READER’S NOTE: Being from the U.S., I been much more exposed to Professional and College football here over the last 30-35 years. I’ve seen so many American football games that quite often, I can tell the next play the offense is going to run. Even though it’s enjoyable, it sometimes gets stale with too many commercial interruptions and therefore, I’m open to new viewing pleasures. Over the last few years, I’ve found European football, and in particular, the English Premier League, which is the Creme de la Creme of football (soccer) leagues in England to be quite fascinating for a viewer of an active sport. To that end, I’m writing about some of my thoughts and experiences of comparing the two main sports of their respective countries from my viewing perspective.
LENGTH OF GAME AND VALUE OF EACH GAME
The typical English Premier League (EPL) game takes about 2 hours to complete. There are two 45 minute halves and about 20 minutes for these outstanding athletes to catch a breather in between each half. Even with a few minutes of stoppage time (any breaks or interruptions during the game added to each half), it’s about 2 hours from start to finish.
What about the NFL? If you’re a stranger to this American game, you think it might take 2 hours or so to complete. One might think four 15 minute quarters and one 15 minute halftime break, one might concur the game might take 120 minutes to complete. Au Contraire. NFL games typically last between 3 and 3.5 hours including 60 minutes of actual game time. However, you don’t see as much action during the 60 minutes as you might think. The average NFL game produces 13 minutes of actual action. So for every 4 minutes of game time, you see less than 1 minute of action. It gets worse, if you factor how much time is consumed watching the NFL. For a 200 minute live game, you might roughly see 1 minute of action for every 15 minutes of viewing. No wonder the RedZone or NFL Sunday Ticket has become so popular. With so much more inactivity during a typical NFL game, they have to provide more action oriented gap fillers.
HOW ARE INJURIES HANDLED?
Years ago, when there was an injury timeout in the NFL, TV producers and broadcasters may wait a minute or two before going to a commercial break. They weren’t sure of the injury or extent, so they erred towards caution and kept the broadcast focused on the player’s injury. Often, they waited to know more about the injury and if it was quite seriously, they may have broke for a commercial. Those guidelines are rarely aligned in today’s NFL. During today’s TV coverage, most TV networks may only blink for a second or two before going to commercial. It reminds me of the ‘challenge rule,’ when this rule was first implemented, networks often waited for the outcome without a commercial break. During the last few years, networks have found another means of commercializing the game. In fact, inferior telecasts may not show the replay from a few angles before going to commercial so viewers may not have any idea or inclination of the referee’s decision.
I won’t be foolish to claim English or European football is as rough or tough as the NFL. However, English and European footballers do get injured sometimes. Less in the head and shoulder area and more in the foot, ankle and leg. How does the EPL handle this? Typically, if the injury is serious, the medical staff and officials will be extremely cautious before moving a player. If necessary, a stretcher will be used. If it’s a minor injury, the player may bounce back to their feet in seconds or within a minute or two. Regardless of the seriousness of the injury, there aren’t any commercial timeouts or commercials mentioned during the stoppage play. All the narrative around this type of injury will include how the player was injured, to what extent, and the impact on the game. And again, any injury or stoppage time will be added on to the end of the 1st and 2nd halves.
HOW ABOUT THE LACK OF SCORING IN ENGLISH FOOTBALL?
Many residents of the USA bemoan the fact there’s very little scoring in English football. With games like 0-0, 1-0, or 2-1, do fans of the NFL have a legitimate gripe about the lack of scoring? Are they right to besmirch soccer (English football) because most games see minimal times the ball finds the back of the net? As I mention my love for the game primarily played with one’s feet, I’m not masochistic to argue that fact. I’d like to see the goal area increase it’s width — perhaps hockey could do the same. They could test market this gradually as to not make any significant changes to the game until the data is examined by those slight rule changes.
Some English or European football purists may argue that low scoring games is not the right question to ask. If an NFL team scores 4 touchdowns each game besides what the opponent scores, how will the average NFL fan take serious the game across the pond? They may not. However, with any new game, thing or idea, it may take some time before it catches on. Instead of how many goals are scored, what about watching how a strong offensive team organizes their attack? Will they pass around the midfield area to draw out their opponents before they organize their attack? See how corner kicks are handled? Will they focus on ball control and patiently wait for an opening before going on the attack? In addition, there are some teams that play very strong defense where their defense becomes their offense during a counter attack?
If you’re not playing offense, you’re playing defense. This is another key aspect of the game that can be interesting to follow. How’s the defense organized? Will the defense “press” the offense and attempt to prevent the ball from getting out of the offensive end? How many of the defensive players are adept at slide tackling to steal the ball? When the defense steals the ball in their own zone, how do they handle the transition from defending to working with team members to get the ball out of their own zone and go on attack? In other words, there are many fascinating things about the game primarily played with one’s feet that may not be realized at first glance. Like anything, it may take some exposure to see the many interactions parts of the game.
TOO MANY UNNECESSARY RULES IN THE AMERICAN GAME
Every year, it appears the NFL has instituted new rules for the new season. Unless you’re an official, commentator or are professionally involved in this American game, it’s extremely challenging to know the new rules let alone remember the old ones (even if some rules get retired), you may not hear about them. Why do so many rules exist?
I was watching an exhibition (oops, the NFL doesn’t like fans or media to mention the first 4 games of the season as exhibition as many teams still charge full price) pre-season game last weekend as the offense was flagged a number of times for having an illegal formation. What? There are certain guidelines the offense has to follow when lining up even though I’m not sure if certain rules adds value to the viewing public. Why not allow the offense to line up however they see fit, provided they are behind the line of scrimmage as the football is snapped to engage play. Just once I want a well-known announcer to critically tear into this rule or other unnecessary rules for that matter and explain why certain rules may be hurting the flow of the game.
Another asinine rule that quickly comes to my mind is the illegal shift in the NFL. Again, not sure of the point. Honestly, I don’t even know exactly what that means? Two players moving at the same time? A player shifting and then stopping and then shifting again? Perhaps if I understood the rule and saw the value, it might make a difference. Indeed, it’s certainly not a new rule although it would be nice to hear this rule was retired and buried. I hear announcers say the NFL wants more offense in the game. Why not reduce the amount of silly offensive rules to improve the flow and increase the scoring. Mind you, all teams would benefit by things.
(Continued Next Week)