Tuesday, September 12, 2006

10 Things I'd Change About Sports

A couple weeks ago, I took a look at the biggest travesty in sports – the current college football bowl system and the completely inane way they determine a national champion. Well, that got me to thinking. If I could change anything about sports today, beyond the obvious revenue disparities that are killing baseball, what would I do? I’m not talking about the massive restructuring needed in the NBA or anything like that. Mostly, I’m just speaking of the things that bug me that I don’t want around anymore. Feel free to add your own!

1. Tennis Scoring – Tennis is a fairly simple game. Win six games to win a set, but you have to win by two or the fifteenth game goes to a tie-breaker. Best of three or five sets wins. That makes perfect sense. It’s an enjoyable game to watch and long rallies in big matches can generate the requisite amount of tension to qualify as big sports moments. Tennis has had great characters over the years – from the stoic Ivan Lendl to the manic John McEnroe to the over-the-top Richard Williams. It has a terrific history. It’s an enjoyable game. So, why, in all of that, do we perpetuate the game scoring system? Love-15-30-40-Game? Advantage this or that? How about first to four, gotta win by two? Wouldn’t that be a lot easier?

2. No More Cupcakes – No, this is not about my in-game snacks - this one goes to college football and basketball. Enough with the Division IIs to warm up for the big games. I’ll accept some exhibition games to give the local small schools some revenue. But those should be at a discounted price for the fans and should not count on your season record. Two things bother me about these games – besides the fact that I’m charged full price for a ticket. First, they are almost always blowouts. I know Colorado lost to Montana State this year, but 99% of the time, the bigger school wins. It’s not that enjoyable. I love my Jayhawks, but I really don’t get excited to see them blow out Washburn in early November at Allen Field House. Second, these games can do more harm than good. There’s nothing in it for the bigger school but a W. Do they prepare as well? Do they look ahead? Isn’t this a recipe for disaster on the injury front when a small school player is just trying to get noticed? In the grander scheme of things, I just don’t like the idea of “pad” games to boost your win total. This is one area where the professional leagues have it right. When the season starts, all games should carry equal value. It’s one thing to play a bad team in your league. It’s another altogether to play an inferior team in a different league and have it count on your win total. I want to see more match-ups like last week’s Ohio St.-Texas game or the upcoming USC-Nebraska. That’s what I like in sports.

3. Mandatory Double-headers. Baseball is getting a bit soft. Double-headers are a treat for the fans and should be a part of every team’s schedule. All scheduled double-headers should be played on Saturdays. Come on, is it really going to hurt to play two games in one day? It’s not like you have to have the same pitcher out there for 18 straight innings. I know it would mean six less days to sell tickets, but how about if each team schedules three home and three road double-headers. One ticket gets the fans into both games. Go out to the park around 3:00 pm, and stay through the end of game two between 10 and 11. That is a great way to spend the day. Plus, if you don’t change the length of the season, that gives the team six extra off days. At what point did baseball become so fragile that teams now claim this would be too hard on the players? They’re not china dolls! They can play a game for a couple of hours – especially if the dates are scheduled in the fall – after the rosters expand. It’s a money issue for the owners. So you get 59 home dates instead of 62. Get over it, you babies!

4. No Televised Poker – Poker must be stopped. It’s getting out of control. I don’t care if you’re in the “poker takes skill” camp or the “poker is all luck” camp. Regardless, I am tired of seeing it on television. I have two reasons for this. The first is a moral reason. Poker is gambling and gambling can ruin lives. It is addictive. People seek the rush and for every college-Joe who’s won the World Series of Poker, there are 1,000 schmoes who’ve spent the family savings on the game. Let’s not pretend it’s anything different. Second, it’s stupid. Obviously, this is a subjective opinion, so I really don’t need facts to back it up. But, it’s a silly game of chance and you can puff it up with all the ridiculous terminology you want, at its heart, that’s really all it is. Whether it’s a poker pro from Atlantic City or Ben Affleck playing with his buddies, I’m sick of the latest rage.

5. The NBA Playoffs – This one is easy. They’re too long. It’s as simple as that. It takes much too long to get from Game 82 of the regular season to Game one of the NBA finals. The current playoff structure rewards mediocrity and in turn hurts excellence by making them risk it all in a seven game series against a team that barely won half their games, but got a big star back right before the post-season. I don’t like it. I say cut it in half. Four teams advance from each conference – the three division winners and one wildcard. That’s plenty and it means there’s actually a reward for winning. Next, the first round is a best of five. Conference finals are best of seven and the NBA title should be best of seven. It doesn’t minimize the champion and it makes the playoffs mean a lot more. 16 teams in the playoffs is really just a first round money-grab for ticket sales.

6. Standardize Golf Equipment – I am certain this will never happen, but I am equally certain that it would be good for golf. The PGA can handle this in one of two ways. First, use the NASCAR model – different manufacturers, but specific standards on the equipment. The other option is for the PGA to sell the rights by club – drivers, irons, wedges, putters – and by ball. That’s five different contracts, but all players use the same set of equipment. Let the players use their clothing to advertise for other manufacturers. The result will be a level playing field. How much better is Tiger than the rest of the field? Let’s find out with everyone using the same shaft, the same club head, the same ball.

7. Pass Interference – Nothing is more absurd than the pass interference call at the pro level. By placing the ball at the spot of the foul, you are simply assuming that every ball would have been caught. College football has the penalty right – 15 yards and an automatic first down. That’s plenty. Even better, though more subjective, would be to make pass interference similar to the face mask penalty. Have an incidental version and an intentional version and make defenses pay for pass interference with the intent to interfere. If my corner back is running stride for stride, looking back at the ball and the wide receiver stops, causing my DB to crash into him, that’s incidental. My guy was looking for the ball. However, if my DB tackles your WR before the ball gets there, that is true pass interference.

8. Intentional Fouls – The concept of intentional versus incidental is never more muddled than in the world of basketball. I’m tired of the foul shots at the end of the game. When did this become an accepted part of the strategy? If you’re not good enough to win in the flow of the game, you’re not good enough. This idea of “going for the ball” being the line in the sand between a regular foul and an intentional foul is ridiculous. Intentional means you did it on purpose. The penalty for any such foul should be two shots AND the ball. If you know you won’t get the ball back, the incentive to commit the intentional foul goes away. I agree that defenses may need to be more aggressive at the end of games, but there are consequences for that. You shouldn’t get the reward of getting the ball back.

9. Eye in the Sky/Get the Call Right – I’m tired of professional sports trying to fight against technology – specifically when it comes to replay. If video review can get a call right, let’s use it! I’d much rather know that the play was called correctly than to be worried that a review slowed the pace of the game. I think review can be used to improve the quality of the officiating. How many of a crew’s calls had to be overturned? The onus of this shouldn’t be on the coaches to throw a flag. The leagues should want to get the calls right, no matter what. So let’s use the technology we have to make that happen. Personally, I say take it even farther. Can we use the system that tennis has to determine where a ball hit to determine if the football crosses the plane of the goal line? Can we standardize the strike zone? Are there other tools that we can use so that the play on the field determines the winner – not the calls made during the game? That’s what I would prefer.

10. No More Intentional Walks – Lots of people don’t like the DH. That one doesn’t bother me. I like offense and the DH promotes offense. If I could change one rule in baseball, it would be the intentional walk. I hate that thing. Certainly it has made a star of Barry Bonds in recent years. But, it just rubs me the wrong way. You should have to try and get each batter out. If you can’t do it, there are consequences. However, the percentages already favor the pitcher. The best hitters still fail more than 60% of the time. So, it’s not as much strategic as it is cowardly. Now, if a team is really committed to NOT pitch to someone, the consequences should be more severe. I think, if a walk is deemed intentional, the batter should get two bases or let all runners move up 90 feet with the walk. So, if you have a man on second and want to walk someone, that’s fine, but the man on second will be moving to third, as well. Or have all intentional walks be worth two bases. Then, if a man is on second and you don’t want to pitch to the batter, the runner goes to third and the batter goes to second. The next intentional walk would score the runner on third, even with first base open.

So there you have it. Those are the top ten changes I would make. I’m sure there are more. Let’s hear what you’ve got.

The Race for 63! The Royals continue to inch closer to the 63 win mark and are playing .500 baseball. This week they went 1-2 against the Payroll, and 2-1 against Payroll, Jr. in Boston. With two out-of-contention teams this week in Cleveland and Seattle, they can make up some ground. Current record: 54-90. Projected record: 61-101.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Season of Hope

The National Football League has it all figured out. They put the pieces together, they’ve been willing to sacrifice a little for the good of the whole and they’ve reaped the reward – becoming the most powerful sports league in the United States. And this is the time of year when you can see just how well the business plan works. From Seattle to South Florida, from San Diego to Foxborough and everywhere in between, fans are saying the same thing: “If a couple of things go our way, this could be our year!” It’s true! The feeling is everywhere. Colts fans believe Manning gets over the hump this year and carries the franchise to glory. Raider fans are hopeful a mobile Aaron Brooks will allow the offense to carry a suspect D. Just last week, Eagles fans saw the trade for Donte Stallworth and said, “This may be the missing piece now that You Know Who is gone.” It’s all based on hope – and hope sells tickets.

Granted, some hopes are more realistic than others. For example, the Patriots have a proven track record that a strong D and some piece parts on offense, plus the amazing leadership ability of Tom Brady can be enough to win Super Bowls. They don’t need to just hope – they’ve seen it happen. Their hope is that the stars align again this year – and that Deion Branch picks up his uniform and starts playing! On the other coast, 49ers fans are hoping that things click this year for Alex Smith and that the offense can look more like an NFL team and less like pee-wee football. But, the hope is still there that with just a few breaks, the 49ers can be a wildcard team. Perhaps the place where hope reigns supreme this year is in the Superdome in New Orleans. Just a year after Katrina, the signing of a marquee QB and dumb luck (plus a dumber Houston front office) helping to get Reggie Bush wearing black and gold, hope is the operative word in the Saints locker room. Hope is contagious in the NFL – and from late July to early September, it is rampant.

Right here in Kansas City, hope strikes hard. Like the majority of NFL teams, hope in Kansas City is based on not-quite fulfilled expectations in the past combined with off-season moves heralded with the promise of future success. It’s the kind of hope that builds excitement, even though there are way too many unanswered questions. A defense that has been horrid for years gets some young talent up front and some old talent in the secondary. But is it enough to even be middle-of-the-pack in the NFL? The offense is revamped to focus on a bruising runner that exploited defenses throughout the second half of 2005. But, with huge changes along the offensive line, will he get the blocking he needs to continue his meteoric success? And of course, the issue of age. Is the window closing? Despite the likes of Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali and Larry Johnson, the Chiefs must be considered one of the older teams in the league. Trent Green, Tony Gonzalez, Eddie Kennison, Will Shields Ty Law and Patrick Surtain all will play prominent – even vital – roles this year. Yet all are on the back-half of their careers and, in the NFL, age can catch up in an instant. All we can do is hope that these guys still have enough in the tank to finish the year.

As for me, I’m conflicted. I want to buy into the hype. I want to believe that a patchwork offensive line can open holes for Larry Johnson, even with future Hall of Famer Willie Roaf watching from home. I want to believe that Tony Gonzalez will get back the Mojo that Antonio Gates stole from him and return to prominence as one of the best Tight Ends in the game. I want to believe Kyle Turley can protect Trent Green’s blindside and Sammie Parker can become a legitimate receiving threat. Then there’s the defense. I hope against hope that Hali will be a difference maker and not hit the wall in Week 10. I hope that Ty Law still has enough savvy to pick off 5 to 10 passes and Bernard Pollard can continue to ram into receivers like a freight train. I’m desperate to see a defensive line that can at least slow the run, even if they can’t stop it all together.

But, even will all this hope running through my veins, I’ve got a nagging feeling about this Chiefs team. There’s that doubt in the back of my mind – this fear that we’re one knee injury away from 2-14. I was amazed by Larry Johnson last year. I don’t expect a repeat performance. The line is part of the reason. But the other part is just a feeling. I’m not sure Larry can do it for a full year. He’s going to slow down. Defenses are going to stack against him. It will be more difficult. I like Ty Law, but the man is getting up there for a defensive back and he has to go up against Randy Moss twice this year (even with Aaron Brooks throwing those ducks down the field). And, I firmly believe the AFC West is one of the best, if not the best, division in football. Nobody lies down. There are no gimmies. Oakland is bad, but they’re still Oakland. Even if you dressed me in Silver and Black, you couldn’t pay me enough to go to a game there. That place is scary! Denver is better than last year – even with Jake the Snake still running the offense. San Diego probably has the most talent in the AFC, but will have to get along together to make it work. It’s going to be a tough ride. I can see the Chiefs finishing anywhere from 8-8 to 12-4. I think they’ll need at least 10 wins – and most likely 11 – to make the playoffs. So, here’s how I think it shakes out this year:

September 10 versus Cincinnati – Carson Palmer will come out firing, but Arrowhead on Opening Day should be enough. Plus, I think Palmer is still worried about his legs and I wouldn’t put it past Gunther Cunningham to tell his guys to hit low. Chiefs hold on for the win (1-0).

September 17 at Denver – The frustration continues at Mile High. This game is probably too early for a Chiefs defense still trying to find its way. Plummer will be conservative early in the year – he saves his choke jobs for when it matters. Broncos get the first one (1-1).

September 24 – BYE.

October 1 versus San Francisco – This is one of those games that the Chiefs lost in the past because they assumed they would win just by showing up. I blame that on Vermeil. I think Edwards has them ready and they win big (2-1).

October 8 at Arizona – Edgerin James scares me, but Kurt Warner and the Arizona offensive line do not. I’d give anything to have one of those receivers wearing red and gold, though. I like the Chiefs in the dessert (3-1).

October 15 at Pittsburgh – The Chiefs are no match for the defending Super Bowl champs. This team will be supremely confident and I don’t think the Chiefs can stop Willie Parker or the Steelers’ defense. Chiefs lose (3-2).

October 22 versus San Diego – I like the Chiefs to defend their home turf against and AFC West rival. Look for multiple defensive stunts to keep Phillip Rivers uncomfortable and the Chiefs out in front (4-2).

October 29 versus Seattle – The Chiefs can’t keep the momentum going and Shawn Alexander will tear them to pieces. In a matter of three weeks, they’ll have lost to both 2006 Super Bowl teams (4-3).

November 5 at St. Louis – The Chiefs reach the half-way point of the season with no sign of Willie Roaf. However, they are better than the Rams and talent will be enough (5-3).

November 12 at Miami – The Dolphins prove why they are one of the AFC favorites this year – dominating the Chiefs on the ground and on defense. That is quickly becoming the recipe for success against KC as they just can’t get over the hump (5-4).

November 19 versus Oakland – The Chiefs move into the easiest part of their schedule and crush the Raiders in KC. No love lost between these teams, but Oakland is bad on both sides of the ball (6-4).

November 23 versus Denver – Again, the Chiefs use home field and fend off the surging Broncos. Thanksgiving Day in KC will be good for the home team (7-4).

December 3 at Cleveland – The Browns and Charlie Frye will be overmatched as they are still a couple of years away. The Chiefs make it three in a row with a road win (8-4).

December 10 versus Baltimore – This game would scare me earlier in the year, but this late, McNair will be hurt, Lewis will be in jail and the Chiefs will win their fourth in a row (9-4).

December 17 at San Diego – On the road in the AFC is always tough and this game proves no different. The Chargers use Tomlinson perfectly and knock off the Chiefs (9-5).

December 23 at Oakland – A night game with those insane fans? No thank you. But, the Chiefs put up a good fight, then blow it on a couple of big plays to Randy Moss (9-6).

December 31 versus Jacksonville – In a must win to have any shot at the playoffs, and playing at home, the Chiefs struggle with the pressure, but are able to keep Jacksonville quiet in the cold (10-6).

So, there you have it. Ten wins, six losses. But, here’s the kicker that will really make Carl Peterson’s blood boil. It still won’t be enough to get into the playoffs, finishing with a 3-3 division record – behind San Diego and Denver at 4-2 in the West. And so will begin an off-season of frustration. And, when the NFL draft roles around, hope will return. It always does.

The Race for 63! The Royals take two from the Twins and two from the White Sox before getting crushed by the Payroll (Yanks) on Labor Day. They’ve got a heck of a schedule through the end of the year, but the .500 baseball effort will still get the job done. Current record – 51-88. Projected record – 59-103.