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Ten notions to spark debate at sports bars

  • It’s time to have robo-umps call balls and strikes in the major leagues. Most sports have embraced technology to reduce “the human element” that so many old-school fans wax lyrical about. And despite the delays from reviewing video evidence (must umpires walk to the dugout area simply to get a message from the reviewing officials?) I’m a big fan. Fairness is fundamental to sport and accuracy is fundamental to fairness. Invasion of the Robot Umpires in the New Yorker lays out the case for and against, but the “for” case is overwhelming.
  • Football should forbid punting once a team crosses the 50 yard line into its opponents’ territory. Such a rule would add all sorts of strategic wrinkles to the game and probably increase scoring.
  • Relief pitchers should not be allowed warm-up throws from the mound unless they’re summoned to take over for a pitcher who has been injured. In no other sport does a substitute player get to come onto the field and practice a bit before joining the action. (Advertisers might hate this change, as they would certainly hate another proposal I have to give the next team at bat team exactly one minute from the time the last out is recorded until they must have a player in the batter’s box; 90 seconds if the first batter up is a catcher who has to remove equipment.)
  • Defeat the “victory formation” in football by having the clock stop at every whistle in the last minute of the game. In no other sport I know can a winning team stand there and render their opponents powerless as the clock winds down. Minor timing adjustments earlier in the game — running-clock portions of, say, the second and third quarters — could assure that such a change would not unduly prolong games.
  • No time outs in the last minute in basketball. Let them play. Make them play. Reward the better coached teams that know what to do under pressure.
  • Eliminate the concept of fouling out of a basketball game and instead increase the penalties for each foul a player commits over the foul-out limit. An escalating number of extra free throws for each additional foul over the limit by a player ought to be enough to discourage rough play. Alternatively, treating each foul over a player’s limit as a technical foul would also do the trick.
  • Use the college football overtime procedure in the NFL. No more ties. No more overtime wins when only one team gets a chance on offense
  • Eliminate opening jump balls, face-offs and coin tosses. Since visitors are at a slight statistical disadvantage, allow them to start on offense (or not) at the beginning of the game and in overtime. “NBA teams will win 62% of home games against equal teams, NFL teams will win 59% of home games against equal teams, NHL teams will win 56% of home games against equal teams, and MLB teams will win 54% of home games against equal teams” (citation)
  • Get serious about calling intentional fouls at the ends of basketball games. Deliberate fouling to put the other team at the free-throw line turns a balletic contest of grace, speed and skill into a state-fair arcade win-the-stuffed-bunny game. Obviously intentional fouls ought to be ruled technical fouls that give the ball back to the offense.
  • Halve halftimes. Marching band buffs, advertisers, concessionaires and announcers who love to hear the sounds of their own voices issuing platitudinous truths will object, but fans, particularly those watching at home, would love it if the ritual midway breaks were half as long as they are now.

Click here to vote agree or disagree on these proposals.