Part of what makes sports great is the discussion it inspires as well as the arguments — and debates — that span across age, ethnic and gender gaps. How the Jazz are doing this season may be the only thing that a grandchild and a grandfather can connect about. Fans from completely different ethnic backgrounds, who would never interact otherwise, sit next to each other at places like Fenway Park, Madison Square Garden or Cowboy Stadium and hug and high-five when their teams succeed.
One of sports fans' favorite pastimes is complaining about all the things that are wrong in the world of sports. This list is designed to get us thinking about how to fix all those things.
These are the top 20 things that I would change if I were the (fictional) Commissioner of Sports.
20. Get rid of the Pro Bowl
If you were one of the six people who watched the Pro Bowl, you would know how much of a joke it was. OK, I admit, I watched part of it. At first, I had it confused with a flag football game. First off, you can’t have an all-star game if all the best players can’t play in it.
All your league’s best players are playing in the Super Bowl, which means they can’t play in the Pro Bowl when it is played during the off week between the league championships and the Super Bowl. So if you have to subject us to that game, go back to playing it when it can actually be an all-star game.
19. Establish an NFL rookie pay scale
In 1984, the Dallas Cowboys were sold to H.R. Bright for $84 million. Last season, Sam Bradford signed a contract with the St. Louis Rams with incentives that could make it worth up to $86 million. Something wrong with this picture? This becomes even more outrageous to think about when you realize that Bradford had yet to step on the field and do anything for the Rams. No wonder all the owners in the NFL want more money, they’re giving it all to unproven rookies.
18. Stop reviewing every play in college football
Did anyone else notice that almost every close play this past college football season was reviewed after the officials stopped play for the umpteenth time. On more than one occasion these past few seasons, after a play that could have been called in multiple ways, I got up to go to use the restroom or get some snacks because I knew that they would stop play only to confirm the ruling on the field.
The main push back to implementing replay in the first place was how long it would make the games. So now they’ll replay three or four plays every quarter, but keep the clock running when a player goes out of bounds and have four-minute TV timeouts after a kickoff which had just been preceded by another TV timeout. Let’s go back to the challenge system like the NFL where coaches challenge plays when they need to, and let’s limit the TV timeouts and stop the clock when players go out of bounds. More football, less looking at officials and commercials, please.
17. Get rid of guaranteed contracts in the NBA
If a player is hurt or faking an injury or causing problems in the locker room, a team should be able to cut him without worrying about having to pay. The NFL does it, it works well. And, let’s be honest, how many Carlos Boozer’s do you know out there who fake injuries and sit behind the bench in their $10,000 suits, which they bought with the money they have collected while doing nothing.
16. Have a 1-on-1 tournament during NBA All-Star weekend
Could you imagine the hype around a match-up between LeBron James and Kobe Bryant in the championship of a 1-on-1 tournament the night before the all-star game? That would draw more viewers than the actual game itself, maybe they should just do this instead of the game.
15. Implement the designated hitter in the National League
The National League is literally the only league in all of baseball that doesn’t have a DH. From Little League to high school and on up through college baseball and the minor leagues, there is the option to have a DH. Having pitchers hit for themselves is embarrassing, both for the pitchers themselves and baseball fans. It fuels the pro-soccer argument that says that baseball players aren’t athletes.
14. Overhaul the NFL overtime rules
Either do it like college football where the two teams start at the 25-yard-line and go in until someone wins. That is some of the most entertaining TV in the world. The current regular-season rules leave the game up to a coin toss. Ask players how frustrating it is to lay their athletic lives on the line for 60 minutes and then have the game, which they’ve worked so hard to win, decided by a coin toss. Not to mention, the possibility of ending in a tie, which automatically and technically makes the game not a sport. The playoff rules are getting closer, but they are so contrived that it almost makes it not football any more. Just play it the way college football does it.
13. Give the automatic qualifications for the NCAA basketball tournament to the regular-season conference champions, not the conference tournament winners
You might as well not even have a regular season if you’re just going to throw it out the window come March and give an automatic bid to a team who gets a little hot or happens to play a conference tournament in its hometown. It’s more exciting to give the automatic bids to the tournament winners, but you end up giving three or four bids a year to teams that don’t deserve them.
12. Make basketball players go to college at least three years, like in football, before they can get drafted
I can hear John Calipari screaming in protest right now. It is a sham to let a kid take a scholarship from someone else when the university and coaches know that he is not going to be there for more than a year.
11. Either eliminate the first round of the NBA playoffs or make it a best-of-5 first round and a best-of-5 second round
Let’s face it, it’s not like there’s close to enough parity in the NBA to fill 16 slots in the playoffs anyway. Even if you did want to still have 16 teams in the NBA playoffs, you wouldn’t have to worry about a No. 8-seed beating a No. 1-seed in a short five-game series because, once again, there is no parity in the league.
10. Get rid of the first-round bye in the NFL playoffs
Do it however you want. Add another two wildcards in each league. In the professional league with the most parity, two more wildcards would not be a problem. The people that may want this most are the players and coaches of the teams who “earn” first round byes in the playoffs.
In the last six years, the teams who had first round byes are 12-12 against teams who won the week before. Those teams without first-round byes are coming off of wins and they are in a rhythm that the teams who had first-round byes aren't. In those same six years, four of the six Super Bowl Champions didn't have first-round byes.
I don’t know about you, but I want to see the best teams in the Super Bowl. Right now, those teams are being knocked out in their first playoff games by teams who are hot. Add two wildcards and let the one and No. 2-seeds play those teams in the first rounds.
9. Find a way to eliminate the plague of entitlement among college athletes
Urban Meyer now lists one of the main reasons he retired this past season as the overwhelming entitlement of the athletes he was dealing with. The press conferences held for high school football players to announce their commitments is a symptom of this entitlement. Our latest symptom comes from the NBA where players like James and Carmelo Anthony want to dictate where they will play while they are still under contract with another team. This will become an uncontrollable plague if we don’t figure out a way to stop it soon.
8. Have the team in the World Series with the best record have home field advantage
After the 2002 MLB All-Star game ended in a tie, Bud Selig panicked, trying to avoid the perception that baseball could be considered anything like soccer. Soon after, he decided that the solution was to make the game mean more by making the winner of the game (the National League or the American League) get home field advantage in the World Series.
The real solution would have been to just not allow a tie until the game was over, or just live with the possibilities that the exhibition game could be a little bit like soccer. Instead, now players who get nowhere near the World Series are determining who has home field advantage in it.
7. Cut the Major League Baseball season down to 140 games so they’re not playing baseball in November
The odds on favorites to win the World Series this year are the Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, and New York Yankees. At least Major League Baseball has decided to keep the World Series from being played in November, but the last week of October is still inhospitable for baseball in cold-weather places like Boston, Philly or New York.
Regardless of when the World Series is, 162 games is just a smidge too many, so 140 games is plenty to determine who the best teams in baseball are. Baseball may have a chance to make up some ground in public popularity if the NFL and the NBA go on strike in 2011. One of the biggest reasons that the NFL is more popular than Major League Baseball is the long baseball season. Make it shorter and you’ll have a chance to gain some younger fans while you have the chance.
6. Revamp the way that the NCAA investigates and punishes programs
The NCAA is a mess. It jumped all over Terrelle Pryor and Ohio State for selling property that was their property, but sat silently while big conferences ate up smaller, less powerful conferences and destroyed the hopes of many athletic programs. What needs to be changed the most is the way the NCAA punishes schools who violate their rules.
Scholarships are often taken away as a result of violations made by administrators and coaches. The NCAA claims that its purpose is to provide educational opportunities and that its athletes are students first. Meanwhile, it punishes schools by taking away those educational opportunities.
As Jay Bilas of ESPN said, is as ridiculous as punishing a hospital by taking away its beds for a certain amount of time so that they can help less patients. If you have to take scholarships away from the football team, give them to the school to be used outside the athletic department. But only if you truly believe that you are in it to give prospective students educational opportunities.
5. While we’re letting NBA players pick and choose where they play, let’s just disband half the league by contracting 15 teams
We’re going to get to this more at No. 2, but let’s face it, the days of NBA Finals in Utah are over so long as the NBA stays the way it is. Half of the league has no chance to win an NBA championship, so let’s just eliminate the teams who will never be able to attract the big stars that are now flocking to the big cities of the NBA
In fact, does anyone legitimately believe that anyone outside the Lakers, Spurs, Mavericks, Heat, Magic, Bulls or Celtics has a chance to win the NBA finals this year? So why not throw the Thunder in there and throw out everyone else. Those are the only games that anyone watches anyways. The NBA’s lost two-thirds of its markets anyway, why not just get rid of them?
4. Put an NFL team in L.A. already
Los Angeles is the second-largest market in America. How is there not an NFL franchise there? You’ve got two baseball teams, two basketball teams, a hockey team, a soccer team (for crying out loud), yet no football team. There are already plans to build a $1 billion stadium in downtown Los Angeles, you might as well put a team and some fans in it. Enough said.
3. Implement instant replay in Major League Baseball
It’s not as hard as people are saying it would be. All you have to do is leave balls and strikes off limits. The purists are using the “How far will it go?” argument as an excuse to drag their feet. It wouldn’t be hard to put another umpire in a booth in the press box and have him examine close calls that are challenged on the field.
Not every close call, just ones that are challenged by coaches. You can use instant replay for calls on the bases, close catches/traps, fair or foul calls, and home run calls. The opposing argument is that it will take too long. My counter argument is that they shouldn’t do it like they do it now where they take the umpires off the field to review plays. Have a guy in the booth ready to review calls.
Use a challenge system where managers get three challenges a game, that’s it. Easy enough.
Armando Gallaraga’s not-so-perfect game last season was a sign from the baseball gods. Their message: a massive screw-up like this could happen in a World Series or postseason game when it actually matters. Jim Joyce’s safe signal was more than just a blown call, it was a wake up call. If I’m a fan and a blown call costs my team a postseason spot or a World Series, I’m livid. If I’m a general manager or a manager and a blown call costs me postseason spot, it may cost me my job. Everyone should want instant replay.
2. Fire all NBA officials and hire a fresh, uncorrupted bunch
The NBA is somewhere between the WWE and figure skating in its legitimacy. I won’t go as far as saying that the NBA is completely rigged, but I also have a hard time watching the NBA and not imagining David Stern in the Jumbotron above the court pulling strings.
The first problem is that the officials have too much control over games. I often find myself watching a Jazz game against the Lakers or Spurs and saying to myself, “ya know, I might as well just turn this game off because I know the officials aren’t going to let the Jazz win this game.”
I know that the Jazz will get close just to make it an interesting game, but then Kobe will got all the calls at the end and the Jazz really never had a chance. I just have a really hard time believing that the whole Tim Donaghy scenario was an isolated incident. It is easier for me to believe that the officials are getting manipulated than believing they aren’t. I don’t think that Stern is controlling every game and picking winners throughout the season, but I can’t not believe that the officials in the NBA do not know who Stern wants to win each playoff series.
1. Replace the BCS with a playoff system
Ideally, this would be a 16-team playoff. The six power conferences would each play a championship game and the winner would automatically qualify for the tournament. Then you would have 10 at-large bids. Just like basketball, you would have a selection committee make those at-large picks. Then you take the 16 teams and re-seed them 1 through 16.
This past season the automatic bids would have probably been: Auburn, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, UConn, and Virginia Tech. The at-large 10 would probably look something like this: TCU, Stanford, Boise State, LSU, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Alabama, Michigan State, Nevada, and Oklahoma State. Yeah, maybe Mississippi State would have an argument to be in, but at least we wouldn’t be arguing about the national champion. The bracket would look something like this:
1. Auburn vs. 16. UConn: Essentially a bye week for the Tigers
8. Boise State vs. 9. Wisconsin: Remember the buzz around the Rose Bowl?
5. Ohio State vs. 12. Arkansas: One of the best bowl games of the past season
4. Stanford vs. 13. Nevada: Who wouldn’t want to watch that high-scoring game?
6. Oklahoma vs. 11. Oklahoma State: I didn’t plan that, I swear. Could you imagine the bedlam?
3. TCU vs. 14. Virginia Tech: Good, old-fashioned defensive battle
7. LSU vs. 10. Alabama: Death Valley would be rockin’ when Nick Saban comes back to town
2. Oregon vs. 15. Michigan State: A game full of entertaining trick plays
This first round would be full of exciting games with the higher seeds hosting the games. Potential second-round games include Boise State vs. Auburn; Ohio State vs. Stanford; TCU vs. Oklahoma, and LSU vs. Oregon. This tournament would be full of great atmospheres and great match-ups. The counter arguments here are numerous, but they are all really just masks for the real argument — money. The good ole’ boys don’t want to lose their money. I don’t even care if they get all the money from this tournament as long as we get a true national champion!
Honorable mentions: Relax college football celebration rules; Get some actual musicians for the Super Bowl halftime shows; Get rid of the Lottery in the NBA draft and switch the New Orleans Saints nickname with the Utah Jazz nickname.
Changes I would NOT make: Keep the 16-game season in the NFL — 18 games is ludicrous. If you are going to say you care about player health, let’s not subject them to two more weeks of brutally physical NFL games. Not to mention, did you see the last couple weeks of the NFL season last year? There were tons of meaningless and boring games. Let’s not extend that another two weeks, and let’s not expand the Major League Baseball playoffs with another wildcard. The baseball playoffs are already long enough with too many days off. The month of October is one thing Major League Baseball does really, really well.
Trevor Amicone is the Sports Director at 88.1 Weber FM "Ogden's Radio Station" and host of the Sports Talk Radio Show, "Fully Loaded Sports with Trevor Amicone." To check out more blogs, go to justsayinsports.tumblr.com or weberfm.org.