It seems like sports are getting more and more complicated every year. Take the NFL playoffs this year. Every game has had at least one controversial referee decision that dominated headlines. During the games, commentators, coaches, and players debate endlessly the intricate details of pass-interference calls or subjective unsportsmanlike penalties that change the momentum of the game. After the game, the media prolongs these discussions for weeks. And of course, fans hold those moments vividly in their memory, placing the blame for losses on bad calls rather than actual play.
To be fair, I’m slightly exaggerating because for all its faults, football remains a sport where penalties affect on average 40-70 yards per game, which equates to a touchdown or two at most. But these calls often happen in crucial moments that obstruct enjoyment of the game. As a huge fan of football, I’m worried about the future of the sport for two main reasons.
First, football is becoming less pure of a sport and getting more and more complicated. The rules for pass-interference alone, linked above, are 700 words long. That is insane. In a sport that emphasizes high intensity and explosive action, there is no place for memorizing intricate rules that resemble texts from a law handbook, let alone ones that depend on a referee’s discretion.
Secondly, football is losing flow, in the sense that the game moves with many obstructions. The average football game only has 11 minutes of actual play during a span of 3 hours and 45 minutes on average. This number has been steadily decreasing because of various rules that push the sport toward a pass-oriented game that minimizes long plays that lead to injuries, such as kick returns. Keep in mind football once resembled rugby.
I am picking on football because it is one of the few sports I watch, but this trend is not exclusive to football and is not a new occurrence either. In basketball, fouls are just as subjective and perhaps dictate more of the game. In baseball, umpires use their eyes to judge whether or not the baseball is in a small box. Modern sports in general are moving away from purity and flow, and I think this is troublesome for their future.
I don’t believe football will be as popular in 50 years. I think society is going to value both safety and the return to sports with more purity AND flow. I can see a different sport taking over in the future, whether it’s a game like soccer or a sport that will be invented in the future. However, I’m not giving up on football. Major changes can happen, and maybe more fans need to feel as I do to change the nature of the game.
Roger Goodell, read this.