Observation from the Cheap Seats

Richard Hunkler, PhD.
Water Polo Planet
12/15/11

Cheap SeatsBy cheap seats I mean I wasn’t actually at any games but I did get the opportunity see a number of collegiate games on steaming video. Is streaming video becoming the cheap seats of today? One of the sadist things I saw were some referees trying to affect the outcome of the games they refereed. Thanks to the water polo gods there were only a few. For the most part I thought the refereeing was better than it has been in a while and I was really proud to see three of the four referees at the NCAA Men’s Championship were from the East Coast. The number of prima donnas and control freaks were held to a minimum and the fact that the MPSF used a couple of East coast referees says a lot about the parity of referees in this country. There may not be parity in collegiate teams but there appears to be parity between East coast and West coast referees. Enough about referees let us discuss the men’s collegiate games which I saw during the men’s season.

All right let us suppose I am a spectator sitting in the cheap seats. What did I see in these games? First I saw that most of the throws from the goalie were to a player on his way to the perimeter not to a player on his way to a counter attack. Waiting for a counter attack score was like “Waiting for Godot” in one of Samuel Beckett’s plays of the same name. If there were a counter attack goal then Vladimir and Estragon in this play might say something similar to the following:

Vladimir: I am glad to see a counter attack goal. I thought it was gone forever.
Estragon: Me too

 Now when the person moved to the perimeter with the ball he immediately fakes a foul so he could make a free throw to another player on the perimeter. It appeared that the defender making the so call foul was allowed to stay very close to player making the free throw and on several occasions the defender had one arm up. No wonder there are so few shots from outside the 5 meter line after a foul. When a player receives the free throw pass he immediately fakes a foul to get another free throw. This fake foul make free throw; fake foul make free throw; fake foul make free throw goes on for what seems like an eternity but it is not. It is done until the ball can be thrown into the two meter player or until the shot clock runs out and the ball is dumped in a corner.

Since there is nothing happening on the weak side, are players driving like Manuel Estiarte on steroids. Well it is difficult to drive anywhere when your defender has one of your legs in a hammer lock. Is the holding that blatant that you can see it from the cheap seats? You could be on the pool rafters and still see this holding. There is a song made popular by the folk singers Peter, Paul, and Mary and with the title “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” This can easily be applied to drives made in today’s game. Here are two mangled stanzas in the song:

Where have all the drivers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the drivers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the drivers gone?
Players have stopped them every one
When will NCAA ever learn?
When will NCAA ever learn?

Where have all the young players gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the young players gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the young players gone?
Taken other sports every one
When will USAWP ever learn?
When will USAWP ever learn?

Cheap Seats 2Believe it or not but in today’s game the spectator has choices as what to watch. Granted the choices are limited but there are choices. You can watch 1) fake foul make free throw; fake foul make free throw …, 2) defenders holding drivers, and 3) 2 meter player wrestling the 2 meter defender for ball side position. We have already talked about the first two choices so let’s talk the third choice. If you like mud wrestling or if you like Sumo wrestling you are going to just love watching the 2 meter player and the 2 meter defender wrestling for position. With all this fighting going on it is sometimes difficult for the referee to know which player should be awarded the foul. I have a suggestion for these referees. Carry a silver dollar and when you are in doubt as to who should get the foul – heads is a ejection foul and tails is an contra foul. Now there are other referees who believe that a ball thrown into the 2 meter players means an automatic ejection on the 2 meter defender. It doesn’t make any difference if the 2 meter defender has both hands up and his naval is showing he is still kicked out. I bet if you had a player who could walk on water and he was standing on water in back of the 2 meter player even he would be ejected if ball got into the 2 meter player.

What is the reward for all this work by the 2 meter player – a few 5 meter penalty shots but mostly an ejection.  An ejection means the offensive team gets to play with 6 players and the defending team gets to play with 5 players. Since 85 to 95%  of the goals are made from the man up advantage doesn’t  this mean that the most exciting part of the game is the man up advantage. Not! Boring! Boring! Boring!  Let me put it this way. If watching a man up situation were like eating chocolate ice cream, which it isn’t, and you owned all the chocolate ice cream in the world would you want to eat it all in one setting. Same is true when watching 6 on 5 goals. Another conundrum about the 6 on 5 advantage is even though 85 – 95%  of the goals in a game are made from the 6 on 5 play of the number of 6 on 5 plays awarded only 40 – 60% result in goals. You know what this means? It means you will spend a good part of your time watching  6 players  make about 8 or 10 passes and one player missing the shot on goal 60 – 40% of the time or better still instead of watching the missed shot, watch the shot clock go down to zero. You know that old adage “Too much of a good thing” means excess may do you harm. I don’t know if watching too many 6 on 5 goals can harm you but it can really bore you!

Poop DeckWhat about natural goals? Can they save the game? Waiting for a second natural goal in a game is similar to waiting for Halley’s Comet to appear. You can usually count the number of natural goals a team makes with your thumbs. What about the 5 meter penalty shots? Are not these shots more exciting than the old 4 meter penalty shots? Yes! Why are they more exciting because the goalie blocks more of the 5 meter penalty shots than he or she did 4 meter penalty shots. But there are not enough of them in a game to cause spectator to hold his or her breath and/or to sit on the first 3 inches of the bleacher like a plebe at West Point. And shots from behind the 5 meter line after a free throw are almost impossible to do. If water polo players had to wear goggles similar to swimmers then a defender is so close to the person making the free throw that the defender’s breath would fog up the free thrower’s goggles. Now, that is close. Why add rules that will help to make more natural goals and then not apply them in the game?

Watching my wife change the bandage on my ear is more exciting than many of the men’s water polo games I have watched this men’s NCAA season from the cheap seats. In the world there used to be two sets of water polo rules. One set of rules created a game called, “Soft-ball “water polo. This game was similar to the guy who plays “mayhem” in the insurance adds on TV and it used a deflated leather ball. The other set of rules created a game called, “Hard-ball” water polo and it was a real attempt to reduce the physicality in the “Soft-ball” game and it used a inflated leather ball which made it easier to pass and shoot. USA insisted on playing the game with the Soft-ball” rules while the rest of the world opted to play the game with the “Hard-ball” rules. As a result “Soft-ball” water polo was banned in the USA and it stayed banned until the water polo governing body agreed to play by only the “Hard-ball” rules. Some photos of “Soft-ball” water polo in this country can be found at the following link:  

http://www.waterpoloplanet.com/HTML_Hunkler_pages/71_Some_Visual_History.html

If you do not want see the photos then at least scroll down to the last photo and read the caption that can be found there because this sums up what I saw from the cheap seats. Thank you.