How Bad is the Offside Rule?

I promised Alison Wonderland that I’d post on this topic, so here we go:

the soccer offside rule is the stupidest rule in sports.

Honestly, folks, this isn’t even close.

First, no other rule in any sport requires the referee to be watching three things at the same time; in this case, the single ref on the playing field has to be watching the ball to see when it is played, the most-forward offensive player, and the entire opposing defense. Best-case, that’s three things in an area about the size of a basketball court; worst case, it’s three things spread over almost an acre.

Second, it’s the only rule in sports that penalizes one team for the actions of the opposing team. When the defense moves in football, the offense doesn’t get a penalty for it. Lots of sports have offside rules, including football and rugby, but in those sports, the defense cannot make the offense offside.

Third, and most damning, it’s a rule that makes no intrinsic sense. It’s just stapled onto a really good game for the purpose of restricting scoring. It’s exactly like adding a rule to basketball allowing the Celtics to stop Kobe from scoring by having all their players run off the floor when Kobe gets the ball, forcing him to shoot from 40 feet instead of passing the ball to Lamar Odom for a dunk. How stupid is this?

Purists say that getting rid of the offside rule would ruin the game, but they can’t agree on how. Some say scoring would skyrocket but fail to explain how that would be bad, except for the Italians. Others say that scoring would fall (not sure how that’s possible, really), because teams would put all their players in front of their goal. But both contentions are founded on nothing much but guesswork, since as far as I know nobody has ever tested it.

I think scoring would rise, and rise dramatically, but not because there would be a huge number of long-bomb goals to cherry-picking forwards. In the same way that a team’s scoring rises in football when it has a deep-receiver threat, scoring in soccer would rise. Even the best deep receiver doesn’t get more than one or two deep balls a game, but his presence allows a lot more play in front of him by expanding the area the defense has to cover. The best players on the field are usually the central midfielders (look for the number 10), who would all of a sudden gain much larger spaces to work magic in. What kills the game is that offside allows 8 defenders to congregate at the top of the penalty box and shut down Ronaldino with sheer numbers; getting rid of the offside rule would not allow them to do that. The magical, miracle moments we fans love so much would come every 5 minutes, not every half hour.

We’ll never see it. Even when Italy puts on a ridiculous display in a major international tournament, embarrassing themselves and international soccer, we’re not going to hear calls for getting rid of this cancerous growth on the beautiful game (the offside rule, not Italy itself).

Too bad.

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