Two recent events added to the case against having penalty shootouts decide a game, the gold medal game of the World Junior Hockey Championships and the MLS Cup final game.
I’m not sure if Team Canada would have won the gold medal game against the Americans last Thursday in Montreal if they were able to continue playing in overtime. If anything, the Canadians looked pretty listless after coughing up their second 2-goal lead of the game. The last ten minutes of regulation and all of the 20-minute sudden-death OT, save for a power play, was controlled by the US. Perhaps Canada’s only chance to win the gold medal was to have the game decided in a shootout. Had Canada lost in overtime, there would have been disappointment but I can bet you no one would be complaining about the method used to decide the winner.
The same goes with soccer (or football as Europeans call it). Fans of Toronto FC were left disappointed that the MLS Cup final was decided on penalty kicks. Unlike Canada’s Junior Team, Toronto FC players were dominant nearly winning it in extra time. Only a great acrobatic save by Seattle’s goalkeeper prevented the game from ending. Often the championship game in soccer in any level ends in penalty kicks. And like the hockey shootout, it is also a dull, lazy way to decide a game.
One argument for a shootout or penalty kick to decide a game is that players can not play for that long a period. But I would say that if these athletes are indeed the most fit and are in great physical shape as everyone claims, then they should be able to play as long as it takes until someone scores. In fact, stamina and fatigue should be as much of a factor as skill when determining a winner. If you can’t overcome being out of breath then you probably shouldn’t deserve being called a champion. The game should take as long as it wants to decide a winner. That to me is a true champion.
Overtime in the NHL playoffs showed us why playing until the next team scores is not only the best way to decide a game, it is also the most exciting. Hardly anyone leaves before the winning goal is scored regardless of how late it goes. I was at a pair of Blue Jays regular season games this past season, both went into extra innings and both ended in Blue Jays comeback victories. My friend and I stayed until the very end and so did many of the fans at the Dome. This despite the fact both games were played on a weeknight and many in attendance probably had to get up early the next day.
The consensus against shootouts to decide a championship game, and even in regular season games, is growing. I’m not sure how anyone can continue to allow games of this importance to be decided this way. But until people start to become tired about hearing players getting tired, or that the game goes too long, the skills competition portion will continue to reign in sports.