TV Commentators, Make a New Year's Resolution to Know the Rules

By Mike Woitalla

American soccer fans are fortunate that U.S. television provides access to pretty much every soccer game from around the world and within our shores. But when it comes to the broadcasts, the fans deserve better commentary, which far too often reveals an ignorance of the rules.

It should, of course, be a basic requirement that anyone who gets paid to comment on games, who critiques referees and players, has proficient knowledge of soccer’s rules. But whether it’s Britain-based EPL announcers or Americans calling U.S. national team, MLS or college games -- it’s shockingly frequent that we hear assessments that fly in the face of what the rulebook says.

It’s especially troubling because TV commentators have great influence. Their misinformation makes it down to the grassroots, to coaches, parents and youth players. The referee’s job thus becomes even more difficult.

So I recommend, TV commentators, make a resolution this new year to read the rulebook. In the meanwhile, think twice when you’re about to say…

‘He went down too easily’
The main point here is not how a player went down but whether he was fouled. According to the FIFA rulebook, attempting to kick, strike or trip a player warrants a direct free kick just the same as kicking, striking or tripping a player does. How the player went down does not determine whether it was a foul.

‘He got the ball’
It may be possible for a player to make fair contact with the opponent after winning the ball, but nowhere is it written in the rulebook that a player is absolved of a foul if he “got the ball.” A direct free kick should be awarded if the foul is "considered by the referee to be careless, reckless or involving disproportionate force." That includes not just jumping at, kicking, charging or tripping -- but anything considered a “tackle” or “a challenge.”

‘There was no intent’
This is clear evidence that commentator is unfamiliar with the FIFA rulebook, which two decades ago removed the intent requirement for all fouls except handling the ball. In that case, the referee must determine whether the handling was “deliberate.” But we still hear after a late tackle that mangles the opponent commentators defending the fouler because it wasn’t intentional.

‘Not worthy of a caution’
It’s fine for commentators to chime in on whether a referee should or shouldn’t yellow-card or red-card a player. But how often do you hear the pundits actually refer to the rulebook? Here’s what it says:

• If the foul is careless it does not warrant a card.

• If the foul is reckless -- “when a player acts with disregard to the danger to, or consequences for, an opponent” -- a yellow card must be shown.

• If the foul is excessive force -- “when a player exceeds the necessary use of force and endangers the safety of an opponent” -- a red card must be shown.

TV commentators should also know that the rulebook does not exempt the goalkeepers from any of the seven direct free-kick fouls described in Section 1 of Rule 12, Fouls and Misconduct. Nowhere in the rulebook does it make legitimate jumping into an opponent’s body with a raised knee.

And if you are delivering comments on the sport to hundreds of thousands, please reconsider saying it was “professional foul” or a “smart foul” -- or “he had no option but to foul.”

Of course, he had an option -- the option not to cheat. To use euphemisms for flouting the rules is to advocate fouling as a tactic. It’s being an apologist for players, coaches and teams who are trying to cheat their way to a win instead of seeking victory by playing the better soccer.

Soccer in 2016 brought us these stats from games, all of which went to overtime, that were supposed to showcase the best of the sport:

MLS Cup: 40 fouls, 0 goals (7 shots on goal)
College Cup: 40 fouls, 0 goals (9 shots on goal)
Copa Centenario final: 35 fouls, 0 goals (5 shots on goal)
Euro 2016 final: 25 fouls, 1 goal (10 shots on goal)
UEFA Champions League final: 34 fouls, 2 goals (12 shots on goal).

We were treated to about five times as many fouls as scoring chances. We saw three goals in 10 hours of soccer.

That the sport of soccer has gotten to a point where championship games are won without scoring and the scoring rate overall has direly decreased over the years is not the fault of the TV commentators. But they are accomplices in creating a culture in which a negative approach to the game is hailed rather than assailed.

It’s appalling enough when they advocate foul play by praising the “smart foul.” But it’s a simply inexcusable when TV commentators -- the supposed experts -- do so by misrepresenting the rules, which they could easily download HERE.

31 comments about "TV Commentators, Make a New Year's Resolution to Know the Rules ".
  1. Ben Myers, January 3, 2017 at 7:08 p.m.

    Yes, the EPL match commentators do not know LOTG very well, but they are at least 1000% better than the lot who call themselves MLS broadcasters/commentators. With the EPL, they actually comment on what is happening in real time on the field of play. With MLS, they are babbling on and on about selling you tickets, team promos, anything so they do not have to sound intelligent commenting about the game. This is because when they DO comment, they betray their ignorance big-time.

    This is yet another area where MLS needs to improve to become a higher quality league. There are others, but Garber and Gulati are too busy counting money to care.

  2. Andrea Hana replied, January 3, 2017 at 9:20 p.m.

    Ben Myers, The EPL commentators don't even know how to properly pronounce the names of the players, whereas the MLS commentators make very good, successful, attempts at the pronunciation. EPL commentators don't know the game, either. I actually get irritated watching the EPL games because the British refuse to pronounce names correctly, as they notoriously have for centuries, and they use jargon during the games that most US citizens don't understand. I don't understand why they even bother to broadcast here. Arlo White had to come here to LEARN how to properly broadcast. He could not have been in a better environment for it, either. Even Seattle news stations win national (Edward R Murrow) awards for their broadcasting. It's what they do best. As far as level of quality in commentators, the Brits can't hold a candle in any sport, not even football (soccer).

  3. Ben Myers replied, January 4, 2017 at 11:52 a.m.

    Perhaps my view of MLS announcers is colored by the atrocious pair who do the NE Revolution matches, and maybe because MLS itself is so unwatchable. (Case in point: the dreadful final!) The ones who do the nationally televised MLS matches are a bit better. Twellman is every bit as awful as Friedel. Seems like all of the US announcers wing it, doing little or no preparation beforehand. It really gets to be a bigger joke when one of the over-the-air channels selects an ex-football or ex-basketball jock or even Bob Costas to do soccer play-by-play.

    At least the EPL announcers prepare themselves well to provide details about the players and to do legitimate play-by-play by naming names of players involved in the fray. As for pronunciation of names, it is a challenge unless one has a basic grasp of pronunciation of the languages of all the players from all the nations feeding into the EPL. Not easy, but do-able with a little study, or maybe living in a few different countries. Try it some time.

  4. R2 Dad, January 3, 2017 at 7:54 p.m.

    Well-said--fully agree. And the Finals recap you listed shows it's not just a US problem. Sadly, your modest proposal is too much to ask of fans and commentators. "He got the ball" finally seems to be in decline, but "He went down too easily" is growing in frequency. You could say this until you're blue in the face and still no one believes it: "attempting to kick, strike or trip a player warrants a direct free kick just the same as kicking, striking or tripping a player does." It just makes people's heads explode.

  5. Jack DiGiorgio, January 3, 2017 at 8:07 p.m.

    Great article and observations, but Mike you kept saying "rules of the game" in your article, while you should have used only "Laws of the Game"; the "rules" apply only to tournaments. Thank you for great article though.

  6. Pat Mahoney, January 3, 2017 at 9:20 p.m.

    I agree with most of what you say. I have to add as a Sounders fan that I did not like the game itself either, but just the outcome.

    When we won the round against Colorado, both Ozzie Alonzo and Jordan Morris were injured by Colorado players using excessive force. This hampered out attack massively in the final. I don not believe that Schmetzer really wanted our players to hold back like many thought, it is just that two of our most important players were hampered just enough that we did not get free for one or two more shots that we normally would (though I wish we had more ability to do this with more abandon).

    Many fans think this is just an MLS problem, but I have noticed that referees most everywhere let games get out of hand when they should call fouls immediately after the whistle. The players know the calls are not coming and act accordingly. If they know they could get a second yellow easily, the game would flow more in all leagues.

  7. beautiful game, January 3, 2017 at 9:40 p.m.

    One big thing this article failed in its critique is the winded small talk suffocates which the game. Best comment ever heard during MLS game..."so and so is a dangerous goal scorer;" followed by by ..."he has scored 4 goals in 38 games."

  8. Miguel Dedo, January 3, 2017 at 9:54 p.m.

    Brad Freidl,the best keeper the US has produced, the worst announcer.

  9. Toby Rappolt, January 3, 2017 at 11:14 p.m.

    Absolutely excellent Michael!!

    I'm sharing your article with all the coaches in our club because youth coaches, including myself, often have as great if not greater misunderstanding of the rules of the game as television commentators.

  10. Thomas Brannan, January 4, 2017 at 6:02 a.m.

    The one I like is "clumsy". i.e. the guy is so terrible that the only thing he can do is kick people and his excuse is that he is "clumsy". Therefore not a foul????? Just "clumsy". Only one nationality that I know of uses that excuse/terminology. It reflects on the lack of skill in their game.

  11. Thomas Brannan, January 4, 2017 at 6:04 a.m.

    Kind of like watching Peterborough play Mansfield 45 years ago. A lot of clumsiness.

  12. John Schubert, January 4, 2017 at 7:13 a.m.

    The article implies that fouling players is cheating. I don't disagree but what has become an epidemic in the EPL, MLS and international completion is "diving" in which a player looks to get a foul called without any contact. Referees will issue yellow cards if clearly seen but too often it is missed. Leagues can clean this up by issuing Yellow Cards post match from reviewing match tapes.

  13. Dan Eckert, January 4, 2017 at 7:39 a.m.

    Nice piece - well thought out.

    A point for consideration - fouling as a tactic is part of the game. A tactical foul - is still a foul - and should be penalized - but it is part of the game and any player worth their salt knows that sometimes it is necessary to foul - if anything just to stop the flow of play.

    I might also suggest you are a bit hyper critical - yes - most of the MLS announcers are crap - and some of the EPL ones are too. But, like writers, it's their job to describe and comment on what they see - in their words. It would help (a lot) that they learn the LOTG - but for some - knowing when to shut up and just watch the game is just as important.

    If you watch golf (painful), baseball (OMG kill me now), or Tennis - you will see that futbol on TV is no where near as bad as it could be.

  14. Ginger Peeler, January 4, 2017 at 7:58 a.m.

    This has been one of my pet peeves for years! I've always advocated that the announcers go a step further and take (and pass) the LOTG referee course before they're allowed in the broadcast booth. Brad Friedel's commentary is atrocious! How he was chosen to comment on the MLS Cup game is/was beyond me. Just reading the rule book won't will still be open to self-interpretation that way. It needs to be learned with instructions on fairly applying the Laws as they are intended. There have been times when I have tuned into a game on TV and there is only one commentator. This individual usually describes the action on the field in a very professional manner without the editorial comments of a 2 man team. In this case of calling a soccer game responsibly, more (people in the booth) is NOT better.

  15. Ric Fonseca replied, January 4, 2017 at 3:22 p.m.

    Hola Ginger and Happy New Year!!! Your observations are spot on, and I agree that Friedel's attempts are atrocious. Interestingly, no one mentioned the Liga MX, or other Spanish language announcers (except for those from La Liga) who, while they are former pros, their lack of the LOTG is just as attrocious. Everynow and then a former referee is included - I believe only during a "more important" match, and they bring some knowledge of the LOTG. I've always have said that announcers and or critics - from whatever media - must know the rules or in our case LOTG, backwards and forwards, have officiated several games at the various levels, even as a volunteer, to really get to know the "flavor" of the sport of futbol. Many years ago at a college I taught and coached, after the season was over and the class - yes, it was a college credit class also - the student-athletes met with me for two hours per week to go over the LOTG, class meetings that generated a very healthy series of discussions, games, etc. Several of my former players, after they left the college, ended up becoming high school officials, and some even went to officiate in the local leagues. Now, could they announce a broadcast? Hell yes, one even went so far as to announce a game at a small college! Point is, the announcers, including Coby Jones, Moreno, Friedel, Keller, Lalas, et. al, can in fact and deed do better, but the sad thing is that it would behoove them to put on an officials uniform, be the Center man or an AR, even a fourth official would help them. See you at the NSCAA Convention in LA next week?

  16. Sarah Gabble, January 4, 2017 at 11:06 a.m.

    I would like to point out the use of only he/him/his pronouns in this article. I'm a soccer fan and player, and as a woman I felt excluded reading this article, though it did make some good points. I'm not accusing anyone of anything or trying to call anyone out, I just want to make people aware of this subtle but pervasive and frustrating sexism. It would be really great if people could use more inclusive pronouns in the future, like he/she or they/them/their. :)

  17. Kevin Sims, January 4, 2017 at 11:07 a.m.

    Great piece! I am further appalled at how often these inaccurate commentators are current or former players. Thanks especially for ... And if you are delivering comments on the sport to hundreds of thousands, please reconsider saying it was “professional foul” or a “smart foul” -- or “he had no option but to foul.” Youth players who allow themselves to become comfortable with this solution to defending have no chance of becoming really good; we learn by absorbing the consequences of our decisions. When poor defending results in quality chances or goals, then the teachable moment arises and zealous learning happens. Youth coaches must insist that players abide by the letter and the spirit of the laws as a mechanism for developing better players.

  18. William Wang, January 4, 2017 at 11:32 a.m.

    It seems to me that the definitions of "reckless" and "careless" cited in the article do little to clarify the conditions under which a foul is called. The came is played at a very high speed by very aggressive players. If they were not fast and aggressive, they would not be out there. IMO, most 50/50 challenges could be deemed "reckless" and worthy of a yellow card by a strict interpretation of the rules (oops, laws). In such a case, the players are not concerned about carefully weighing the "consequences for an opponent"--they don't have time to, even if they had the inclination. In summary, the referees still have a lot of discretion concerning interpretation of what constitutes "careless" or "reckless". Lately I have been viewing the Australian "A-League" games. Very entertaining with lots of goals. And the announcers are good. Also love the Aussie accents.

  19. John Willis, January 4, 2017 at 12:11 p.m.

    I think "He went down too easily" is relative to some game situations and not completely ignorant. I also believe that color commentators are usually ex-players because it's perceived that the audience would appreciate the opinion of people who played at this level as opposed to those who officiated at this level. I enjoy the likes of G.Neville, Higginbotham, and Dixon for EPL because of their insight on things going on and can look past their poor choice of words in some cases.

  20. Kent James replied, January 4, 2017 at 12:41 p.m.

    Good point. Going down too easily doesn't mean there was no foul, but rather that the foul was "trifling" and shouldn't be called. While players should not be obligated to stay on their feet if they've been fouled, using slight contact to make it look like a foul has been committed is a form of diving (not cardable, but it should not get the foul either). But that is a trifling (sorry) complaint on an otherwise very accurate piece. Announcers should be obligated to take a course and ref some games before they make any comments about the refereeing...

  21. Vince Leone, January 4, 2017 at 12:35 p.m.

    The La Liga announcers on BeIN Sports are generally better about the issues that Mike raises.

  22. Vince Leone, January 4, 2017 at 12:43 p.m.

    To my taste, the EPL announcers are also dreary and negative--too often looking to highlight perceived mistakes and not often enough focusing on skillful play.

  23. Ric Fonseca replied, January 4, 2017 at 3:10 p.m.

    Vince, good point! A little observation, this past new year weekend gave us some good futbol games, however, when my wife and I tuned in to an EPL game or two, we were literally lulled to sleep with the virtual life-lesness of the EPL blokes, Lordy be- they were gawd awful!!!

  24. John Polis, January 4, 2017 at 3:43 p.m.

    Thanks for this article, Mike. Echoes many things I've been thinking as I watch games on TV. I am still noticing that ex-players seem to take the most license in their interpretation of what takes place in an apparent foul scenario. Ex-players who were natural ruffians during their playing days understandably are lenient to perpetrators of fouls. One thing I would add to your discussion is the amount of dissent that is naturally allowed in MLS games, compared with what we see in the EPL. From my view, there is less dissent in the EPL (most probably because it isn't allowed and the players know this). But in the MLS it still is commonplace to see a referee surrounded by protesting players -- not once, but time and again throughout a game. We are becoming used to it and in many cases it actually adds to the length of the game. Add to this the fact that when these dissent delays occur (without yellow cards shown) MLS referees appear to forget to add time on at the end.

  25. Doug Broadie, January 4, 2017 at 5:29 p.m.

    Good article. Now if any professional referee in the WORLD would recognize OBSTRUCTION as being in the rule book, it would be a better game. As Phil Shane says, it was last called in a game in 1997. As a matter of fact, if they just called the rules in FIFA laws, it would better.

  26. beautiful game, January 4, 2017 at 6:46 p.m.

    Unfortunately, the MLS teams & TV networks who employ these wannabe commentators have no desire to bring the game to a higher level. All they are concerned about is the marquee name of former players who fail miserably in order to hone their commentary skills. Football needs an overhaul into the 21st century, and not be bogged down by incompetence.

  27. Mark Konty, January 5, 2017 at 9:26 p.m.

    I'd settle for my local referees having this level of understanding regarding the rules. I had a referee the other day give me a look dripping with all of the scorn he could muster because I thought a foul should have been called when a player stuck a leg out and my player managed to avoid it but lost the ball out of bounds. He insisted that no foul is possible unless contact is made. I had a similar interaction with a referee regarding the "he got all ball" interpretation of the LOtG. In both cases, the referees treated me like I was a complete idiot, just another dumb American (as they are) who doesn't understand the most basic elements of the rules--which apparently is whether or not contact is made, unless you get the ball first.

  28. Mitch Mitchy, January 6, 2017 at 2:57 p.m.

    Of course fouling is part of the game, but is diving or trying to con the ref?
    Fouling is cheating? Come on.

  29. Bob Ashpole replied, January 7, 2017 at 1:24 a.m.

    Look up the definition of cheating. Intentionally playing unfairly to gain an advantage in a game is defined as cheating.

  30. Mitch Mitchy, January 7, 2017 at 10:52 a.m.

    is a missed timed challenge intentional?
    ball hitting you in the hand when you can't move it, intentional?
    Shame its so difficult to understand.

  31. Thom Meredith, January 8, 2017 at 11:15 a.m.

    By the number of comments left after this first appeared it looks to have struck a nerve; a good one at that. First my general comment: the majority of TV commentators here and in UK talk WAY too much (are you listening Arlo White...Geez!!)
    Second on the specific of Mike's incisive piece: I've NEVER heard a TV type ever outline the fact that say when a referee gives a 60th minute (as an example) to the player who just happened to be the WRONG guy at the RIGHT time in a match getting increasingly physical JUST BECAUSE that Referee said to himself "This game is getting alitle out of hand at this moment and needs a caution here just to rein the players back alitle bit...This action is in the toolbox of EVERY referee esp those working professional games at all levels and it's the most mis-understood action by all TV color commentators AND coaches alike...How many times have you all heard from those TV guys AND coaches: "That might have been a foul but it didn't warrant a yellow card."
    In a distant second place is the idea of persistent infringement...Christmas sakes the good referee will point to the three different spots on the field of play where the offending player committed the three or more fouls that warranted the caution for persistent infringement in the first place.
    Third and lastly...any TV talking head that even knows--let alone tells his audience in a tournament before the taking of penalties what Reduce to Equate means to both teams...will forever get an A+ from me....

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications