The NFL rules committee has relentlessly pushed to reward teams that take chances offensively, and the league has been rewarded with billions and billions of dollars in revenue. Soccer, on the other hand, has always fundamentally been about avoiding mistakes—better to pass back to the goalkeeper than risk anything, right?
But there’s a problem with the NFL’s plan, tacitly hinted at in a ferociously insightful piece by Aaron Gordon: It appears that scoring can backfire. Among a few criticisms, Gordon explains how higher scores have led to higher variability, and inevitably, more blowouts. The average point differential in 2013 (at the time of the article’s publishing) was 11.2 points. This doesn’t sound too bad until you see that nearly one-fourth of NFL games are decided by 17 points or more. Here, increased scoring created the exact opposite of an exciting product.
This might be what casual World Cup fans realized over the past month. The five most common soccer scores (1-0, 1-1, 2-1, 2-0, 0-0, respectively) make for some pretty exciting matches. It would seem then that it’s not goals or scoring that matters, it’s decisive goals and decisive scoring. Fans want to see scoring that matters, that affects the outcome, and soccer simply tends to have more of those.
The pharaohs of Egypt built pyramids so magnificent that four thousand years later, some people—admittedly crazy people—wonder if they were built by aliens; some day, the question may be asked of the gleaming stadia that have begun to land regularly, like splendid and impervious flying saucers, amidst the busy, complex and unequal societies of the 21st century. Football may emerge from the people, but its stadiums are dropped on their heads from above. David Goldblatt writes that once, a person could pay as little as one reial and walk into the Maracanã to access the febrile crush of the geral, the standing area between the seats and the pitch. In the new Maracanã, renovated in several stages to comply with FIFA’s Procrustean rules of engagement, the cheapest seats reportedly go for ten times that price. As workers die, buses burn and fighting erupts in the neighbourhoods around these temples of development, Galeano’s vision of a people divided only by the teams they support seems remote indeed.
There are going to be a lot of navel-gazing essays written about the World Cup over the next few weeks, but this one by Supriya Nair might end up being one of the best.
[America] goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force… She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.
John Quincy Adams, 1821, quoted by Charles P. Pierce in this excellent piece on the Obama administration’s plan to withdraw from Afghanistan and the last remnants of the neocon bloc’s deranged reaction to same.
A lot has been written in response to Nicholas Wade’s new book A Troublesome Inheritance, the intellectual far right’s latest attempt to lend a patina of scientific legitimacy to plain old racism. But I think these two pieces, both penned by evolutionary anthropologists and laser-focused on dissecting the flaws in Wade’s reasoning, are the best: