How to Fix Sports: A BCS Playoff, the Designated Hitter, Overtime, and More

Here are some suggestions for improving professional athletic competition.

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By John A. Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

The University of Virginia soccer team won the national title last weekend which, given the school's performance in football and basketball these days, was a welcome gift for the Wahoos and their long-suffering alumni, of which I am one.

The way that UVA beat Akron, however, leaves something to be desired. The game for the national championship ended in a 0-0 tie, and was decided by that worst of all inventions, a shoot-out. Even when my team wins, it has always bugged me that a national or world championship should be rewarded, after a masterfully played game, through such a fluky contrivance.

I have a better solution: Enlarge the soccer goals, and allow more substitutions, in a sudden-death overtime. I call it Super Sudden Death. With a bigger net to defend, and more fresh legs running around, the goalies will allow more scores and the games can be decided properly.

All our sports need tending to. Wisely, the baseball commissioner has appointed a special committee to fix what ails the national pastime. The BCS system is an obvious failure that the lords of collegiate football need to correct with proper playoffs. In the spirit of the season, here are my suggestions:

  • Tie games are fine. There is no reason why any game (aside from baseball, where the absence of a clock is part of the sport's DNA) cannot end, after an overtime period, in a tie. In golf, the President's Cup ended in a tie a few years back, and people still talk about what a terrific finish that was—long after they've forgotten who won in other years. If UVA and Akron had played for another scoreless 90 minutes, with tension building and great saves and players dropping from exhaustion, and had to share the trophy, the game would have gone down among the best of all time.
    • If you can't stomach ties, overtime is always better than a shoot-out. Basketball has it best: They keep playing through overtime periods, each one packed with drama, until somebody emerges as a winner. In other sports, where scoring is more difficult, make goals in the overtime period easier. In a hockey overtime, for example, expand the offensive zone from the blue line out to center ice. Or take away the goalie's blockers, or make him play with a normal hockey stick.
      • Shorten baseball games. Tom Boswell suggests that relief pitchers be made to face at least two batters—great idea. He also suggests that we get rid of all ceremonies at the 7th inning stretch and cut the visits to the mound by coaches. To these I would add: Limit the number of warm-up pitches a reliever gets to throw and, from the 12th inning on, allow each team to go to bat with a player already on first base.
        • End season creep. Champions should be decided in a sport's proper season. No baseball in November. No hockey or basketball in May.
          • Change the overtime rules for pro football, which unfairly reward the team that wins the coin toss. Each team's offense should be guaranteed the ball for one or two possessions.
            • Reduce the vagaries in the rules of golf. Players should be allowed to clean a mud-coated ball in the fairway. And what about poor Padraig Harrington, getting penalized at the Masters when the wind moved his ball on the green? On the other hand, why do professionals get a free drop when they hit the ball behind a grandstand or television tower?
              • Eliminate the sanctioned fighting in hockey. No other sport has paid goons.
                • Make sure the regular season counts. Pro football gets it right—division champs play fewer games than wild-card entries. Hockey should follow suit. Being a Red Sox fan, aghast at the Yankees money, I hesitate to recommend this for baseball.
                  • Let American League teams keep their designated hitters in the lineups for all World Series games and, to compensate, give the National League team the choice of home field advantage, or their own DH.
                  • Check out our latest gallery: The Year in Political Cartoons 2009.

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