Being Offside?

Dear Sports Fan,

What is being offside and why does it cause so much screaming in the bar next-door?

Thanks,
Max


 

Dear Max

Offside rules are about time and space. They are about a line, an event and an order. Although they are probably the most misunderstood, most shouted about, most infuriating rules in sports, they are deceptively simple. Offside rules exist in most of the most-watched sports in the world. Offside is the rule in soccer; it has caused more bloodshed than many major border conflicts or minor religions. It is an important part of hockey, can mean the difference between winning and losing in football, and although it is disguised in basketball, it still has major implications. If you understand the role being offside plays in all of these sports, you will understand a lot about the nature of each game.

In every sport, being offside means that a player is in a position he or she shouldn’t be in when a particular event happens. I’ll repeat it: being offside means that a player is in a position he or she shouldn’t be in when a particular event happens. That’s it. That’s the whole thing. You’ve got it! Now all we need to do is fill in the where and the when.

Hockey
Where: If the player is in the offensive zone; the area between the blue line closest to the goal his team is trying to score on and the boards…
When: The puck is moved from outside this area into this area…
HE IS OFFSIDE!

Soccer
Where: If the player is closer to the goal she is trying to score on than fewer than two players of the opposing team…
When: The ball leaves the foot of a player on her team who intends to pass her the ball…
SHE IS OFFSIDE!

Football
Where: If a player on defense[1] moves across the line of scrimmage (an imaginary line across the field of play where the ball is placed before a play starts…)
When: Before the ball is snapped to start the play…
HE IS OFFSIDE (If the player touches another player on the other team, this is called “encroachment” which is much more fun to say than offside.)

Basketball
Where: If a player is on the side of the court that she is trying to defend…
When: When she has the ball for more than eight seconds after her team initially gains possession of it…
SHE IS OFFSIDE (This is called the “eight-second rule.”)

Where: If a player dribbles the ball on the side of the court that he is trying to defend…
When: After his team has had the ball on the side of the court that they are trying to score on…
HE IS OFFSIDE (This is called a “back-court violation.”)

Notice how the way the offside rule is written seems to suggest something about the game? The soccer rule favors the defense in a big way — if a player can’t pass to one of his teammates unless he has at least two defenders between his teammate and the goal, why are we surprised that there isn’t more scoring? The hockey rule also favors the defense, just a little less. Note how the rule makes it so that if a defender can clear the puck from his third of the ice into the middle third, the other team’s offense needs to totally reset by leaving the offensive zone. Basketball, on the other hand, seems to require offense. If a player cannot stay on her side for more than eight seconds, she’s going to be forced to get her team in a position to score, isn’t she?

See how simple the offside rules can be? What other questions do you have?

Thanks,
Ezra Fischer

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Before a play starts, only one offensive player is allowed to move at once. If any of the big guys in a row even flinch, they are called for a “false start” which is more or less an offside rule.

A Riot in Vancouver? What is Wrong with you People?

Dear Sports Fan,
Why did the Vancouver fans riot? What is wrong with you people?
Paul

Dear Paul,
There’s an answer specific to this situation and a more general answer – the specific answer deserves a few hundred words of its own, and it has to do with the fact that Canada brings nothing to the table other than hockey, and no one feels this more acutely than Canadians themselves – so when something doesn’t go their way on the ice they load up on the LaBatt Blue, and watch out.

The general answer has to do with the nature of live sports. Going to a live sporting event is one of the most exhilarating experiences you can have. There are very few times in life you’ll be surrounded by tens of thousands of people all of whom share one common desire (in this case, for your team to win)– and when you think about the other times that happens, you realize how uplifting it can be. Concerts, political rallies – being around that many people who are all riding the same emotional roller-coaster at the same exact time can be an incredibly uplifting[1] and fun experience. The exhilaration is literally contagious, especially if you win – and even if you lose, the feeling of having taken a journey with 20,000 people is not something we experience every day.

But that same sense of exhilaration has a flip-side – once emotions start to turn, the negative feelings can be just as contagious and just as strong. It never infects the whole crowd – that’s why you see hundreds of people rioting after games, even though tens of thousands of people were actually there  – but all it takes is a few belligerent people (either violently angry at the loss, or violently happy at a win –these people are clearly not the picture of mental health, nor are they typical of fans) doing something stupid, a few people watching and getting ideas and no one trying to stop them, and soon enough couches are on fire and police are wondering how many rubber bullets it takes to bring down a rowdy West Virginian who weighs 285 pounds and is approximately 75% alcohol by volume.

Oh yeah. That’s the other thing: it’s safe to say the average blood alcohol level of a post-game rioter is exponentially higher than the level that would kill an ordinary person. They’re the same people who drink a fifth by themselves at home, then go outside and light stuff on fire in their backyard. Here, they just happen to be doing it in the middle of the street.

The bottom line: the pros of going to a live sporting event far outweigh the cons. Riots happen once in a blue moon, and nothing helps you appreciate your sports fan’s seemingly irrational exuberance like getting caught up in the communal euphoria of a live sporting event.[2]

Sincerely,
Dean Russell Bell

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Using the word “uplifting” twice in three lines? who am I, Oprah?
  2. This does not apply to soccer games in Europe. If you are choosing a first live sporting event to attend, don’t start with European soccer – build to it, but don’t start with it. It is the double black diamond of sporting events, complete with moguls, ice, a completely vertical drop and 9-year olds rocketing down the trail around you wrapped in Kevlar jackets, titanium helmets and their own sense of invincibility. If you like taking your life into your own hands – and if you enjoy a smattering of racism (depending on where you go) – by all means, rock out with the hooligans. Otherwise, do yourself a favor and start on the bunny slope: baseball or basketball.