When misconduct happens in the rink, such as this fight between Matt Hendricks and Scott NIchol, the 'sin bin' is the preferred method of punishment. Could this be adopted to other sports too? Photo: Clyedorama

Could the ‘sin bin’ rule be beneficial to football?

So, the Winter Olympics at Sochi have brought a huge variety of sports to the fore. One sport that has really grabbed my attention has been the ice hockey because it’s quite a violent sport, but that’s allowed… that’s probably why I like it! What surprised me was how much the ‘sin bin’ was used, which made me think further about the ‘sin bin’ in other sports and potentially football.

The ‘sin bin’ is a bench where a player who has been penalised must sit for a length of time judged by the referee according to the level of the player’s offence. It has been coined in ice hockey as the ‘penalty box’ and since 2000 has been an influential addition to the rules of rugby. If a player is in the ‘sin bin’, the opposition have ‘Power Play’, which is the time when they have the clearest advantage to go ahead in the match.

Let’s take a look at what constitutes a ‘sin bin’ in some sports.

From section 401 to 405 of the International Ice Hockey Federation rules (IIHF), it states there are five different types of penalty resulting in use of the ‘sin-bin’: a ‘Minor’ penalty and ‘Bench Minor’ penalty, where a player is ‘sin-binned’ for two minutes (10% of one of the match’s 20-minute thirds) for smaller offences such as barging, a ‘Major’ penalty with five minutes in the ‘sin bin’, and ‘Game Misconduct’ and ‘Match’ penalties where the player is off for the rest of the match for offences such as violent behaviour. None of these penalties will be carried forward to another game; they only apply to the game in question.

Moving on to Rugby League, if a player commits an offence, it results in a ten minute stint off the field – an eighth of a full match, which could have a huge result on the game. Anything from kicking out at players to offensive language is considered an offence. The same applies to Rugby Union, the only exception occurring in Sevens where the ‘sin bin’ penalty is two minutes worth of a 14 minute long match.

Those are the rules, but how often is the ‘sin bin’ actually in use? To take ice hockey for an example, in the National Hockey League, the most ‘Minors’ for the 2013/2014 season belong to Dion Phaneuf of Toronto with 34, the most ‘Majors’ are 15 for Tom Sestito (Vancouver), who shares the most ‘Misconducts’ with Zack Kassian (also Vancouver) of six. However, the most ‘Game Misconducts’ and ‘Match’ penalties assigned to one player stands merely as two and one respectively.

Let’s compare this to the Premier League: for one player the most yellow cards collected stands at eight, whilst for the red cards the maximum of just three cards have been collected by any single player. Across all Premier League teams, there have been 836 yellow cards and 53 red cards, in comparison to 51 ‘Game Misconducts’ in the NHL- these are very similar statistics but football has a key difference.

The three-match ban is the result of a red card in a professional football match (applied for violent behaviour or denying an obvious goal-scoring chance among other fouls). However, the club does have the chance to appeal to the FA. Most recently, West Ham’s appeal for Andy Carroll’s red card on 1st February 2014 was rejected.

I think this red card system creates two problems: the first is player fitness. If a player has to miss three matches, their fitness may deplete from missing out on the intensity of competitive League football – even if the decline is a minor one. The other problem arises for fans; if a team loses one of their best players then fans is paying for a costly ticket with no guarantee of the complete package; the complete team. The extent to which this affects the team is either or both of a chance at a victorious season or perhaps millions of pounds in the transfer window.

This is where the ‘sin bin’ rule comes in! In December 2013, Michel Platini raised his interest in use of the ‘sin bin’ and I feel he does have a point. If you apply the ‘sin bin’ to football, someone who repeated an offence could go into the ‘sin bin’ for about 10 minutes (a ninth of the match), allowing the opposite team a period of ‘Power Play’.

Two minute and five minute ‘sin bins’ would also be an option, so that players know exactly the extent of their offence, removing the debate on inconsistency in refereeing decisions and the need to appeal. Also, the ‘sin bin’ would maintain drama in a match as the opposition of team who loses a player to the ‘sin bin’ would not have a lesser advantage than if they were to be sent off completely. Clearly, this allows for a truly competitive match. If you’ve ever watched a game ice hockey, you’ll know that they are rarely, if ever, decided by one decision.

This is not to say that violent behaviour should be considered a ‘sin bin’ offence though; the ‘Game Misconduct’ or ‘Match’ penalty could be used to keep a player off for the whole match too. The key difference is that it would only apply for that one match. Thus, the knowledge that a player is allowed to play in an upcoming match regardless of the present game could act as an incentive to play better, and not result in them losing fitness or draining match experience.

The ‘sin bin’ has worked very well for the last few years in games such as ice hockey and rugby which require a high level of discipline. It is the exemplum perfectum for football because it only affects the game in hand, giving the opposite team a potent advantage – but not enough to decide the game. In fact, the ‘sin bin’ is already being trialled in Dutch Amateur Leagues and I will eagerly await the result of the testing. In the meantime, let’s enjoy the forthcoming action, whether it’s on the ice or in the FA appeal court!

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