by Clark Groome
The events of the last few weeks – the World Cup, the baseball All Star Game, the NBA and NHL drafts – focused attention on what is great and what is flawed about these sports.
The greatness speaks for itself, so let me make proposals about two changes that might remove some of the flaws. (I’ll have some more next week.)
Stop stoppage time
The World Cup captured the American public’s attention in a way that had never happened before. Part of that was due, no doubt, to the unexpected success of the U.S. team. Part of it was also due to the inherent beauty and excitement of the game itself.
There has been a lot of talk about what is called “stoppage time,” a period of time added by the referee at the end of each period to make up for the time injuries take to deal with or to reset after a goal or when the referee feels that the players are dogging it on a goal kick, a corner kick or an out-of-bounds throw in.
It’s arbitrary. On any number of occasions the knowledgeable ESPN/ABC announcers commented that they thought more or less of this extra time should have been added.
The reason for all of this is that from the beginning of the game to the referee-determined end of the period (in both regulation and extra time) the clock never stops.
In today’s world, with clocks that can be calibrated to 100ths of a second, it would make more sense to do what those two other fast-paced sports – basketball and hockey – do and stop the clock whenever there is a stoppage in play.
That’s the way high schools do it. That’s the way the NCAA does it.
It’s confusing, which is OK since there’s a lot about sports that’s that. What’s troubling is it’s arbitrary. The officials on the field have lots to worry about and have a great deal of discretion about a number of aspects of this, and every other major, sport. The NBA, NFL and NHL all have a clock that keeps everyone abreast of the time remaining. It’s silly, stupid even, for a 90-minute soccer game to really take, oh, 93 or 94 or whatever minutes. Stop stoppage time. Start the clock when play starts, stop it when’s there’s an interruption, and end the period or the game when it winds down to zero.
It shouldn’t “count”
Back in 2002, the Major League Baseball All-Star game ended in a 7-7 tie after 11 innings. The teams had run out of pitchers and Commissioner Bud Selig called the game, vowing that this would never happen again.
The next year MLB decided that in order to make the All-Star Game more significant it had to “mean” something.
Up until that time the game had been a showcase for the best players in the sport and a time when the fans could see stars playing together. It was also, until the 1997 introduction of regular season inter-league play, the only time, other than the World Series, when teams from both leagues were pitted against each other.
The new role of the All-Star Game would be, ta-da, to determine home-field advantage in the World Series, something that previously had been alternated between the leagues.
Now that the game “counts,” as seemingly endless promotions tout, the selection process for the game lacks a reasonable approach to picking the all-stars. Fans are empowered to choose the starters, the managers and players pick the reserves and the managers choose the pitchers. Thus Derek Jeter, retiring after a superb career, was voted as an American League starter even though he is no longer the AL’s best shortstop.
Should he be starting? No. Should he be there? Absolutely. But if the game is to determine home-field advantage in the sport’s most important event then there should be a better way to pick the players.
Since that won’t happen, the logical and sensible solution would be to have the All-Star Game return to its original purpose: a showcase for great players and a time for players and fans to have a good time mid-season.
Then, how do you pick the home-field participants? Easy. Just like in the NBA and the NHL and the NFL through the conference finals, the team with the best regular-season record has the advantage. It’s simple and sensible. And the All-Star game would be a lot more relaxed and fun.