Three Little Changes…

I want to devote today to changes in sports – – hopefully changes that will make things better and not usher in a boatload of “unintended consequences” as happened with instant replay.  I know that all change is not positive, but I do think that it is possible to find ways to emphasize the positives such that one will hopefully minimize the negatives.  I also recognize the truth in the adage attributed to Sir Winston Churchill:

“Perfection is the enemy of progress.”

My intent here is to propose or endorse a few avenues of change knowing that the improvements that I see in making those changes will cause others to see “the dark side”.  I think these are worthy of consideration.

Several months ago, MLB said that it planned to impose the “3-batter rule” on relief pitchers in 2020.  Things went so far that MLB said it wanted to put the rule in place and the players union said it would not oppose it as something that violated the current CBA.  That sounded awfully nuanced when I read about it, but I figured that there were still details to be worked out there.  Now, we are in the offseason and I have not yet read or heard that MLB has indeed put that rule into the rulebook.  That brings two questions to mind:

  1. How are teams supposed to maneuver their rosters this winter when there is a pending rule change that may or may not go into the rulebook later this winter?
  2. What is the hold-up?

Forget question number 1 above for today; that is why managers and GMs get paid the big bucks; that is their problem.  Focus on question number 2.  The idea behind this rule change in the first place was to speed up games by reducing the number of pitching changes during an inning.  Let me be clear; this will no speed up games to the point that we will see the return of the “two-hour game” or even the “two-and-a-half-hour game” with any regularity.  What it will do is to cut down on the number of “breaks in the action” in mid-inning.

I have to believe that at least a few of the baseball mavens thought about these sorts of issues and weighed them against potential consequences before making the announcement that they did a few months ago.  If it made sense to give this a try, then – and it must have if it got to the point that the union commented on it – let me repeat the question:

  • What is the hold-up?

Memo to The Commish:  Put this rule in the rulebook now.  If you find after a year or two that it does not make sense, then take it out of the rulebook then.

Let me move now to the NFL where there is ample reporting suggesting that schedule changes to include a 17-game regular season are in play.  One twist on that change is that every team would have to play a game on a “neutral site” so that half the teams do not reap the advantage of a “ninth home game” every year.  [Aside: I doubt the schedule maker(s) are the motive force behind this change.]  These “neutral sites” could include foreign venues and cities in the US where there are no NFL franchises in the neighborhood.

If all that comes to pass, my idea here will be moot.  However, since the NFLPA has been against expanding the regular season in the past, let me proceed here on the basis that the regular season will remain at 16 games.  My suggestion here intends to give some sort of trivial meaning to the Exhibition Season that is foisted upon season ticket holders.  The emphasis here is on the word “trivial” because those are Exhibition Games at their core – – meaning their value is virtually nil.

Here is the idea:

  1. Keep standings for the teams in the 2 conferences as if the games were real ones.  Not to worry, they will be wiped clean at the end of the Exhibition Season and will have no bearing on things like the playoffs.
  2. Using tiebreakers that have yet to be devised, the 4 teams in both conferences that have the best records in the 2020 Exhibition Season would earn the following benefit – they can opt out of playing any game outside the “Lower 48” during the 2021 regular season if they choose to do so.

I know; this is not Earth-shattering.  However, it does provide teams with a minuscule motivation to play well and it does give fans a reason to look at the agate pages to see the Exhibition Season standings.

The last suggestion for the day seeks to improve the thing that I have called the single best sporting event of every calendar year.  I am talking about March Madness and I have not backed off my assessment of its excellence.  Recall in the past that I have offered this modification:

  1. The Selection Committee should choose 96 teams not 68.
  2. The Selection Committee should name the Top 32 teams and give them a bye for the first round.
  3. The remaining 64 teams should play 32 single-elimination games where the winners go into March Madness and the losers become the entrants in the NIT and play out that junior-varsity tournament.

I still maintain that is a change to be made but there is exactly no impetus for it outside these pages.  Ergo, my secondary modification would take aim at the play-in games as currently exist under the current selection rules.  Here is the change:

  1. The Selection Committee announces its brackets on Sunday meaning the 8 teams in the “play-in games” are identified then.
  2. All 4 of the play-in games should happen on Tuesday of the following week – not half on Tuesday and half on Wednesday.
  3. The winners of those games advance to the bracket of 64 – AND – all four of those winners are slotted to play in Friday/Sunday side of the first-round games.

Nothing can erase the fact that those 8 “play-in teams” face an extra game in the tournament structure but with this modification they get an extra day to travel/practice/prepare for that first round game than they currently get.

None of my suggestions here will make things perfect; I submit that they could make things marginally better that they are now and should at least be considered before being dismissed out of hand.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Finally, I began today by quoting Sir Winston Churchill.  I shall close by quoting a British essayist and physician, Havelock Ellis:

“What we call progress is the exchange of one nuisance for another nuisance.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………