The Sporting Iconoclast
Challenging the conventional wisdom, sowing new ideas, sending some old ones to the compost heap

Feb
20

By Ed Cohen

Imagine if instead of playing two forgettable seasons for the Washington Wizards, Michael Jordan had come out of retirement and gone back to…North Carolina. As in the University of.

And that he played basketball for his alma mater again at age 39.

Why not?

Well, assuming he would have even wanted to, there was one insurmountable roadblock: Jordan left college a year early, so, theoretically, he had one year of playing eligibility remaining. But he forfeited that as soon as he turned pro.

Which brings me to my idea.

Pro athletes who start college but leave early—which is now the norm for all top U.S. male basketball players—should be allowed to return to college and play when their professional careers are over. They could play for any college, not just their alma mater.

This would be great fun for fans and the players. You could call them “encore players.” They would inspire people old and young and could even make a boatload of money for their universities.

Imagine 10 years from now, Carmelo Anthony returns to Syracuse (he played there only one year) or Dwyane Wade goes back to Marquette (three seasons).

Or imagine LeBron or Kobe—players who went straight from high school to the pros—getting the chance to live out their college basketball dreams somewhere in the twilight of their athletic careers. (Since 2005 players have had to be at least 19 to enter the NBA, which is why almost all of them enroll in college for at least one year. You know whom I’m talking about, John Wall.)

Here’s how the system would work and why it would be great:

·    The retired pros would come in strictly as walk-ons. As such they wouldn’t cost the program any scholarships. They’d have to enroll and pay full price for tuition and fees. That shouldn’t be much of a hardship for major league athletes with years of mulitmillion-dollar service.

·    They would have to abide by all eligibility rules, including attending and passing their classes. This would have many benefits, including demonstrating they were serious when they appeared in all those “stay-in-school” and “education matters” commercials. It would also send a powerful message about the rewards of lifelong learning.

·    Then there’s the inspiration to remain active and fit. Seeing a retired legend playing meaningful, if limited, minutes alongside athletes half their age would be like Tom Watson nearly pulling off victory in the 2009 British Open when he was nearly 60.

·    The presence of these retired greats would be a sideshow, and I mean that in the most positive way. It would create more interest in the programs, which would boost attendance and TV ratings. That money could help underwrite not only non-revenue sports like women’s volleyball and fencing but contribute to general scholarship funds.

·    Encore players could actually help their schools win basketball games. They wouldn’t have to play 40 or even 30 minutes. They could come off the bench as three-point specialists or defensive stoppers. Most college teams could find minutes for a 39-year-old Michael Jordan, especially the Tar Heels in 2001, his first year with the Wizards. North Carolina went 8-20 that season.

·    When they weren’t playing, these greats could serve as valuable assistant player-coaches, teaching young players what it takes to be a pro. Their presence could also serve as a prime recruiting tool. (“Well, son, Duke is fine a school, but how would you like to play alongside Michael Jordan?”).

·    Each season would bring a fresh round of excitement over the coming year’s crop of encore players. They could have their own national signing day.

There would be complications, of course.

It’s fun to imagine a retired Jordan or Wade returning to college after their glory years. But most pro players do not enjoy long and lucrative careers. They bounce around minor leagues in the United States and overseas eking out a living until they realize they’re never going to make it to the big show. Should these folks be allowed back?

Why not? As long as they’re good enough and can afford to play for nothing and also pay tuition. Such considerations would likely weed out most of the journeymen. As would another stipulation: No bouncing back to the pros.

Encore playing would not be to showcase players who are past their prime and out of work but hoping score one last pro contract. That’s what Europe is for. Participants would have to agree to forego any further professional competition. This would be impossible to enforce, of course, but one could at least get the athlete to sign a pledge.

Another potential concern would be professionals tainting the amateur college game. But the traditionally amateur Olympics have long since abandoned that prohibition. You’ll see many pro hockey players representing their countries in the winter games, not to mention the NBA dream teams. Besides, the encore players wouldn’t be professionals, they’d be former professionals.

Who knows how many greats would want to spend a year or two or four in college after their pro careers were over? Not many, perhaps. And probably not any in the more physically demanding sports like football.

But it’s fun to imagine. And it’s worth a try.

Feb
19

By Ed Cohen

Have you seen the “NBA Cares” commercial in which children and NBA stars solemnly declare that basketball is more than a game, that it’s filled with lessons for life?

The message is that virtues like discipline, teamwork and hard work help you succeed not only on the court but in life.

Fair enough.

But then comes this assertion:

“[Basketball] teaches that even when there’s no chance to win” (visual of Tim Duncan walking off the court dejectedly), “there’s still an opportunity to be a hero” (visual of a player hoisting a box labeled “Feed the Children”).

Help me here.

A metaphorical adage has dual meanings – literal and figurative. Example: “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Literally, people put grease on wheels that squeak to make them stop squeaking. But the figurative and more profound message is that you have to speak up to get attention or get what you need or want.

Now, back to “Even when there’s no chance to win, there’s still an opportunity to be a hero.”

From a charity standpoint, I get it. Society may never eliminate poverty altogether, but as individuals we can still act heroically by helping battle it. But from a basketball standpoint, the assertion is ludicrous.

When there is no chance to win a basketball game—say your team is down by 20 points with 30 seconds to play—where’s the opportunity to be a hero?

By hot-dogging it on dunks to entertain the remaining fans? By going all out against the other team’s bench-warmers to boost your scoring average?

Players can and do show good sportsmanship in end-of-game situations by dribbling out the clock when they have an insurmountable lead. But those are not the players with “no chance to win,” they’re the ones who already have the game won. Besides, this hardly qualifies as heroism.

Thank you, NBA Cares, for urging us to be better people. Next time maybe put a little more thought into the message.

Feb
07

By Ed Cohen

From my series of Sports News Stories I’d Like to See. And soon.

LAUSANNE, Switzerland – The days when Olympic athletes and spectators waited anxiously for judges to decide whether a performance was medal-worthy are over.

In a move considered long overdue by many sports analysts – most notably Ed Cohen of the blog The Sporting Iconoclast – the International Olympic Committee voted today to drop all judged events from future Olympic Games.

The IOC announced that the judged events, which include the popular figure skating and gymnastics competitions, will be transferred to a new Olympic-style festival to be called the Olympic Performance Games, or Performics for short.

Like the Olympics, the Peformics will be held every four years. The first games are scheduled for the summer of the next off-year between the summer and winter games. A site for the inaugural Performics has yet to be selected.

“We envision the Performics as a catalyst for international fellowship and human achievement very much in the spirit of the modern Olympic Games,” said IOC President Jacques Rogge. “Starting as they will with events with long and distinguished traditions, there can be little doubt of success.”

The removal of the judged events addresses several thorny issues the IOC faced, not the least of which were allegations over the years of rampant judging bias based on nationality.

There was also the increasingly uneasy mix of traditional time-and-distance events like running and swimming alongside more recently developed “freestyle” events like half-pipe snowboarding, in which the goal is to impress judges by stringing together stylish jumps, flips and spins.

“The Olympic Motto, ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius‘ — Latin for Swifter, Higher, Stronger — says nothing about ‘fancier,’” Rogge said.

However, the IOC president insisted that the change was not meant to disparage the athletic abilities of competitors in the judged events. He said the IOC’s intention was to draw a clearer distinction between “objectively measured athletic capacity” and art, “which can only be subjectively assessed.”

“The performance arts have given us some of the most gifted athletes in history, people like (ballet dancer Mikhail) Baryshnikov. Our Olympic champions in figure skating, diving and the freestyle events are heirs to that legacy. The Performics will provide a suitable venue for competition in the artistic realm.”

In addition to men’s and women’s gymnastics, other current Summer Games events relocating to the Performics include synchronized swimming and diving.

Absorbing the judged events of the Winter Games won’t be as easy. Men’s and women’s figure skating and ice dancing are held in arenas, so they can be contested during a summer Performics. Not so for half-pipe snowboarding and all of the free-style skiing events. For the time being, those events will be left without a home.

One exception is free-style skicross, which is timed, not judged, so it will remain part of the winter games.

Ski-jumping, mostly a distance competition, will continue in the Winter Olympic minus the element of style points for landings.

The fates of summer games’ martial arts events boxing, wrestling and judo remain in limbo. In a statement, the IOC said a committee has been established to study whether the sports should remain part of the games. All three involve judging, but the judge’s role is essentially to count punches landed and other scoring maneuvers.

The IOC said a more transparent and objective scoring system would be needed for the sports to remain part of the new objective Olympics.
The sports will not be considered for inclusion in the Performics, the IOC said.

Jan
31

By Ed Cohen

In basketball you see the bounce pace and chest pass and variations on each, like the lob, the hand-off and the alley-oop.

There’s one pass, however, you almost never see, even though it’s legal and could be a potent weapon:

The bank pass.

A pass intentionally banked off the backboard.

A basketball backboard is 6 feet wide and 3½ feet tall. That’s about the size of a smaller standard-size pool table. Like the pool table, a backboard provides opportunities for creative use of geometry. Yet, other than for layups, the backboard seldom comes into play in shooting anymore. And it’s almost never used intentionally for passing.

The exception is in showboating when player on a fast break intentionally tosses the ball up off the backboard for a trailing teammate to snatch out of the air and slam.

With a little imagination and a lot of practice, however, the backboard could be used for much more.

The most obvious application would be for moving the ball from one side of the floor to the other. The defense inevitably cheats toward the strong side of the court, the side with the ball on it. A team desiring to move the ball to the opposite side typically has three options:

1. Swing it around the perimeter through several players;
2. Throw a so-called “skip pass,” a rapid-fire overhead pass over the defense; or
3. Pass the ball into a player set up in the low post, who can then relay it to a teammate on the far side of the floor.

A faster alternative would be to bank the ball off the backboard. A bank-pass thrown at an oblique angle to the background could be used to get the ball to a teammate in the far wing for corner. A sharper angle could be employed as a diversionary tactic on a feed to a player driving down the lane.

Such passes may sound like a recipe for turnovers. But if practiced diligently, the bank pass could be a devastating maneuver, especially until defenses learn to defend it. If that’s even possible.

When the ball is thrown toward the hoop, the defense inevitably drifts toward the basket, creating room for offensive players out on the floor. A well-executed bank-pass could yield open looks for quick catch-and-shoots.

Looking for a new offensive tactic, coach? You just found one to work on in the offseason.

Jan
30

Can anyone tell me why the best women golfers cannot compete against the best men?

“Because they’re weaker, on average, than men,” sings the Conventional Wisdom Chorus. “Men can drive the ball farther, and that’s a big advantage on long holes and long courses, which are generally the rule on the PGA tour.”

The Chorus also tells me to examine the results from the cases of Whaley at Greater Hartford Open and Sorenstam at Colonial.

These refer to Suzy Whaley, a club pro from Connecticut who qualified for the Greater Hartford Open in 2003, and Annika Sorenstam, one of the greatest woman golfers in history, who, that same year, qualified for the Bank of America Colonial tournament.

Whaley tied for 148th in a field of 156 at Hartford.

Sorenstam tied for 96th out of 113 in the Colonial.

“There you go,” sings the Chorus, smugly. “Women are just not good enough at golf.”

The Chorus has apparently never actually set foot on a golf course.

If it had it would have noticed that every hole has three sets of teeing-off points.  One, for professionals, is set back farthest from the hole. Another, the women’s tee, is nearest to the hole, and in between is the tee most men use.

Those tee locations adjust the length of the hole to account for the difference between male and female golfers and between ordinary males and golf professionals. Women, in general, can’t hit their shots as far as men, and the male pros hit the farthest of all.

However, if you watch elite women golfers you’ll notice that they are about as skilled as PGA pros at approach shots, chips and putts. Which means women could easily compete against men if they were only allowed to tee-off from the women’s tees.

In fact, Suzy Whalen proved this point.

She gained entry into the Greater Hartford Open by beating all the men in a regional qualifying tournament, the 2002 Connecticut Section PGA Championship. And she did so by playing from the women’s tees. That made the course 10 percent shorter for her than for the men.

Since then the PGA has changed its rules. Now all entrants at qualifying tournaments have to play from the same tees.

Would a 10 percent distance discount have resulted in Sorenstam contending at or even winning the 2003 Colonial? Probably not, but maybe.

And this may be precisely what the male establishment is afraid of. Give women too great a handicap and the best LPGA players might dominate the bigger-money PGA Tour. But with no handicap at all, their participation – as Whaley and Sorenstam demonstrated — is a joke.

Why not seek a fair middle ground?

With a seemingly insatiable appetite for sports and realty shows on television, surely there’s room for a limited, gender-blind Anybody’s Golf Tour — no need to abolish the LPGA or PGA — or one could at least organize a single tournament to test the feasibility. Are you listening, Nike?

In case you missed it, and you probably did, the sports gender barrier was breached in a big way last week. The 45th Professional Bowlers Association Tournament of Champions, akin to the Masters in golf, was won by Kelly Kulick, a woman.

She became the first woman ever to win a top-level men’s bowling tournament. And she did it with no handicap whatsoever, rolling her ball down the same length lanes at the exact same pins as her male opponents. The only possible difference is she may have used a lighter ball than some of her opponents. PBA rules allow a range of 10 to 16 pounds.

Kulick once told ABC News, “The pins don’t recognize who is throwing the ball, whether it is a girl or a guy.”

The pins (flag sticks) on a golf course wouldn’t recognize who was hitting the ball at them either.

Golf, like bowling, is mostly a skills game. With the reasonable and long-established accommodation of separate tees, people of both genders could compete for the same prizes.

Ed Cohen

Nov
25

Next time you’re watching an NFL game in which a team is out of timeouts and trying to score in the last few seconds, watch the officials.

Tell me you haven’t seen this a hundred times:

An offensive player is tackled inbounds.The quarterback waves frantically for everyone to line up.

Tick-tick-tick….

Hurry, hurry!

The offensive players race to the line. And so do…the officials!

Look at them, middle-age men in zebra suits running around as fast as they can to spot the ball ready for play in the shortest possible time.

Why?

I mean, what is compelling them to spot the ball any faster than they have during the rest of the game?

There can be only one answer:They want to give the trailing team every opportunity they can to catch up.

Think of it this way:

At any other point in the game, or when the clock is stopped, it takes the officials, say, 25 seconds to retrieve the ball from the last play, toss it to a crewmate to spot on the closest hash mark, and finally signal to the timekeeper to start the play clock.

During end-of-game scrambles, they may do this in as little as five seconds.

This should raise two questions:

If they can do it in five, why don’t they do it in five during the rest the game?

On the other hand, if the reasonable time is 25 seconds, why are they going out of their way to do it 20 seconds faster when one team is trying to rally?

It only helps the rallying team and hurts the team trying to stay ahead.

In all fairness, the team that’s ahead should be able to count on 20 to 25 seconds elapsing between plays — all game long. A guy on the other team gets tacked inbounds with 15 seconds left and the clock is running? Game over, no worries.

Instead it’s Super Zebras to the rescue.

I’m waiting for the day a coach complains about this help-the-offense, end-of-game scramble on the part of the officials.

It’s fun to watch, but it’s not fair.

And it makes no sense.

Ed Cohen

Apr
04

An almost never commented-upon reality of the sports world is how Old World it is

Football, basketball, baseball, tennis, ice hockey, modern soccer – they all originated in the 19th century.

Basketball is the youngest of the sports popular in the United States. The original peach-basket version was created by Professor James Naismith in 1891, although here’s a little-known fact: The rules for Naismith’s basketball didn’t even include dribbling. A pretty distinctive element of the game, wouldn’t you say? Golf is the old man of the major sports. There is a literary reference to a hole on a green dating back to 1505.

Given how much fun and money there is to be had in sports it’s amazing that no new popular sport has emerged in more than 100 years. Think of it, it’s as if we are driving super-advanced versions of the horse-and-buggies our great-great-grandparents used.

That’s why I’m issuing this challenge to my fellow Sporting Iconoclasts:

Invent a new sport.

I’m not talking about a variation on an existing sport, like indoor soccer or disc (Frisbee) golf. Nor am I talking about performance art like figure skating or free-style snowboarding, which is all about putting on a show and trying to convince a panel of judges that your show was the best.

I’m talking about a completely original game that involves physical exertion and yields a clear winner. It also has to be more complicated than a contest of who can run/jump/throw/swim/skate/drive, etc. the highest/fastest/longest.

Close your eyes sometime and try to dream up a new sport. Unless you’re a genius, you’ll inevitably find yourself drifting back to elements of existing sports and potential variations on them. Shake those thoughts out of your head and try again.

Here are some ideas that may help with the thought process:

  • Purposeful goals: You could intentionally design your sport to improve aerobic fitness or strength. It could require teamwork or self-sacrifice, perhaps even a certain amount of cooperation between competitors. You could shape the action to produce more of the exciting movements of existing sports, like diving catches.
  • Sell shovels to the prospectors: Just because you dream up the concept of a sport and write the rules doesn’t mean you’ll get rich. The real money, at least to start, may be in sales of sporting equipment.
  • Capitalize on modernity: Technologies exist today that no one, except maybe Jules Verne or H.G. Wells, could have dreamed of in the infancy of today’s sports. Could your sport incorporate GPS or some other modern invention? All the Wii does, unfortunately, is create hologram versions of existing sports.
  • Think retrofit: The world is full of football/soccer stadiums and basketball arenas. It would be more practical if your sport could fit into existing venues.
  • Gender inclusiveness: Invent a sport where women and men can compete as equals. I think such a sport already exists – golf. Just let the women hit from the women’s tees.
  • Be spectator-friendly: Football and baseball are obviously more popular and more practical as spectator sports than is cross country running or skiing. Then again, golf would seem to be an unlikely spectator sport because of the huge playing area, but it works great on TV.
  • Be age-friendly: Thanks to the demographic aging-tsunami that’s carrying the baby boomer generation into its retirement years, older people are going to make up an increasing share of the population. You might want to tailor your sport to the capacities of this huge market.

Join the Sports Invention Workshop

Most of what we do in our lifetimes is going to be forgotten, but as we’ve seen, a good sport can bring enjoyment to the world for centuries.

If you’re inventive and the thought of being a founding mother or father of a sport appeals to you, leave a comment here. I’ll get back to you about the Sports Invention Workshop concept.

Ed Cohen

Mar
23

I wouldn’t say the NCAA tournament is getting boring, just predictable.

I’m sorry, Cinderellas, but fairy godmothers apparently no longer exist. Or if they do, they must have lost most of their powers. The fairies might get you into the dance, Robert Morris, but only your wicked stepsisters, the high seeds, are going to be occupying the dance floor after the first song or two.

This year is a prime example. If the results went exactly as predicted by the seedings, the four remaining teams from each region — collectively known as the Sweet 16 — would consist entirely of 1, 2, 3, and 4 seeds. That’s exactly what’s happened in two of the four regions (East and South). Only two teams have “crashed” the Sweet 16 this year: Arizona, a No. 12 seed, and Purdue, a 5.

But this is just a continuation of a sad trend. Here are the seeds of the teams that made it to last year’s Final Four:

1, 1, 1 and 1.

In 2007 it was 1, 2, 2 and 1.

In 2006, things were a little more interesting: 4, 2, 3 and 11 (bless you, George Mason).

The NCAA tournament can still be fun even if there are no Cinderellas in the Final Four. Unfortunately, it’s become increasingly rare for low seeds to make any noise past the first round.

Let’s look at just one region, the East, over time.

This year’s East finalists are Pittsburgh (1), Duke (2), Villanova (3) and Xavier (4). Last year they were North Carolina (1), Tennessee (2), Louisville (3) and Washington State (4).

But let’s travel back in time to the better old days. Ten years ago, 1999, the East finalists were Duke (1), Southwest Missouri State (12), Temple (6) and Purdue (10).

Twenty years ago, 1989, they were Georgetown (1), North Carolina State (5), Minnesota (11) and Duke (2).

Thirty years ago, 1979, they were St. John’s (10), Rutgers (6), Penn (9) and Syracuse (4).

Lots of people like to see the top-ranked teams go deep in the tournament — unimaginative NCAA-tourney-pool players, for instance – but not me. And I would argue that predictability has hurt the tournament.

Two of the best-remembered NCAA championships were those won by relatively low seeds that went all the way. I’m talking about Villanova, an eight seed, beating Georgetown, a one, in 1985, and two years earlier, 1983, when sixth-seeded North Carolina State upset No. 1 Houston on a last second-shot. The world will little note nor long remember North Carolina or UConn winning the title this year.

How can we reverse the predictability trend? If top high school prospects didn’t continually flock to teams in the Big East, ACC and other power conferences we might see more parity. But there’s no way to force the talent to disperse.

There is one way to break up the current monotony: dump the seeding system.

Theoretically, the best team should be able to beat any other team in the field. So why set it up so the top-ranked teams face only teams that are, on paper, inferior to them?

In the Kentucky Derby, the shortest path around the track, the pole position, doesn’t automatically go to the highest ranked horse or the betting favorite. The starting positions are pulled from a hat. Why not do the same thing with the 64 teams in the NCAA tourney field? It would not only be more interesting, it would be more fair.

Right now the first-round match-ups are like the sacrificial-lamb games we see early in the NCAA football season, a Nebraska bludgeoning an Akron. Seeding teams forces the lowest-ranked teams, the 16 seeds, to pull an almost unimaginable upset against the strongest, the No. 1s. Conversely, the top-ranked teams are given what amounts to a near free pass to Round 2. No 1-seed has ever fallen to a 16.

Seeding is a form of pre-programming, an attempt to create a title-game match-up of the theoretically strongest teams. The selection committee is getting better at this every year — to the detriment of the tournament. If you want to restore some of the fun and unpredictability of the tournament, cease trying to shape the outcome.

Ed Cohen

Mar
08

Imagine if a baseball game were tied after nine innings and instead of playing extra innings the contest was decided by … a home run derby.

Each team would send its five strongest sluggers up to the plate. Each hitter would get three swings at balls lobbed in by his own team’s pitching coach. Whichever team hit the most balls over the fence would win.

Silly? Of course. But this is essentially how soccer and hockey break ties, and college football is not much better. All three decide tied games by holding radically different kinds of competitions in overtime.

It’s as if in a spelling bee the two contestants who remained after a hundred rounds were ordered over to a table for a pie-eating contest.

In regular-season NHL games the teams play an actual five-minute overtime, and everything is the same as during regulation, except it’s sudden death. One team scores, and the game is over.

But if neither team scores, each team then has three shooters go one-on-one against the opposing team’s goalie, as with a penalty shot. If the score remains tied after those three shooters, the teams alternate taking shots on goal until one team scores and the other doesn’t.The winning team gets two points in the standings, but the team that loses in overtime or a shootout goes home with the consolation prize of one point. I don’t know why.

In soccer, there are still plenty of regular-season ties. Soccer fans don’t seem to have the blood-lust for a clear winner that fans of sports more popular in the United States have.But in a tournament, you need a clear winner; one team has to advance. Soccer’s poor solution is the shootout, which is similar to hockey’s shootout.

Each team sends five players to kick a stationary ball from the penalty mark in front of the goal. The goalie has to stand on the goal line until the ball is kicked. He, or she, has little hope of stopping these shots because there’s so much ground to to defend. (A soccer goal is 24 feet wide.)

If the score is still tied after the five kicks, sudden-death kicking commences, with teams alternating shots until one scores and one doesn’t.

Instead of shootouts, hockey and soccer should continue playing until someone scores — with one difference. Every five minutes of elapsed time, each team must take a player off the field. After 10 or 15 minutes in hockey, a little longer in soccer, there would be so few players that someone would get behind the defense and score. This scenario would not only be exciting but it would preserve the integrity of the contest.

Thankfully, college football doesn’t settle ties with a field-goal kicking contest, but its present tie-breaking solution is almost as bad.

Teams alternate offensive possessions, as in regulation, except that the starting point of each drive is arbitrary. The ball is placed on the opponent’s 25-yard-line, already in field-goal range. If the offensive team scores a touchdown and extra point, the opponent must at least match that total or lose. If the second team exceeds that total — by scoring a two-point conversion on top of the touchdown — that team wins. There are various other rules that make it increasingly difficult for teams to remain tied after successive possessions.

This is not how football was meant to be played.

For one thing, many of the players on a roster have no role in overtime games. I speak of the punter, the punt- and kickoff-returners, and all the other special-teams players who don’t start on offense or defense or participate in field-goal or extra-point tries.

Punts and kickoff returns are some of the most exciting plays in football, but they are eliminated in college overtime. The same goes for fumble and interception returns. They count merely as defensive stops.

The college football overtime system was adopted as an alternative tie-breaker to the NFL’s sudden-death system, which some idiots believe to be unfair.  They think it’s not right that the team that goes on offense first can win without the other team ever touching the ball.

This argument falls flat because, according to one study, the team that gets the ball first scores and wins only 29 percent of the time! A team with a dominating defense often benefits by kicking off because it can pin the receiving team deep in its own territory, force a punt, and start with better field position than the team that won the coin toss and got first possession.

The beauty of the NFL sudden-death system is that the winner is determined by the team that played the best football, the same football that was played in the first 60 minutes. It’s the same with baseball’s extra innings. The game continues.

It makes no sense to determine which team won a game by having them play a different game.

Ed Cohen

Mar
01

We’ve all grown accustomed the intrusion of corporate sponsor names into sporting events: the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, the Toyota Halftime Report, the Chevrolet Players of the game.

Companies pay good money to have their brands mentioned during broadcasts that reach millions of people.The typical NFL telecast starts like this: “Welcome to Qualcomm Stadium for today’s game between the San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders.”

I don’t work in TV or radio, but I’m guessing that the NFL’s contract with the networks requires announcers to refer to game venues by their full commercialized names.

Fair enough. Someone is paying and someone is pocketing the cash in this arrangement.

What I don’t understand is why almost all sports writers and columnists, whose publications don’t get anything out of those deals, go out of their way to refer to the venues by their corporate names.

Example:

I was reading a newspaper story the other day about an upcoming road trip of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The story explained that the trip will take the team to, among other places, Houston, Miami and Atlanta. The writer then noted that the Houston Rockets are 23-6 at the Toyota Center (their home arena); the Atlanta Hawks are 19-6 at Philips Arena (their home arena, named for the electronics company); and the Miami Heat is 9-1 in Miami’s American Airlines Arena during the years LeBron James has played for the Cavs.

The writer could have just as easily – more easily – said that the Rockets are 23-6 and the Hawks are 19-6 at home this season, and the Heat has beaten the Cavs 9 out of the 10 times they’ve played in Miami during the LeBron James era.

Not only could the reporter have written it that way, I argue that he should have.

It’s one thing for a team or a city to sell or lease naming rights to stadiums and arenas. It’s another thing for a newspaper to provide free advertising in its news columns.

Most newspapers are facing tough economic times, right? Well, here’s a way for them to make easy money: Contact American Airlines and Toyota and the rest and say, “We’re going to stop referring to these venues by your bought-and-paid-for names and instead use perfectly informative alternate constructions like, “The Lions are home this Sunday to play the Chicago Bears” — unless you pay us ten grand a year or whatever.

If you’re going to be a corporate shill, you ought to be paid for it. And if you aren’t being paid, why shill?

Ed Cohen

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