Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Too Many Sports & Meaningless Games

Football, college and pro, baseball, pro, basketball, pro and soon college, hockey pro. What a very strange saturated time of year! I would like to think of it as nirvana for a sports fan, but instead it feels cluttered with sports going too long and starting too early. Too many meaningless choices reduce to confusion, not joy.

If you think about it, hockey in October makes about as much sense as baseball in November. Each professional season has elongated either through longer seasons or extended playoffs. The desire of owners for money, players for money, and insatiable television desire for product to fill windows drive the explosion of meaningless overlapping seasons.


Now we have a calendar where professional baseball overlaps with football by 3 months; both overlap with basketball and hockey by 1 month for baseball and 4 months for football. Then baseball starts again and overlaps with basketball and hockey for 3 more months. It means that on any month, there are at least 3 professional sports leagues competing and sometimes four. When you add college football and basketball, it gets absurd. A fan can be stupefied on any weekend by choices among professional football, professional basketball, professional hockey, college football and college basketball!!!

This money-driven approach really wrecks havoc with being a fan. The excess length dilutes the quality of game in terms of importance and the commitment of players. Two sports avoid this. Football does so because of the relatively small number of games--every game does matter and the violence amplifies the importance and intensity of each game. Baseball, for all its reverie like speed and too long season, puts a premium upon games because they do not have the bloated everybody but your grandmother gets to play playoffs. So games take on real meaning as does time of season. Streaks matter, and early season as well as late season steaks can make or break a season. I won't pretend that teams like the Mariners who are 20 games out in July still generate intensity, but the rhythm of professional football and baseball matter and carry intensity.

The endless seasons disrupt another once enduring dimension of sport. Sports created their own season and rhythm. So baseball dominated summer and autumn. Football dominated autumn and early winter. Both sports are played outside and the seasonality of the game meshed with the rebirth of spring and baseball and the return of school and football.

Amid the clutter and noise, three sports stand out. College and professional football get it right. Each game matters and carries freight and weight for playoffs, bowls, and championships. They structure conversation and interest of fans by weeks and league. College basketball gets it right despite the greed of the NCAA which has found the courage to self discipline itself by limiting games and tournaments to protect student athletes and prevent dilution. Games matter and play matters, and fans can stay engaged. Baseball really takes the opposite but just as effective approach, it plays 162 games and fills the air with games. Everynight becomes an opportunity to watch or listen or just hang out in front of a game. It keeps conversation flowing at a muted but realistic level that goes along with the rhythm of a long season where championship teams still lose over a third of their games. But both sports build on rhythm and a different sense of importance.

The World Series used to be over as the football seasons really heated up. The early mismatches had finished and deep league play commenced.Baseball's finest moment shone bright; now the two scramble and overlap and mash games together. To be honest baseball, despite the amazing intensity and sheer closeness of the playoff games, suffers. Football wins hands down because of the intensity and stakes of each game outweigh even the frenzy of playoff games.

What makes no sense from a fan's point of view is the early start and length of professional basketball and hockey. Everyone knows because of the greed driven structure of their playoffs that the early games barely matter. The desultory play reflects it; interestingly enough the TV ratings or lack of TV contracts also reflect that fans get this. Even rabid basketball and hockey fans don't fixate on the game until the last third of the season. So they might as well not be on air or play this time of year; they do but can be safely ignored. Random meaningless games played in hermetically sealed arenas pop up on TV in odd places and pale in comparison to football's intensity or baseballs final frenzy.

So the airwaves are full, but it hardly matters since half the sports are playing meaningless games. The other two remain the undisputed attendance and interest foci for a reason.

This should be a great time instead its just a crowed time.

2 comments:

  1. I completely agree. I think the elongated seasons are diminishing the importance of a champion. A team wins the national/world championships and right when their fans begin to celebrate, the next year's season is already underway and its as if all the team's accomplishments and hard work are quickly forgotten.

    ReplyDelete
  2. call me Jake First,nobody,not even the most devoute fan cares about basketball in June! The playoff systems are not only ludicrous,but insulting to those who plunk down big bucks to get seats.In the NBA,half the league gets into the playoffs.So to,the NHL. The NFL has eight divisions,no need for wildcards. Now baseball is getting just as greedy.The last bastion for purists is gone. Pro sports is the only business in America(and it is a business,after all) that rewards mediocrity. It hasn't happened yet but just suppose,an eighth seed in the NBA gets lucky and runs the table. It could happen. That means a team that finished the season maybe two games over .500 represents the league as champion for a year. REALLY? That is not the best the league has to offer. It would be a joke. Second place is second rate,as is thirs,fifth,eighth. The fans deserve better. First cut the NBA and NHL seasons back by about twenty five games,and no wild cards. The winner in each division with the best record gets a round one bye. Same with MLB,after a cut to 154 games. That would assure that NBA players would have to actually play hard all season,instead of dogging it half the year,playing just hard enough to get to the post season. With eight divisions the NFL needs no wild cards,but the season should only be 14 games,bringins Super Bowl back to January,where it belongs. If a team is not good enough to win its division,they have not earned a title shot it is that simple.

    ReplyDelete