Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Commissioner of Sports: November Decrees

Ah, November Baseball
On the NFL's new tackling controversy:
Many NFL players and alumni were upset recently when Commissioner Goodell said that helmet-to-helmet and other illegal hits would result in increased fines and even suspensions.  The common defense of these hits was that "football is a violent game," "that's how we've been taught to tackle since pee-wee football," and "they're interfering with my ability to do my job." 

Each of these points is stupid because the hits that Goodell is cracking down on were already illegal.  Yes, it is a violent game, but there is no need to intentionally inflict injury, and James Harrison infamously said is his intent when he hits someone.  Intentionally attacking someone physically is a crime and as we have seen in the NHL, especially cheap shots on the field can be prosecuted off of it.  No pee-wee football player was taught to dive into another player headfirst - you are taught to keep your head up so you can see if the guy makes a move and you are taught to wrap him up with your arms, not bounce off and hope you hit him hard enough to knock him down. 

On the MLB schedule and playoff expansion:
Major League Baseball's season is unnecessarily long, causing the World Series to tumble in November.  There are two reasons why this has never been remedied: cutting games means cutting revenue and would destroy baseball sacred statistics.  Both are reasonable.  But not enough.

MLB should change to a 140 game schedule, cutting interleague out of the regular season schedule.  The season could start later and this would also allow more time for the World Baseball Classic and the Olympics.  The shorter season would still provide ample time to determine the best playoff teams.  The risk is that owners would raise ticket prices fractionally to make up for the 11-lost home games, but I will address that later. 

Additionally, the playoffs should not be expanded beyond the current 8-team format.  If after 162 (or 140) games, you still can't get yourself into a better position than third place, you are clearly not the best team and shouldn't get to be in the playoffs.  And no World Series game should ever be scheduled to be played in November.  The divisional series should be expanded to best-of-7 series, which will require a tightening of the playoff schedule.  This year teams played 162 games in 182 days (including a 3 day break for the All-Star game).  That means they play a game every 27 hours for six months - 20 rest days.  If a team had played all 19 scheduled playoff games (5+7+7), they would have played a game every 35 hours - 9 rest days.  There is no need for so much time off.  One travel day could be eliminated from each of the three playoff rounds (still leaving two rainout makeup days per round), two games could be added to the LDS round, and the whole 21-game tournament could be completed in fewer days than the current system is - and in October, where it belongs. 

On ticket prices at sporting events:
On one level, sports is a business and business owners have the right to charge whatever they want for their products.  If the price is too high, consumers won't buy and they'll have to drop prices.  Hurray America.  But as any sports fan will tell you, sports is not just a business.  When a deli has a good month, the owner takes home a little extra cash.  That's a business.  When a sports franchise has a good month, millions of fans are taken along for the ride.  When a business succeeds in some huge way, there's a blip on the ticker on your TV.  When a sports teams succeeds in a huge way, there are parades through downtown. 

So since sports is more than a business, it is a part of people's families, it cannot only be controlled by the free market.  From season to season, ticket prices cannot be raised beyond the rise in inflation plus a percentage increase equal to the increase in value for the seats (new HD jumbotron?  That's worth a percentage per seat per game).  Additionally, while it is reasonable to have premier pricing for premier opponents, it is not reasonable to increase pricing based on expected weather or other factors that the team cannot control. 

The San Francisco Giants charge more for a Dodgers series than a Marlins series.  That's reasonable.  But they and others have reportedly considered having pricing increase based on other factors, such as weather forecasts and specific player matchups.  That's not reasonable because they cannot guarantee the thing they are charging more for.  If my seat is in the shade and I am a little cool, I might want a refund.  Or it is too sunny and I get a sunburn.  Or it's a little windier in my section.  Or the forecast is wrong completely.  Or on gameday Roy Halladay decides his shoulder is sore and he wants a few days to rest it.  Or the manager decides to give Albert Pujols the day off.  Or Pujols gets hurt in the first and comes out of the game.  Or he goes 0-4.  In any of these (very reasonable) situations, the fans aren't getting what they paid for and should be entitled to a refund.

On college sports rankings:
Is there anyone left who still thinks the BCS is a good idea or that it is working properly?  During its reign, how many times has it come up with a #1 vs. #2 matchup that was unassailable?  Once?  Twice?  The previous system did not work either, of course, which is what necessitated the change in the first place.  But we now have a pretty good sample size and this experiment doesn't work.  You know what does work for basically every other league at every level of basically every sport in the world?  Playoffs.  Bad for business?  I don't think so.  Will you watch the BCS title game this year?  Sure.  How many of the next best 15 bowls will you watch?  Three?  Four?  How many of the 15 games would you watch in a 16-team tournament?  Twelve?  Thirteen?  Tell advertisers that viewership will be roughly 3-4 times what it is currently and see how bad for business a playoff would be.

The AP recently named their preseason All-America team and for the first time in a long time, the men's team included a freshman.  That sound you hear is the death-knell of such pre-season voting.  I officially bad pre-season All-Conference and All-American voting.  This is even more of a complete guess than Mel Kiper's 2011 Mock Draft that he published in April of 2010.  At least Kiper had seen the kids play before.

On the NFL's various expansion plans:
No American sports league shall expand to include European-based teams until travel from the west coast of North America takes as long to get to the eastern edge of Europe as it does to get to the east coast of North America today, and until the world stops using time zones.  So don't hold your breath. 

Currently the NFL absurdly forces two teams to play one game per season in London.  The schedule is set so that these teams have their bye week after the trip.  How would it work if we had teams playing in Europe regularly?  Byes would have to be scheduled throughout the season for such travel.  And European teams would have to have multiple byes to make up for all the games they have to travel to America for. 

Another thought is that the NFL would have a third conference based in Europe.  Not only would this not eliminate the constant travel problems, it also creates a talent-pool problem.  Teams in the current NFC and AFC play inter-conference games each week.  Would they continue to play these while the 16 new European teams only play one another all season?  Certainly that would be a competitive imbalance, not to mention that adding many more teams would destroy the talent level in the league as whole. 

Additionally, the NFL tried this before.  NFL-Europe failed miserably.  Why would this do any better?

Finally, the NFL will not expand to an 18-game regular season.  Goodell parades around with a stern look on his face and a quick trigger for suspensions and fines when it comes to issues of player safety, but if he had to choose between player safety and more revenue, he'd double the ticket prices and have players play without pads and allow each team to have a sniper on the sidelines.

Yes, players could get injured in Week 1 just as likely as in Week 18, but that's not a good argument.  Russian roulette is dangerous.  Maybe you'll find the bullet on the first try, or maybe on the sixth.  But why not negotiate for more chances to pull the trigger?  By the end of an NFL season, teams are quite lucky to have the key players in tact.  So lucky that the top seeds are even given an extra week just to try and recover a little.  So why make them all beat themselves up for two more weeks when they already barely make it out standing up?

On professional sports labor standoffs:
Basically every time a labor agreement is set to end in any professional sport, both sides accuse the other of unfair negotiation tactics.  Often there is a lockout or strike.  And neither side really needs to budge because they're all millionaires (or billionaires) anyway.  But the fans get screwed.  We miss out on games, playoffs, and even entire seasons.  So from now on, if the two sides cannot negotiate a new deal by the time the current one expires, all the issues being haggled over will be posted on the league's website.  Each side will be given a paragraph per issue to make their case.  Fan will then vote.  The options will be A: Players get their way. B: 50/50. D: Owners get their way.  No other options to confuse it.  Find some fancy way to prevent ballot stuffing and post it online.