FIFA’s Rules Of The Game

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By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (Feb 1, 2012) US Soccer Players -- In our Corner feature a couple of weeks ago, we looked at the rules for overtime in the National Football League and compared them to soccer.  When we rated the likelihood of the issue going away, we gave it a 9 out of a possible 11.  That was mainly due to complaints about the current overtime system coming out of this summer's European championship.   Sometimes, FIFA doesn't need the complaints to suggest rule changes to the International Football Association Board (IFAB). 

In an agenda that should catch a few people by surprise, FIFA announced on Wednesday that the IFAB will be considering eight proposed changes to the Laws of the Game.  As always, some of these are procedural, where advertising boards can be placed, the color of athletic tape, and a discussion on whether or not the spray the referee uses to mark 10-yards from the ball on free kicks is working.  Then there are the actual game changers,  like the current proposal concerning an extra substitute in overtime.

Law 3 covers the number of substitutes allowed for official competitions.  We all know that's three.  The proposed change would add the following line: "An additional fourth substitution may be used during extra time."  Though this change is self-explanatory, it changes how decisions are made during 90 minutes of a knockout game.  Should the rule change be adopted, there's no longer the same pressure to get the subs in during the original 90 minutes. 

As FIFA explains in their official reasoning: "The FIFA Task Force Football 2014, the Medical Committee and the Football Committee support the proposal in order to maintain the technical level until the 120th minute and to protect the health of the players (as a means of preventing injuries)."

That's a laudable goal, and one that takes into consideration playing the full 30-minute overtime period instead of the sudden death scenario once in play.  The discussions over implementing golden or silver goal overtime scenarios took a lot of time a few years ago, with the decision to simply play out the full 120 minutes ultimately winning the day.  With that is the increased risk of a team using their third substitute in regulation only to see a player injured in overtime. 

Add to that the strategy of who needs to be on the field late in the game in order to be available for penalties.  In one of his autobiographies, George Best told a story about his North American Soccer League coach subbing off Best and another of his better attacking players to "rest" them for the likely penalties.  Best had to explain to the coach that once a player had been subbed off, he becomes ineligible for the 40-yard race to goal that was the NASL's version of a penalty shootout.  In other words, planning for the penalty stage is nothing new.

Giving a coach another tool is no small decision.  The IFAB is made up of the historic founders of the game:   England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.  It's an appeal to history that speaks to the need for taking the long view.  With that in mind, their decisions can be reactive. 

Take for example another substitute rule change, this time limiting the number of substitutes in an 'A' friendly to a maximum of six.  That came about after National Teams decided to test the limits of substitutes in friendlies.  The high - or low depending on how you see it - point came when England subbed on an entirely new squad at halftime of a friendly.  In that regard, the IFAB is called upon to serve as quality control. 

Adding an overtime substitute can be seen as exactly that.  By their own reasoning, FIFA's concern in proposing the rule change is "to maintain the technical level."  In other words, quality control.  The same reasoning that should be in play when they discuss additional assistant referees and goal-line technology. 

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