Soccer:Suarez handball = American Football:? (answer: pass interference)

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I wanted to get this up earlier, but between ramping up in a new job, a terrible cold, and a family wedding, I didn’t have the time. Hopefully those distractions are behind me.

The Luis Suarez handball during the Uruguay-Ghana soccer game of the quarterfinals of the World Cup certainly rocked the sport. If you didn’t see it, Suarez prevented a sure goal by using his hands – causing a penalty. He was sent off the pitch, but Ghana missed its penalty shot, and Uruguay ended up winning the game.

Soccer purists considered the handball unconscionable. After other handball controversies including France’s Thierry Henry’s which helped the team beat Ireland to qualify for the World Cup, this handball was the last straw. Some critics called for FIFA to change the rules to allow referees to award goals in similar situations.

But as for American observers, there wasn’t a similar uproar. Suarez used his hands and suffered the consequences – a red card and penalty kick. The sport already has rules to handle that exact situation, so no other intervention is necessary.

I haven’t heard this mentioned in the media, but the most obvious comparison in American-centered sports is pass interference in football. A sure-catch in the endzone can be broken up by an ugly foul by a defender. The penalty: the ball at the 1 yard line. The probability of scoring a TD from the 1-yard line in 1 play is around 65%.

Let’s compare the worst-case scenario in football to the Suarez situation: A team is down by 4 with one second remaining. The quarterback throws a perfect pass to the wide open receiver in the end zone, only the laggard defender makes an ugly, pass-interfering play. The fans boo, but the only recourse is 1 play from the 1-yard line to win the game and a 65% chance of converting.

For Ghana, with almost no time left in the game, they had about 70% chance of converting the penalty, and failed. There was no recourse.

For Americans, the handball was par for the course. In fact, some even praised Suarez’s move for doing whatever it takes to win. And if it were a pass interference in a big game, fans would do the same.

photo by: bi-s-co

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