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The Proper Term for Deciding a World Cup Match

I love the World Cup. Every four years, nations come together for a truly global sporting event. Since billions of people follow the sport, it truly is a world series, and the winning nation can rightfully be called “world champion” (even if it was France).

How many other sports can be credited with starting a war (between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969) and achieving peace (Ivory Coast’s civil war in 2006)? Few others.

In this tournament, I feel very smart because anybody who asked me during the knockout phase who I liked, I told them Croatia. Luka Modric was a revelation — although if I followed European football a little closer, I would have known about him since he plays for Real Madrid, which just won the UEFA Champions League.

Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the tournament, even getting up early to watch those early-morning matches. The one thing I didn’t enjoy — and never do — is the tiebreak procedure.

I believe the format should follow hockey. If there is a tie after regulation, take your usual 15-minute break, then play 45 more minutes until somebody scores (you can add substitutions if you’d like). Keep doing this until somebody scores, as many 45-minute periods as it takes.

But if you’re going to use the current format, at least call it by its correct name: “Kicks from the Mark.”

The FIFA Laws of the Game make it very clear that is what the procedure is called. It is not called a “shootout” or a “penalty shootout,” as I heard Fox announcers call them over and over again. Only once did I hear somebody say it correctly (I think it was Rob Stone, but I’m not certain).

First, a “penalty kick” is only awarded if a foul punished with a direct free kick occurs in the penalty area. As the tiebreak procedure happens after play concludes, there are no fouls. The word “shootout” does not appear anywhere in the Laws of the Game.

However, players are taking kicks, and they are taking them from that mark 12 yards from the goal line. Hence, kicks from the mark.

The next World Cup is November 2022 in Qatar. Plenty of time to get it right next time.

Until next time! Use the right words!


July 17, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Answer Isn’t Always “Money”

While watching “Pardon the Interruption” the other day, host Tony Kornheiser quoted former NBC executive Don Ohlmeyer as having told him, “The answer to all your questions is money.”

So, being the smart-ass I am, I decided to come up with several questions in which I knew the answer was not “money.” For example, why is the sky blue? (A: air molecules scatter blue light from the sun more than they scatter red light) and why is the grass green? (A: chlorophyll).

But in researching Ohlmeyer’s quote, I found out he more than likely said, “If the question is about sports,  the answer is money.”

So, here are 10 sports questions in which the answer isn’t “money.”

  1. What are the dimensions of an Olympic-sized swimming pool? (A: 50 meters long by 25 meters wide)
  2. How tall is a hurdle? (A: five heights, ranging from 27 inches to 42 inches)
  3. Who holds the record for most career home runs? (A: Barry Bonds, 762, although some would say Sadaharu Oh with 868)
  4. How high is a volleyball net? (A: 7 feet, 4⅛  inches for women/girls, 7-11⅝  for men/boys)
  5. How many yards is a football team penalized for being offside? (A: five yards)
  6. What is a split in bowling? (A: two or more non-adjacent pins are left standing after the first roll of a frame)
  7. What is an eagle in golf? (A: two strokes under par on a hole)
  8. How much must a boxer weigh to be considered a heavyweight? (A: at least 201 pounds)
  9. What does a red card mean in soccer? (A: a player is sent off and the team must play with one fewer players)
  10. Why is the marathon distance 26 miles, 385 yards? (A: According to The International Amateur Athletic Federation website, the distance was set at 26 miles at the 1908 Olympic Games in London, and increased another 385 yards when the starting line was pulled back so it could be seen by the children in the Royal Nursery at Windsor Castle and still finish in front of Queen Alexandra at the White City Stadium in west London.)

So there.

It’s here! My début book, “If You Experience Death, Please Call: And Other Fatal Mistakes We Make With Language” is available on Amazon for only $14.95.  Order here.

September 15, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cause and Effect, and Football

Here’s another example of how you mean something, but a day later, you realize it means something else.

And it comes from me.

My high school reunion was last weekend (it’s been 30 years since I graduated). Beside the main dinner on Saturday, there was a bar crawl, golf tournament and football game in the days leading to it. Being the sports guy I am (and because my volleyball game I was supposed to officiate got canceled), I attended the football game.

The day before, I wrote on Facebook: “Looking forward to seeing many of you at tomorrow’s football game. Go Bulldogs! They’re currently 0-2 unfortunately, but that changes tomorrow!”

Originally, I optimistically meant that the team will get its first victory, but later I realized that, duh, of course that changes tomorrow. It’ll either win or lose (no tie because of overtime).

The team lost 35-0, falling to 0-3.

It’s here! My début book, “If You Experience Death, Please Call: And Other Fatal Mistakes We Make With Language” is available on Amazon for only $14.95.  Order here.

September 13, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Permanent” Head Coach?

I read the news today, oh boy, about a lucky man who made the grade …

I write about Clay Helton, who today was named “permanent head coach” of the USC football team. This is the first time I’ve seen the word permanent used. Usually, the reports would say that the coach had the “interim” label removed and he’s now “head coach.”

But is permanent correct?

The word means “continuing or enduring without fundamental or marked change.” A synonym is lasting, so I looked up lasting. It means “existing or continuing a long while.”

There also is a usage note that says lasting and permanent imply continuing indefinitely.

It appears the words are correctly used. But I have a problem with this. In coaching, nothing is permanent and nothing is indefinite. The coach works under a contract that, among other things, lists the years he is expected to do the job. If he does it well (and what that means varies), he receives a new contract that again lists the years. If he falls short (whatever that means), he is fired or the contract is not renewed (which to me doesn’t mean fired, but that’s another post for another day). Goodbye permanent, goodbye indefinite and goodbye lasting.

Reminds me of what the great Vin Scully once said: “Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day. Aren’t we all?”

Until next time! Use the right words!

It’s here! My début book, “If You Experience Death, Please Call: And Other Fatal Mistakes We Make With Language” is out and available on Amazon. Order now for just $14.95. Contact me on my website to reserve your copy or Order here.

November 30, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is “Jury of One’s Peers” Even Possible?

Many years ago, I was called to jury duty. As I sat in the jury box waiting to be questioned, I looked around the room and saw that the defendant, a Hispanic man, was the only Hispanic in the entire room. When the judge asked if anyone had anything to add, I raised my hand and said, “I find it odd that in a jury of our peers, this man is the only Latino in the room.”

The judge angrily replied, “You do realize, Juror number 11, that jury selection is random.”

I said, “I understand that. It’s just that I find it kind of weird.”

I was dismissed by the prosecution.

I thought of this story the other day after former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was found guilty of first-degree murder.

A person is judged by a jury of his or her peers. I wondered what that meant, and if someone in a special group (in this case, NFL player) could really be judged by his peers.

So, I went to the dictionary. Peer means “one that is of equal standing with another, especially one belonging to the same societal group, especially based on age, grade, or status.”

I saw the jurors being interviewed. The majority were young women, and many looked younger than 25, Hernandez’s age. One could argue that they are not in the same group because none of them are, were, and never will be NFL players. Nor is it likely that any of the 12 members make as much money as Hernandez did (his contract was estimated at about $900,000 over four years, though he didn’t receive the full amount because NFL contracts are not guaranteed and the Patriots released him after he was arrested).

It might be impossible to find a true jury of one’s peers, unless there are 12 NFL players who played the same position for New England and who made such-and-such money. So, the courts have done the next best thing: define a jury of one’s peers to mean that the available jurors include a broad spectrum of the population, particularly of race, national origin and gender. Jury selection may include no process which excludes those of a particular race or intentionally narrows the spectrum of possible jurors. It does not mean that women are to be tried by women, Asians by Asians, or African Americans by African Americans.

Still, sometimes I think everyone’s “jury of one’s peers” is limited to one: you.

Until next time! Use the right words!

April 16, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Know Your Soccer Defenders

The other day, as I officiated a soccer match, I heard a parent shout at his son, a forward, to go stand near the opposition’s last defender. I heard it over and over: “The last defender! The last defender, (name of child)!”

I knew the father wanted his son there because the son couldn’t be in an offside position if he stood with that defender.

Only one problem: the last defender is the goalkeeper. Stand there, and you’re in an offside position and will be called offside as soon as you are involved in the play, as soon as you interfere with play, or as soon as a teammate passes you the ball.

What the father meant to say was, “the second-to-last defender,” for Law 11 of the FIFA Laws of the Game (don’t you love how they’re laws and not rules?) specifically states:

“A player is in an offside position if: he is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second to last opponent.” 

Furthermore, Law 11 says that a player is not in a offside position if “he is level with the last two opponents.”

The son never was called offside. He also didn’t score.

Until next time! Use the right words!

September 11, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

English Announcers Should Know Better

As I write this, the World Cup’s Round of 16 is complete, and five of the eight matches needed more than 90 minutes to determine the winner. Yet in each match, the announcers (and the ESPN graphics people) used the wrong terminology.

What they said: If a match is tied after 120 minutes, it is decided by penalty kicks.

What they should have said: If a match is tied after 120 minutes, it is decided by kicks from the penalty mark.

This is not semantics, and all football announcers should know better, but especially the English — their ancestors invented the game, after all.

The International Football Federation’s (FIFA) Laws of the Game is clear on this. Under Law 14, The Penalty Kick, “A penalty kick is awarded against a team which commits one of the ten offenses for which a direct free kick is awarded, inside its own penalty area and while the ball is in play.”

Under Procedures To Determine The Winner Of A Match, it lists 17 steps under the subheading “Kicks from the Penalty Mark.”

When deciding a match in this way, the ball is not in play. Time has ended.

I would prefer a different ending, one similar to hockey: If no one scores after 120 minutes, we play 45 minutes and next goal wins. If no one scores, then we have another 15-minute break followed by another 45 minutes, and so forth — but with one addition: Teams are allowed an additional substitute. If no one scores by the time all subs have been used, substituted players may re-enter.

We could debate this forever, and I recognize valid arguments opposing this method: Risk of injury, for example.

But we all need to agree that a match is not decided by penalties — unless you think that if you can’t win in 120 minutes, your penalty is to risk it through something as arbitrary as kicks from the penalty mark.

Until next time! Use the right words!

July 1, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Back of the Net = No Goal

It’s World Cup time! It’s one of my favorite times: consecutive high-level soccer (or football for most of the rest of the word) every day for more weeks — and then come the knockout rounds.

So far, this has been a high-scoring tournament. But speaking of scoring …

Listen to the English announcers long enough and you’ll probably hear someone say something about putting the ball “in the back of the net.” It’s a common saying; I even found myself using it when I researched old newspaper articles I wrote from 1990-2002.

There’s just one problem: It the ball hits the back of the net, it’s out of bounds.

The correct term is back of the goal. Under Law 1 of the International Football Federation (FIFA) Laws of the Game (yes, they’re laws, not rules), the goal has as opening of 8 yards wide by eight feet high. Behind and to the side is the net. Therefore, if the ball goes into the goal, the ball goes into net that’s facing the goal: the front of the net. The back of the net is out of play.

Incidentally, nowhere in the Laws of the Game or the Interpretations of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees does it mention a net.

John Alexander Brodie, a British civil engineer, invented the goal net in 1889.

Until next time! Use the right words!

June 16, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Substance Abuse vs. Substance Use

I read today that New York (football) Giants safety Will Hill is facing a suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

That got me thinking. It seems like every time some athlete gets busted for violating some kind of drug policy, it’s called a “substance abuse policy.” What if the person is busted and it’s proved he/she took the banned substance just once? How is that abuse? To abuse is to use over and over and over, causing damage to the user, right?


Abuse is defined as “to use so as to injure or damage.” There is no mention of how many times a person must use to consider it abuse.

Here’s another definition: “improper use or treatment.” Again, no mention of many times is required.

I prefer that news writers use different terms, such as “violating the league’s drug-use policy” or “failing a drug test,” and tIr sad such things a great deal, fortunately.

Now I know that “substance abuse” also is correct.

Until next time! Use the right words!

April 22, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Reminder of George Carlin’s Greatness

No one knew the importance of using the rights words better than the late, great George Carlin. Here is a reminder of his greatness: using the right words when describing baseball and football.

Football, like most sports, scores points and is led by a coach. In baseball, one scores runs and is led by a manager.

Football is technological, baseball is pastoral.

Football is played in a stadium, baseball in a park.

Football is played on a gridiron, baseball is played on field.

In football, you wear a helmet. In baseball, you wear a cap.

Football is concerned with downs; baseball, ups.

In football, the specialist comes in to kick. In baseball, he relieves. (He also pinchhits, which I think is just as wussy as relieves.)

In football, you receive a penalty. In baseball, you make an error.

Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, blocking, piling on, late-hitting, unnecessary roughness and personal fouls. Baseball has the sacrifice. (It also has hitting, clubbing, spiking and head-on collisions, but I guess George wanted to ignore that.)

Football has the two-minute warning. Baseball has a seventh-inning stretch.

Football is rigidly timed and will end even if we have to go to sudden death. In baseball, we might have extra innings.

The object of football: for the quarterback, otherwise known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use the shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing  this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack, which punches holes in forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.

In baseball, the object is to go home. And to be safe.

Until next time! Use the right words!

March 27, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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