If you turned on ESPN Wednesday night, you would have seen Christian Benteke and Belgium run circles around a generally lost United States men’s soccer team. The friendly match was even more lopsided than its 4-2 final score. But, probably to the surprise of soccer’s many American skeptics, there weren’t any egregious cases of diving — faking an injury to draw a foul — in that game. If you instead chose to tune in to TNT to check out the fourth game of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat, however, you would have found plenty of the diving you might have expected from a soccer game.
The acting was so rampant (and bad) that in the aftermath of a chippy, generally poorly officiated game (this is what a shot clock violation looks like in 2013), the NBA smacked Miami’s LeBron James with a $5,000 fine for flopping (the American term for diving). Indiana’s David West got the same fine for flopping on the same play. These fines are the result of a new policy that the league announced in April. The NBA, not yet the diving haven that the European football leagues have become, will not tolerate any theatrics, even from its best player.
So why won’t soccer’s top leagues follow suit? One of the biggest criticisms of the sport in the United States is the prevalence of diving at the game’s highest levels. If FIFA, the sport’s governing body, were to put some severe penalties in place against diving, perhaps soccer would win a few more American fans.
The MLS has already taken a stand on the issue. If a player dives, he gets fined or even suspended, and the league can use video to review any play. Now, it should be worth noting that as the MLS is still a bit of a joke on the world stage, its adoption of penalties for diving here might in fact discourage major leagues from following suit. And this is not to say that Europe completely ignores diving. Domestic leagues do suspend players in particularly absurd cases. That being said, maybe we’re onto something here: Cheating is bad. Don’t do it. Seems like sound advice for the English Premier League, Spain's La Liga, and others to follow. Then again, FIFA is the world sporting federation that won’t even adopt basic video review to correct cataclysmic officiating disasters like this. Don’t expect to see Luis Suárez to get a 10-match ban for his histrionics anytime soon. It takes a Mike Tyson-esque bite to make that happen.
This is not to say that basketball’s system is perfect. $5,000 isn’t even a slap on the wrist for LeBron James and his $17,545,000 salary for this season. If the NBA or any other league genuinely wants to clamp down on diving, the penalties will have to be much steeper, as Israel Gutierrez suggested Thursday. Nevertheless, it’s a step in the right direction to show that even basketball’s MVP isn’t above the rules. Let me know the next time Cristiano Ronaldo gets suspended for a flop like one of these.