Second referee too drastic for FIFA, but how about adding video replay?


For some, time has meant change.

Human error has meant a willingness to adjust.

The NFL did. It once utilized just three game officials, but then added a field judge in 1929 and a back judge in 1947 and a line judge in 1965 and a side judge in 1978. The game evolved, and so, too, did the number of those monitoring it for infractions.

The NBA did. It added a third referee to crews in 1988. Players became bigger and faster and stronger and more difficult to judge.

The NHL did. For decades, it employed one referee and two linesmen, but then added a fourth on-ice official in the late 1990s to observe 12 players.

Some sports have adapted over time.

I’m not certain soccer ever will.

Four years after a World Cup best depicted as boring, after a tournament that averaged just 2.2 goals per match, the globe’s most popular sport has already given us countless moments to cheer.

The play has been creative, up-tempo, aggressive. Teams are pushing forward with the confidence of Simon Cowell critiquing one’s voice.

Defending champion Spain, for heaven’s sake, has been eliminated from advancing past the group stage after its first two matches.

Buen senor!

Through its first 11 matches, this World Cup produced zero draws, an average of 3.36 goals and saw five teams rally from behind for victories.

It’s the most exciting start to soccer’s grandest stage since 1990 in Italy, when Cameroon was the big story and the Germans won a third world title while being led by the guy who now coaches the United States.

But there is a black mark hovering over the game’s sacred home of Brazil today.

Make that a yellow and red one.

It is often the case in soccer that as a tournament such as the World Cup advances out of group play and deeper and deeper into the 16-team bracket, the officiating improves, that those inferior souls assigned to supervise early matches are essentially removed from the rotation and sent packing back to their Oceania or Caribbean regions.

That those who might call fouls in the box when Brazilian forward Fred flops against Croatia or disallow two goals from Mexico via phantom offsides calls aren’t around when the most important of matches are contested.

It’s a tough job. Really tough. A soccer referee at the World Cup might run the equivalent of 12 miles during a match. At soccer’s highest level, those officiating must have near the levels of fitness and stamina as those playing.

But this isn’t your father’s form of soccer. Pele isn’t strolling onto any Brazilian pitch over the next several weeks, at least not with the intention of competing.

The game is much faster now. Powerful. Lightning quick. Played by incredibly fit athletes of whom if you don’t believe exists a portion that use performance-enhancing drugs, you’re hiding that face again in a patch of turf.

It has become incredibly difficult for a referee to keep up, to always be in the correct position and assume the best angle and make the right call. FIFA needs to change how it does things.

The fact it continues to choose World Cup officials from each region and never has more than one from any one country is a shortsighted and archaic practice. It’s like saying the NBA must employ officials from each of the countries in which players now represent. It’s silly.

Evaluate officials and choose the best of the best. If that means 10 are from Europe and eight are from South America and five are from Africa and so on, fine. If that means officials need to educate themselves on the game more in a global sense as cultural boundaries and styles are meshed together in the World Cup, train them as such.

Certain levels of soccer in the United States employ a two-referee system, meaning for the best positioning, the ball remains between two referees at all times. An extra referee at the World Cup might translate to better angles when making critical calls.

I don’t believe FIFA would ever take such a step — adopting a style introduced at the college level of American sports would border on sacrilegious — but it absolutely should add video replay to the World Cup. Managers should absolutely get a few challenges per match.

If for nothing else, to review and perhaps cancel yellow and red cards when handed out as a result of an opponent flopping, a possible way to end this constant falling down and writhing in pain once tackled or tripped. It’s out of hand, all these world-class players diving upon contact.

Many have steadfastly fought replay, insisting that you can’t take the human element out of soccer, because more than any other sport, soccer is like life, and life isn’t fair. You would also get those, perhaps fairly, who would question the obvious chance for politics to influence those reviewing plays.

But this is about the greater good. The technology is available to make sure calls are correct. It is even being used in this World Cup to determine whether the ball has crossed the goal line, a collection of high-speed cameras capable of detecting the ball’s position to within a few millimeters.

Why not employ it for everything, as much to dissuade diving as those offsides calls that linesmen continuously blunder?

FIFA needs to become proactive. To adapt. To embrace change.

It won’t make the game any less beautiful.

But it sure will make it better.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.