It is certainly the case that, as Mike points out below, scoring in World Cup games has gone down. This wouldn’t be such a terrible thing, except that the game ends up getting settled by penalty kicks, which is better than flipping a coin or playing rock-paper-scissors, but not much. So there certainly does seem to be room for thinking about how to increase the scoring in football matches, at least marginally. The problem is that many of the solutions have problems associated with them, and with a game that is still so loved as football is, we should avoid genuinely drastic changes that might have unintended consequences.
First up is changing the offside rule. This probably would lead to more scoring, but as one of our commentators mentioned, it would also change the whole structure of the game, in ways that are hard to predict. Would it just lead teams not to bring as many players up when their team is on the attack? Might that lead to less scoring? Maybe.
Second, and more serious, is Mike’s suggestion of increasing the size of the goal. This is a change that actually makes quite a bit of sense, since (again, as one of our readers pointed out) average heights have gone up considerably since the dimensions of the goal were set. I think this might lead to a very large increase in scores on set pieces, especially corner kicks, where it would be harder to defend against headers. It would also be harder to set up a wall that could effectively defend against set pieces from other parts of the field.
The problem with this is that, while changing the offside rule is probably a bad idea but relatively easy to do, changing the dimensions of the goal is probably a good idea, but actually quite difficult to accomplish. FIFA operates on the idea of having a single set of rules for all of football. But if you made this change, you’d have to pull down a hell of a lot of goalposts around the world, which isn’t a big deal in professional leagues, but certainly is for your kid’s weekend league. It’s also a hard thing for one league to experiment with, since you would have players who had become experienced with one dimension of goal having to play in international leagues (or if they transferred to other leagues) where another one was in use.
So I think the scoring problem is very tricky. I think dealing with the disciplinary issues is relatively easy. Right now, a yellow card has very small short-term consequences (although if it is combined with a second card, it has very large ones). But as Mark would be the first person to tell us, football players are probably hyperbolic discounters–they substantially discount long-term consequences. There’s a good argument for totally scrapping the yellow/red card system, and going to a variant of the rules used in hockey, where players have to go off the field temporarily for different penalties. You would keep the red card for genuinely flagrant fouls, but impose relatively short removals from the field for more minor fouls, larger ones for more serious ones, and maybe progressively larger removals for each additional team foul.
Second, I think getting it’s probably a terrible idea to have videotaped replay, on anything but determinations of whether a goal has been scored (which can probably be solved technologically anyways) and possibly offside when it causes a goal to be taken back or rewarded. But I don’t think there’s any argument for only having a single referee on the pitch. It’s a huge field, compared to many other sports, a hell of a lot of running, and a lot to keep up with. And here there’s no reason why top leagues couldn’t have two referees, while lesser leagues have one.