William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

The Joy Of Unknowns In World Cup; Updates

Sports hipsters like to say f-oo-ou-t ball.

Slaughterhouse Five

Five brave individuals, strong and true, have thus far ponied up to be killed off in one of my award-eligible Mini Plays. Strike that: four deaths and one dismemberment.

Inspired by George RR Martin’s proposal to accept $20,000 from each fan who would like to meet a “grisly death” in his next book, I offered the same service for readers on this blog for only $10, a substantial discount. Full details may be had here.

As promised, here’s what will happen. Tomorrow starts my two-week isolation in Ithaca, where I’ll teach nine to five daily. I won’t have much time to write the play until this ordeal ends. Tentatively, then, the play will run on Saturday, 5 July. This is far speedier than Martin can do. More information will be provided as we move along.

Meanwhile, there is still time to get in on the fun. Sign up for immortality, literarily speaking, today!

Batman &

All I could bring to mind after Spain’s character-building exercise was the old phrase, “If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much.”

Goal-line Technology

ESPN invented “Goal-line Technology” for the World Cup. A solid white on solid blue graphic, a cartoon resembling the 1970s game of Pong, that shows the audience that the ball has, as the audience a moment ago saw with its own eyes, indeed crossed the goal line. There is the ball resting on the white line in the blue background, rotating to show you that something has happened. A computer has confirmed the crossing, therefore the ball really did cross.

GK Chesterton: “I entertain a private suspicion that physical sports were much more really effective and beneficent when they were not taken quite so seriously. One of the first essentials of sport being healthy is that it should be delightful; it is rapidly becoming a false religion with austerities and prostrations.”

He meant instant replay and goal-line “technology.”

Keller Calls ‘Em

Kasey Keller was color-man for the Chile-Australia match. After Chile pulled ahead, Keller opined, “Chile can afford to slow it down.” Minutes later, Australia scored. Keller: “Chile took their foot off the gas.”

If you’re going to flame out, best do it with a cliché. People might not remember it was you.

Too many American announcers sound like self-loving too-serious IRS accountants loudly explaining minute changes to the tax code while strictly limiting themselves to a vocabulary of 100 words.

I watched what games I could on Univision.

Speaking Of Foreknowledge

And also speaking of Chesterton…I recall an article by him, “The Perfect Game”, from his Tremendous Trifles, in which Chesterton engaged a fellow in a game of croquet. After “patting [his opponent] affectionately on the head with a mallet,” he explains to him why a lack of skill enlivens the game.

“[I]t is logically possible, to play croquet too well to enjoy it at all. If you could put this blue ball through that distant hoop as easily as you could pick it up with your hand, then you would not put it through that hoop any more than you pick it up with your hand; it would not be worth doing. If you could play unerringly you would not play at all. The moment the game is perfect the game disappears.”

What is true of the playing, is true of the watching. Once we know the score and highlights of the game—perhaps somebody tells us the result before we get home to watch the recording—there is far less joy in watching it. There is still the artistry to admire, true, but the thrill of anticipation is removed. The emotional landscape is flattened.

The same thing happens when zealots try to remove all ambiguity, such as when they insist on instant-replay judgments, justifying it with words like, “This game is important” and adding, circularly, “Why not get it right?” It is circular because the “why not” is what is in question.

Anyway, the answer is easy: removing the ambiguity in judgment alters the nature of the game. It is against tradition. It makes it less interesting, and surely less memorable. Nobody but a dullard would say, “I remember that instant replay back in ’14. Took over four minutes watching from all angles to get the call right. I was able to take Sparky outside for a bathroom break.”

This is not to say we should blindfold the referees. There is a balance. Yet I shiver to think that soccer will descend the same road taken by other major sports. Where would the game be without its manos de Dios?

12 Comments

  1. Oh no, no brutal dismemberment please! I imagine people still need every body part in heaven.

  2. Soccer could do with more scoring, or at least scoring attempts, like ice hockey, to make it more interesting to the casual observer, like me.

  3. Sports hipsters like to say f-oo-ou-t ball.

    Ah, so now the world minus Murica’ is filled with hipsters?

    Only yankees call it “soccer”.

  4. View from the Solent

    June 14, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    Luis, probably largely true today, but not so a few decades ago. ‘Soccer’ was a common term in England (possibly Britain, but I had no experience of the peripheral bits of my country back then) a few decades ago. Derived from Association Football, as distinct from Rugby Football.

  5. Sander van der Wal

    June 14, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    @Gary

    I once watched a basketball game, some final, in the USA. They were either showing commercials, or the coach talking to a player. Everybody was very exited about the game (it was during a conference), but nobody was looking.

    Football is fine as it is.

  6. Brandon Gates

    June 14, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    Luis, you’re either with us or against us. 🙂

  7. Brandon Gates

    June 14, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    Briggs,

    … removing the ambiguity in judgment alters the nature of the game. It is against tradition. It makes it less interesting, and surely less memorable.

    American football would certainly be more interesting if we brought back leather helmets. Or to be absolutely traditional, remove the helmets and pads altogether and actually play rugby as it was originally intended to be played.

  8. @ Sander van der Wal
    Professional basketball is unwatchable and the college version not far behind. WAY too much scoring. And traveling and palming and flopping and fouling and timeouts. But my comparison was to ice hockey, not basketball, which has continuous action and about 60-80 scoring attempts per game, yet only 4 or 5 actual goals in most games.

  9. Although I now enjoy soccer as a televised contest I still prefer other sports. There are both good and bad aspects of each sport that I do watch on TV. Soccer before HD and instant replay was uninteresting as I never played the game. But with the better technology it is now compelling to me in ways that other sports are not and there are no time outs or commercial breaks until the half. I am increasingly frustrated with the never ending interruptions in all other televised sports. So now I watch some soccer.

  10. Sander van der Wal

    June 15, 2014 at 2:21 am

    @Gary

    Ice hockey is played on a much smaller field, and with players reaching much highe speeds. But there’s a soccer variant of that, indoor soccer. Which is not a big sport at all.

    Soccer is also big because you can sit in a big stadium with lots of people. Apparently lots of people love that kind of ambiance.

  11. The only true sport left is golf.

  12. ad,
    Aye laddie, that and curling.

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