Complexity of Sports Rules and Officiation Is Ever-Changing


On October 14, a Giants vs. Dodgers game ended with many fans taking to social media to express their frustration about the officiating of the game. Fans ranted that calls were unfair and the umpires were biased. Robbie Parker, a Berkeley High School (BHS) freshman, Giants fan, and baseball player, had a different outlook on the officiating of the final game — in the contest of the Major League Baseball’s National League Division Series. “The officiating was fine,” he said. “The last call was wrong, but umpires are allowed to make mistakes.” Parker spoke on broader rules that could           be improved rather than just enforcing existing ones. “Oftentimes calls that should be reviewed aren’t, and calls that should stand are reviewed,” Parker said. “I think there should be less reviewable calls, because this would speed up the game and put pressure on umpires to make the right calls.”

It’s not just baseball rules that are being called into question.  The rules and officiating of sports that have long been embedded in American culture are facing consistent scrutiny, driven by the advancement  of technology and increasingly skilled players. 

Recently, the National Basketball Association (NBA) changed its rules that involve shooting fouls. These changes discourage shooters from jumping into defenders. Allison Toan, a BHS freshman and Golden State Warriors fan, said, “I like the new rule, even though there haven’t been real games with it. I like how it stops players from flopping. Games should be less about acting skills.” 

Updates sometimes work their way up through different levels of a sport. Football has long been criticized for the physical impact it has on   

 players. In 2008, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) implemented a rule to prevent head tackling, called targeting. The rule made the penalty for the foul as extreme as a disqualification in some instances. In 2018, the National Football League (NFL) followed the NCAA with a rule against targeting, but gave referees more discretion in their calls. Now, the NCAA is evaluating the severity of the consequences, and many are wondering if a less severe punishment will be enough to deter        injuries. Nate Garland, a running back and defensive back for BHS junior varsity football team, talked about the 

rule. “I feel like there is a lot of controversy around this rule, and it’s very easy for a referee to make a bad call involving targeting.”

In many cases, these shifting rules are altered as they trickle down from professional to youth sports. Tyler Fahey, a BHS freshman and prospective basketball player for the BHS boys basketball team, contrasted the physicality allowed in professional versus youth basketball. “The biggest difference is how much contact there is,” he said. “At the pro level, the refs are calling fouls about every little touch, but at lower levels, you can get away with being more physical,” Fahey said. “I like lower-level rules more because it’s fun to bump a little bit and it’s annoying to stop the game so much because so many fouls are being called,” he said. 

Although soccer has similar rules at all levels,  there is one rule that is different from the professional level. Theseas Eleftheriadis, a BHS junior, soccer player, and student referee, explained the substitution rule. “In professional soccer, they only allow a maximum of three substitutions per team, and once a player is substituted, they are not allowed to play again for the rest of the match,” he said. “In most levels of US youth soccer, there are no rules on substitutions.” Eleftheriadis spoke his thoughts on this difference. “This is a good rule for youth soccer, because everyone on the team has the opportunity to get an equal [amount] of playing time, which helps them develop as players,” he said. On which rule he would change if he could, Eleftheriadis said that 

“it would be a rule regarding yellow cards. Once a player receives a yellow card, they [would need to] exit the field and be substituted. However, in pro and youth soccer, when a player [receives a yellow card], they continue to play the match.”

As rules evolve, the subtle changes influence viewers’ perspectives of sporting events, and provide feedback for coaches, players, and officiators. With so many recently adapted rules and many more on the course to change, will our favorite sports be the same for long? Then, one must consider whether a sport, or rather anything, with altered aspects, is still fundamentally the same thing. For now, despite consistent revisions and adaptations to keep pace with the times, sports manage to maintain a feeling of familiarity, and are regarded as a constant in the lives of many, still thriving with popularity and excitement.