This weekend the sporting world will experience something difficult to understand logically. We will witness an event that bills itself as “A tradition unlike any other…” The problem with 2020 is that this is the first time in its history that The Masters has been played in the Autumn as opposed to the Spring. I have difficulty getting my mind around anything that is happening for the first time and yet calls itself “a tradition”.
There will be a few modifications regarding the tournament this weekend that may be more subtle than simply the placement on the calendar:
- As a result of the placement on the calendar, there will be no azaleas in bloom. Hence, there will be no references to “Spring” and “rebirth” and “the PGA tournament entering its serious season”.
- As a result of the coronavirus, there will be no spectators – – pardon me, there will be no patrons.
- As a result of the coronavirus, a former Masters champion, Sergio Garcia, has had to withdraw this year.
In addition to and as a result of the placement on the calendar and related to the astronomical reality of November in the Northern Hemisphere, it is going to make the daily rounds finish much earlier. Back in April, thanks to being several weeks after the vernal equinox when days get longer and with the benefit of Daylight Saving Time, sunset in Augusta, GA was close to 8:00 PM. Players could – if necessary – continue to play until 6:30 or 7:00 PM. This year, the tournament is going to be about 7 weeks on the downside of the autumnal equinox and without the benefit of Daylight Saving Time. Sunset in Augusta, GA this weekend will be at 5:27 PM. Players will not be able to play much beyond 5:15 PM.
I cannot know for sure, but I believe this astronomical reality is behind a format change in The Masters for 2020. Normally, the “cut line” on Friday evening to determine which golfers may continue to play over the weekend has been to allow any player within ten strokes of the leader to continue to play. That could make for a crowded field over the weekend and could allow sunset to “interfere with the tournament”. So, in 2020, the “cut line” will be the fifty golfers with the lowest scores in the first two rounds – – no matter how close or how far they are from the leader.
Moving on from The Masters, let me turn to the English Premier League where a controversy is brewing. Back in the summer, the EPL returned to the pitch to complete its season after a hiatus thanks to the coronavirus. When it did that, it recognized that some players may not have been in perfect condition due to the layoff and the EPL expanded the substitution rule to allow 5 substitutions per game as opposed to the normal 3 substitutions per game. Unless I missed it entirely, there was no revolt among the people in the UK over that change nor were there any dangerous geopolitical implications related to that change.
The new season has begun. Teams have played 7 or 8 games; Leicester City, Tottenham and Liverpool sit atop the EPL Table while Sheffield, Burnley and West Brom Albion are bringing up the rear. There is no great shock in those placements early in the season. The issue is that several teams have multiple players with ‘muscle injuries” and one of the hypotheses for the occurrence of these ‘muscle injuries” is the shortened off-season between filling out last year’s EPL Table and the start of this season. I have no idea if that is a proper diagnosis and it really does not matter; the issue is that several teams have proposed that the EPL go back to the “5 substitutions” rule used last summer.
Support and opposition to the proposed rule change devolve in very predictable ways:
- The Professional Footballers Association – the union that represents players in the EPL – is in favor of expanding the substitution rule from 3 to 5.
- Managers of the “big clubs” – the ones with the deepest pickets – are in favor of expanding the substitution rule from 3 to 5. Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal for example have all declared their support for such a change.
- Managers of the ‘little clubs” – the ones with not so deep pockets – do not favor expanding the substitution rule from 3 to 5. Sheffield has specifically come out publicly against the proposed change saying it would give an even larger competitive advantage to the “rich teams” who can better afford to expand their benches.
Here is the rub. The EPL rules require a vote of 14 of the 20 teams in the EPL to make the change. There have already been two votes on this issue this year and both votes have been “relatively conclusively in favor of three substitutions.” That is the phraseology used by the CEO of the English Premier League in a discussion with the Government’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee and if that remains the forum in which the controversy will be decided, it looks as if the “big guys” are not going to get their way.
I mention this because there is another interesting statement from the EPL’s CEO to members of that Select Committee:
“Our job is to make sure we create a calendar which fits with our broadcast commitments, we’ve made very clear broadcast commitments, and try to do our best – as we always do – to work with clubs to create a fixture calendar that has player welfare at its core … We can’t always do everything that everybody wants us to do but where there’s flexibility we try to help.”
Here you have an example of someone akin to a “Commissioner” in US sports exhibiting transparency and candor. The league needs to fit a schedule to the needs of the “broadcast partners” because those are the people who are paying the freight for the EPL as a whole. This is why rich people buy EPL teams; this is why players in the EPL earn the salaries that they do. Somewhere in the cosmos, Howard Cosell is smiling and saying that this guy tells it like it is.
Finally, since part of today’s rant focused on The Masters, let me present here the definition of golf from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:
“Golf: A so-called sport whose strolling, lackadaisical participants are so unaccustomed to the consequences of physical exertion that all eighteen of their playing areas include a place to wash their balls.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………