Sunday, June 21, 2009

Proposals For the Betterment of Sports

The other night I was watching a major league baseball game, and there were exactly two plays at second base that required the umpires' judgment. Replays showed that he got both of them wrong. He was paid thousands of dollars to stand around all night, work for a total of 10 seconds, and deliver a 100% incompetency rate. This example is no doubt fuel for those who would argue that we need more instant replay in baseball, but I don't see why we can't take it even further. I'd like to see umpires wholly replaced. You can't tell me that we don't have the technology to allow sensors and computers to make all the calls more accurately than human beings. Searching the web for counter-arguments to allowing technology in baseball reveals gems like this:

The problem lies in taking away the human error that makes baseball a beautiful game.....Where would we be if we couldn't harass the umpire about the wrong call? What would we do if we didn't think we knew better than those who spend almost a decade training, practicing, and working their way up to become Major League Umpires? Every fan loves to argue a call. Why take that away for a home run?

Even allowing for the subtle point that umpires are well-trained and mostly (but not always) correct, this is the classic rhetoric of someone who is afraid of any change, who just wants to keep things the way they have always been. Well, I propose a compromise then. You could pay random people a couple of bucks to stand out on the field with an earpiece hooked to a computer and render the decision. That way it would look like an umpire is still making the call and you could still argue with him or her (if that floats your boat).

As long as I'm upsetting the apple cart (and overusing cliches), here are some other things I would change in major sports leagues:

NFL: This is an amazingly well-run league. The games themselves are like a good novel--they can be enjoyed without all that much analysis, or they can be dissected and examined from multiple angles. The competitive balance in the league is remarkable, and this means that the individual games are more often than not thrilling and unpredictible. Factor in that the limited schedule results in most games holding significance, and you have a winning formula. Yet there is one thing that I would change. The practice of using chains to measure for first downs is absurd. They are basically pretending that they have a precise way of determining if a team has gained ten yards, when it is purely guesswork. In many cases, there is no way to accurately determine where a ball should be spotted when a player has been pushed back, or a pile of bodies is present. Yet if you always rounded to the nearest yard, you'd take out almost all of the ridiculous subjectivity. Occasionally it might still result in replay (as when we review whether a ball crosses a goal line), but overall it would streamline the whole process. And you could save money on having to employ a "chain gang."

College football: Um, yeah. I'm still waiting for my play-off proposal to be adopted.

Pro basketball: The regular season is a bore. Play 50 games instead of 82, and everything matters a whole lot more. You wouldn't hear about Kobe Bryant's fatigue, player careers would likely last longer, and quality of play would be higher. These factors would spur more interest in the sport, meaning less empty seats at arenas, higher TV ratings, and enough revenue to make up for the lost gates. And the play-offs and Finals would be in the spring instead of summer, presumably also causing higher ratings. Also, get rid of the tired music and sound effects pumped through arena P.A. systems. If you are that afraid that fans can't make enough noise (a proposition more unlikely if you reduce the regular season schedule), bring in college-style bands.

College basketball: Not a whole lot I would change. I'd do away with conference tournaments. And I'm still advocating July Madness.

NHL: Contract to the original four teams.

Auto Racing: Simplify how season points are calculated, so that an average fan can watch a race and then tell you (on their own without any help) how the points race has been impacted.

Boxing: Reduce the number of sanctioning bodies to one, and then reduce the number of weight classes to six or seven. Make is so that a casual sports fan can have the capability to name the champions and top contenders in each weight class.

Golf: One annoying aspect of watching golf is that it looks like the players just got off of their corporate day jobs. Players should wear uniforms, complete with jerseys with numbers and their names on their back (which would allow for a killing in merchandising). Anyone wearing a visor instead of a baseball cap is subject to fines and suspensions.

MMA: I'll admit that I've never watched this, but I would if they adopted the rules of the WWE, only with real fights.

Soccer: Let the players use their hands. Also, make the ball oblong, and replace the nets with end zones. Also, mark off 100 yards and allow players the ability to tackle the person with the ball.

Olympics: Create a Superstars-like competition for a select group of champions. How awesome would it have been to see Michael Phelps go for another gold, but needing to beat Usain Bolt in a boxing match to win it? Also, have a grand medal ceremony during the Closing Ceremonies--all of the medalists from the country with the most medals would assemble on a huge podium while their national anthem is played (and the second and third place countries would also be recognized). Finally, re-introduce tug-of-war as an Olympic sport.

Sumo Wrestling: Allow all of the out of work baseball umpires to participate.


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