Bookings, red cards and the sin bin

Having seen several matches at this World Cup mucked up by sendings off, I’m increasingly persuaded that it’s time to reform the yellow and red card system.

I just don’t think the progression of punishments is very well worked out. The free kick for minor fouls makes perfect sense. Sending a player off for genuinely dangerous play or blatant cheating also makes sense. The problem is with the yellow card.

On the one hand, it doesn’t have enough immediate impact on the game to be much of a deterrent. It’s marginally more effective in the World Cup, where you only need to be booked in two games to be suspended for the next match and all matches are important, but in league football bookings are a bit of theatre with minimal real significance.

But at the same time, the sudden stepping up of the punishment if you get two yellow cards seems catastrophically out of proportion. Two marginal bookings can force a team to play with ten men for much of the match. It also seems like what should be a personal punishment has a disproportionate effect on the rest of the team. That is, a team can receive seven bookings and have no-one sent off, or have someone sent off after just two. The impact on the likely result is unbalanced.

The alternative would be a five minute sin binning for each yellow card, however many of them you get, and the red card being reserved for straight sendings-off. Obviously, that would make a yellow much more serious than it is now, and the refs would need to learn not to be slightly more sparing with them; but they’d suddenly be a much more efective deterrent. Take shirt-pulling, for example. As much as I’m keen to eliminate it, sending someone off for doing it twice seems disproportionate. Having them miss ten minutes of the game seems quite reasonable. You could even have five minutes for a first booking and ten for a second, but actually I think that would be unnecessary.

Would it work better? I don’t know. It makes sense to me. It would be an interesting experiment, anyway.

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