How Soccer Is Like Finance (The Refs Stink)

Economist Richard Thaler cleverly links soccer's absurd referee system (No instant replay? Only one field ref? Those ridiculous offsides calls!) to financial regulation in a Sunday column. I especially liked this section:

REDEFINE 'OFFSIDE' The offside rule is now too hard to enforce. When a player passes the ball downfield, no one on his team can have any part of his body farther downfield than any defender, aside from the goalkeeper. The linesman calling these violations runs along the sideline, keeping parallel with the offensive player closest to being offside -- all while watching the ball.

This requires wide-angle vision that humans don't possess. (A bird called the woodcock, with 360-degree vision, would be good at it.) Short of eliminating the rule, we might limit offside calls to players whose entire body is ahead of the defenders. That should be easier to detect, and might lead to more goals scored.

The general point is to make the judgment tasks of regulators easier. The Securities and Exchange Commission had trouble assessing the technical arguments that strongly suggested that Bernie Madoff was a crook, but they could have easily had a rule requiring him to document his assets under management.

Read the full story at the New York Times.