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Readers Denounce Use of Penalty Kicks

Column by Daniel Wang
Associate Sports Editor

In the last article that I wrote, on Aug. 25, I asked readers the following question: Should penalty kicks be used to decide World Cup soccer games?

Although this year's World Cup tournament had long become a thing of the past, and even more so now, there were still some people who had an interest. Unfortunately, the number of responses was quite disappointing, with a grand total of two people participating in the poll - far below what I had hoped. I suppose my article was too long and most readers did not reach the question.

In any case, both (or rather, all) of the respondents chose penalty kick shootouts as one of the last options to use in the case of a tie. Instead, the most popular alternative seems to be replaying the game, as suggested by both Josh Elliot G and Aaron Rogers '96.

With such a system, the players would have a few days to recover and then come back later to play an entirely new game. The idea seems strange to American fans, but it has been used before.

According to Elliot, The English Football Association Cup finals are decided in such a way. In fact, Elliot writes, "Some FA Cup games have gone to seven replays," such as in 1980, between the Arsenal and Sheffield United clubs.

Rogers responded quite emphatically: "The World Cup final is the ultimate in sports competition, it should not have been settled by something as random as penalty kicks." He proposed a similar solution: "One solution is to go back to the method they used in the 1960's where if the game was tied after overtime, the game was simply delayed for two days and then continued later ... This worked fairly well and I'm not sure why they stopped using it."

The method seems quite fair, but can present problems to spectators and organizers. Rogers mentioned that tournaments would be longer if replays were used throughout. He instead proposed, for the World Cup, using penalty kicks in the first round games, when the outcome of a single game does not affect a team outright. When teams go into elimination rounds, then penalty kicks should not be used.

Two other alternatives that Elliot presented were: using extra overtime periods, and employing sudden death overtime. With the additional periods, Elliot suggested that more substitutions would be allowed so "the game doesn't become ridiculously littered with players lying around the field suffering from cramps."

The other method, sudden death, is simple - the first team to score wins, and the game would continue until that happened. This is what FIFA is most seriously considering for the next World Cup in France. The same system seemed to work quite well in the National Hockey League playoffs, especially in this past season's Eastern Conference Finals series between the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils, where four of the seven games went into sudden death overtime (and double overtime a few times).

Rogers disapproved of the idea of using penalty kicks at all. Although the 1990 final ended in regulation, Germany won in like fashion as Brazil, using a penalty kick to come out on top by a 10 decision. Rogers considered the victors being the ones who had worked the ball and controlled the game most of the time.

Using such logic, he stated, "I haven't seen a team in this year's tournament that deserved to win a game but lost on penalty kicks ... however, Argentina exemplified how a team can make it through on penalty kicks in 1990 with something like 23 of the 4 wins it needed to make it to the final from penalty kicks."

As I had written before, most major journalists disapproved of the current system of deciding a winner. They were quick to point out that even FIFA, the organizers of the World Cup feared the possibility of the world championship being decided by a shootout. FIFA is currently considering changes similar to what the readers suggested.

When will the strike end?

This article is much shorter than the last one, so I hope more readers will respond to this issue's poll question.

Many of you sports fans know very well about the ongoing strike in Major League Baseball. Players, owners, and employees have all been losing money. According to The New York Times (Wednesday, Sept. 7), since the strike began on Aug. 12, 338 games have been missed, players have lost $114.9 million in pay, and owners have lost $221 million in revenue.

For general sports fans, there have been many other things to turn to. Baseball fans are fortunate to have minor league baseball as an alternative. As for the real thing, though, players and owners continue to be in disagreement with no improvement in sight.

You, the reader, might see it a little differently. Therefore, the poll question of this issue is: Do you think the baseball strike will end before the championship playoffs are scheduled to begin? Send your response by electronic mail to: sports@the-tech.mit.edu. Along with your response, please add any suggestions you may have about how the situation could be settled.