This summer has witnessed no shortage of activity on the professional sports front. The NHL Players Association and the owners finally resolved their salary cap dispute, and hockey will return to a full schedule this fall. To increase hockey’s entertainment value, the NHL will institute a major rules overhaul-shootouts will decide tie games; offensive zones will be extended to provide more space on power plays; two-line passes will be permitted to open up the neutral zone; and stricter rules will govern the size of goalie equipment. These fan-pleasing rules changes should be applauded for their balance. The shootout change, a fundamental addition, may attract new fans, while purists will appreciate that the core rules and the spirit of the game remain intact.
It’s unfortunate that only a financially unsuccessful league in danger of losing its fan base would adopt such an imaginative approach to rules revisions. What if the other major sports assessed and modified rules, formats and league structure in order to produce a more entertaining product? If they did, perhaps they would take my suggestions.
First, a recommendation for all of the leagues-when scheduling games, particularly in the playoffs, cater to fans before the television networks. At NBA playoff games this spring, a network representative stood at the scorer’s table, right hand raised, delaying tip-off and signaling to the officiating crew the preferred start time. Monday Night Football games kickoff after 9 p.m. on the East coast to satisfy West coast viewers, so the fourth quarter wraps up past midnight in the East, making it difficult for fans, especially kids, to catch the end of the game. At the PGA Championship three weeks ago, when rain forced the postponement of the final round, CBS chose to reschedule the remaining holes for 10 a.m. the following morning-Monday. Practically everyone who watches a golf major Sunday evening goes to work Monday morning and thus couldn’t watch the PGA’s exciting conclusion. Forgetting your constituency is never a smart move. It’s as if a professor rescheduled a final exam over Interterm.
The NBA should start its season earlier. Basketball fans don’t want to wait until Halloween for the regular season to get underway, especially when the NHL season opens nearly a month earlier. As for the playoffs, basketball’s recent switch to a best-of-seven format in the first round should be reversed. An opening-round series shouldn’t drag on for two weeks. Fans look forward to later rounds, and the players need to conserve some energy for the next opponent. And first-round matchups, particularly the 1-8 and 2-7 series, often are one-sided enough to be decided in three straight games. In a related issue, to intensify early-round playoff competition and eliminate low-seed pretenders, the NBA should reduce the number of playoff teams from 16 to 12. Moreover, as a prerequisite for a playoff berth, your team must complete the regular season with at least a .500 record. Finally, the NBA never should have agreed to the forthcoming age-minimum (19) for entrance to the league. If you possess the talent to earn a multi-million dollar NBA living, the owners’ concern about maturity should not stop you. Lacking fundamental skills is grounds for being cut from an NBA roster but does not justify mandating an extended stay in college.
Football could use some creative alterations as well. My two favorite touchdown celebrations in recent memory were the Joe Horn cellphone call and the Terrell Owens Sharpie signature. Owens’ move drew harsh criticism, and the league fined Horn $30,000. Now, I respect the game as much as anyone, but a goldmine of entertainment value lies in celebrations. As long as the celebration does not directly taunt the opposition, why not? Let’s remember that the NHL not only allows fistfights on the ice but actually incorporates fighting as part of the game. I contend that a little endzone fun is comparatively innocuous.
As for other football suggestions: Each team should be guaranteed a possession in overtime as in college games. Why rely on the randomness of a coin toss to give one team an advantage? If the first team with the ball scores, then the other team should be able to match. Also, the NFL should eliminate the ineligible receiver rule. Why should a lineman not be able to catch a touchdown pass? If a zone defense isn’t quick enough to cover Jumbo Elliot, it doesn’t deserve to stop the offense’s drive.
In other sports news, the Outdoor Life Network (OLN) outbid ESPN for the NHL’s television contract. For at least the next two years, the majority of hockey’s regular season games, plus much of the playoffs and the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals, will air on an obscure channel previously known only for televising the Tour de France. As if its lagging ESPN broadcasts weren’t painful enough, the NHL now moves to a network that reaches 26 million fewer homes. In case you’re wondering, the College’s Comcast package does not include OLN. Somehow, I don’t expect its absence to produce campus uproar.
Hope you’ve enjoyed the first installment of the post-Babbling era. Before I sign off, remember to support all your Lord Jeffs in their fall seasons.