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VOL. 133 | NO. 137 | Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Fixing Sports: A Remedy for Chronic Ills

Michael Nelson

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Here’s a bad idea: Play a game for more than two hours and then, if it’s tied, decide who wins by playing a different game. That’s what happened in the World Cup on Sunday when Croatia and Russia’s tied match was settled by a penalty kick shootout. Croatia won its previous game the same way a week ago against Denmark, as did Russia against Spain.

Penalty kick shootout is not soccer, any more than home run derby is baseball. The way to fix soccer is to keep playing, well, soccer until a team scores more goals than its opponent.

Other sports cry out for other remedies to their chronic ills.

In a different way soccer actually provides a remedy for what plagues its American cousin, football: namely, the seemingly endless length of its games. What football should do is what soccer already does: never stop the clock for anything. If injuries bring play to a halt for a few minutes, just tack a few minutes of stoppage time on to the end of the game. Everything else – incomplete passes, runs out of bounds, first down measurements, whatever – should happen on the clock.

Football has another problem that shouldn’t be too hard to solve. Athletically speaking, place kickers are a breed apart from all the other players on the field, yet the points they put on the board by kicking PATs and field goals usually exceed the points scored by even the best backs and receivers and often decide the outcome of a game. What football needs to do is abolish the kicked extra point (make them run or pass for it) and reduce the point value of a field goal from three to two.

Baseball suffers from one of the same problem as football – games have become way too long – but requires a different remedy because it’s played off any clock at all. Happily, the remedy lies in our past – that is, the past of our own youth.

Remember seven-inning games? Did they seem at the time to lack completeness? I’m guessing the answer is no. Were they over soon enough that you didn’t have to miss a meal or phone in sick the next day if you stayed for the whole game? I’m guessing yes.

As for basketball, what’s worse than the last two minutes of a close game, which between timeouts and intentional fouls invariably last a half hour or more. Why not reduce the total number of timeouts by one per team and abolish them altogether during the last five minutes of each half?

Lacrosse and hockey are great games that each could benefit by borrowing a feature from the other. Lacrosse is one period too long – it should go to three periods like hockey. Hockey doesn’t leave enough room behind the goal for cool lacrosse-style passes to charging forwards – it should knock out a few rows of seats at each end of the rink and make room.

And while you’re at it, hockey, get some pucks a person can see, maybe even white ones against ice that’s dyed midnight blue.

Golf needs to learn something about noise from every other sport. At golf tournaments, a rule of silence prevails that even monks abandoned years ago. The result is that the tiniest noise – a camera click, a child whose foot has been stepped on, a modest burp – can turn a 300-yard drive into a shank.

Golf in general ought to learn what the Phoenix Open already has figured out: that it’s the tininess of the noise, not noise itself, that is the problem. When the slightest snap, crackle or pop breaks a silence, it breaks an athlete’s concentration as well.

But loud and continuous noises, the kind that crowds make at other sporting events, don’t distract athletes at all because the noise is general, a buzz or a roar. Can you imagine Clayton Kershaw stepping off the mound or LeBron James refusing to take a free throw because it’s too loud?

Whoop it up, golf fans. And when there’s a tie, don’t break it by playing putt-putt.

Michael Nelson is the Fulmer professor of political science at Rhodes College.

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