Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sports' Worst Rules

In the midst of the NBA Finals, it seems like a perfect time to write about bad officiating in sports. More accurately, this is a list of the worst rules and practices in sports. I have shied away from this topic because it is far too easy to come up with more items; every time I watch a game there are things about it that drive me up a wall. So we'll call it a running list, in no particular order:

Defensive Indifference. When a base runner is not held on and steals a base without a throw, he is not credited with a stolen base. This is a strange rule because, well...the guy stole a base. I get that there was no challenge to his attempt, but they credit a guy who is intentionally walked with a base on balls. He didn't exactly earn that, did he? If a player actively moves himself towards home plate, and out of a double-play situation, he is actively helping his team, whether he is held on or not. Whether there is a throw or not. Whether it is a blowout or not.

NFL overtime. Since 2000, the team that wins the coin toss wins the game around 60% of the time. The team that loses the coin toss actually gets possession around 30% of the time. So the coin toss offers a massive advantage - far greater than home field advantage even. And as exciting as college overtimes are, they put an unfair burden on the defense but do not really reward the defense much for stops. Solution: hold a coin toss to determine possession and direction of play. Have a full kickoff. If the team with the ball scores a touchdown, game over. If they kick a field goal, the other team then gets one possession to match them (sudden death from then on) or score a TD (game over). If the team that gets the opening overtime possession does not score (turnover, downs or punt), the game instantly becomes sudden death.

NCAA football down by contact rule. A wide receiver finds himself 20 yards behind the defense but stopping for an underthrown ball. He has to go to a knee to catch it. He could get up and walk 40 more yards for a touchdown, but he's down where his knee touched. I can't even come up with a defense for this one that I would then counter.

The clock in a soccer game is merely a suggestion. Humans began using clocks somewhere around 5000 years ago. Soccer can't figure it out. Yes, they have clocks; they count up from 0:00. Why? Because only the referee on the field knows the true time. How about his personal stopwatch is connected wirelessly to the stadium clock? How about he signals the timekeeper (whistle or hand motions) when to start and stop the official time. Is it really this hard?

Soccer shootouts. Entire seasons ... World Cups ... Olympics come down to which team has fewer guys that will accidentally miss the goal from 12 yards away, or accidentally hit the goalie with a shot. Shootouts are like admitting that your sport is stupid and you just want it to end. Make the goal bigger, make the field smaller, make the time shorter, and play till someone wins.

Baseball's Designated Hitter rule. I get that I don't like it because my favorite team is in the N.L. However, I feel that the strategic intrigue created by a pitcher hitting for himself outweighs the deeper offense with an extra hitter. More players play, more interesting situations occur, advantages are gained by pitchers who bunt or even hit well, etc. Do you pinch hit for a pitcher who is cruising? What is the risk/reward in a double switch and will it backfire in later innings? And if you do have a pitcher who is a decent hitter (.250), he will never get the chance in a DH league, thus not rewarding him for the overall balance of his game.

American sports leagues playing regular season games overseas. "Sure we have lots of fans here and they pay our salaries through tickets sales, merchandise sales, and purchasing the products that our advertisers sell. But we don't like them as much as we like those other fans. Let's take home games away from our fans and give them to people over there who only come to watch because it is a spectacle...they don't actually understand anything that is happening. Our fans at home won't mind."

The NHL trapezoid. The goalie is not allowed to handle the puck outside a trapazoidal space behind the goal. If he takes it outside that area, it is a 2-minute penalty. The idea is that goalies could handle the puck in the corner and bring it into the crease and waste time or more likely, that goalies can go out to play pucks and clear them too easily. The NHL wants scoring, not slower play. But having your goalie handle the puck is generally like having a 2-year-old carry your crystal on his head down the stairs. It's probably not going to go the way you want it to. Goalies handling and being out of position can only cause more goals...and more hilarious blooper reels.

MLB All-Star game determines the World Series home field advantage. You can't have it both ways. Either the All-Star teams need to be determined by players and managers and G.M.s and the game counts for something, or they are determined by star-struck fans and it is just for fun.

There is no such thing as a receiver force-out in the NFL. If a receiver catches a ball in the air near the sidelines/endline, and is driven out of bounds before getting his feet down, he is out-of-bounds. No catch. So conceivably, a guy could jump up over the middle to catch a ball, I could catch him on my shoulder and carry him to the sidelines and put him down out-of-bounds and it is a no-catch. Update: you can't actually do that.

NBA officials do not enforce the rules, particularly for stars and at in big moments. Traveling, carrying-over, and 3-second violations are simply not called anymore. Fouls seem to have no rhyme or reason. Out of control players are bailed out with fouls (as long as they're All-Stars). The officials have turned the league into a joke with their adoration and protection of stars and individual biases for and against certain teams. I am OK with "playoff rules" - that is that calls are made differently in the postseason, but they must be called consistently for every player and every situation throughout the course of every game.

A few years ago the NBA made a no-complaining rule. Apparently that no longer applies.

College basketball possession arrow. Kid makes a brilliant defensive play: he either is not rewarded for it this time or he costs his team a possession next time. Why not jump it up? The only conceivable argument is that it takes too much time. And to that I say shorten halftime by 11 seconds to account for it.

Soccer flops. There is a rule against it but it is only called for egregious flops, not the run-of-the-mill 30-times per game variety. Solution: If a player goes down and rolls around screaming and holding his leg, he must leave the field for at least two minutes for treatment. The team may substitute for him (but remember: they only have a set number of subs per game), or they must play down a man for the injury break. This will discourage flops while still giving actual injuries the treatment they need. If he's hurt, sub him out. If it's not bad, he gets time to recuperate before rushing back in and injuring himself worse. If he's faking, it's like penalty minutes.

The clock-stopping foul in the NBA. There is a rule in the NBA that if you foul someone on purpose without making a play for the ball, but it is not overly forceful or violent, it is an intentional foul. The player gets a free throw (two if he was shooting) and his team retains possession. But for some reason, this rule is not applied late in games when a losing team is trying to stop the clock. Suddenly it is a simply personal foul to go up and shove someone lightly or wrap your arms around him, without attempting to knock the ball away.

The BCS.

Without doubt, I will add to this list in the future (probably after the next game I watch today), so stay tuned.

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