by Rob Joyce
It’s the quietest time of the sports year. You have baseball, Wimbledon, the remaining fumes of NBA and NHL free agency, and the anticipation of NFL training camp. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of excitement, meaning we’re left bloviating about things that may not wind up being that important (hello, NBA Summer League) until someone give us something to talk about. The NBA did just that last week, with the announced rule changes coming for 2017-18. The most notable of this is in late-game scenarios. Long known for taking a lifetime to end a game, teams will only be allowed to use two timeouts in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter, a much-needed pace-of-play improvement.
It’s a step in the right direction, and it begs the question: what other rules changes need to be implemented across sports?
1) A pitch-clock in baseball.
This should be a no-brainer. For a few years now the minor leagues have had a 20-second clock between pitches, and 30-seconds between batters, a change that’s resulted in games being shortened by nine-to-15 minutes, according to MILB.com. And as commissioner Rob Manfred told NESN a few weeks back during a Red Sox broadcast, nearly two-thirds of pitchers currently in the majors have pitched with a pitch clock. That other one-third that might complain? They need to get over it, because nothing slows down a baseball game more than a pitcher, especially the middle relievers, who take 30-to-35 seconds to throw a pitch.
2) Make everything reviewable in football.
Before last season the NFL expanded the list of plays that are allowed to be reviewed, a small step towards what should be a greater goal. Right now there are eight plays that can’t be reviewed, begging the question – why? Why can’t a quarterback spike be reviewed? Why can’t it be reviewed as to whether a penalty (especially an egregious one) occurred? Why can’t a potentially erroneous or incorrect whistle be reviewed? All of these things have gray areas, of course, and the room for controversy would grow. However, an ability to get the call correct (especially an egregious error) should supersede all.
3) Increase the net size in the NHL.
Fans love scoring, but the NHL looks a lot more like the dead-puck era of the 1990s than it does the high-flying 1980s. Consider that only two players in the last three years (Connor McDavid and Patrick Kane) have cracked the 90-point plateau in a single season. How do you increase scoring? The league is trying to shrink the bulky, oversized goalie equipment, but netminders everywhere have been slow to change. Instead of making goalies minimally smaller, why doesn’t the league try to embrace scoring by making the nets a half-inch or inch bigger on all sides? It wouldn’t cause an explosion in goals, but it would be enough to add about an extra goal a game, which is really all the league needs. And isn’t it more fun for McDavid, Sidney Crosby and six other players to have 90-110 points than it is for 19 goalies to have a goals against average below 2.50 (as it was last season)?
4) Technology to spot a football.
In tennis, review technology at the majors can pinpoint to the millimeter where the ball hit, indicating in or out. Obviously there are 22 players, plus referees, interfering the movement of a football on the field, but the same basic template can apply, especially around the goal-line: why can’t there be technology (a chip, perhaps?) to indicate when the ball breaks the plane? It seems archaic to have referees pull a half-dozen 300-pound men off a dogpile with a football at the bottom, then try to guess if the ball crossed the goal-line.
5) Amend the intentional foul rule in basketball.
As the “Hack-a-Shaq” tactic exploded to Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan and others, the league made changes last year to try and get rid of deliberate fouls of that particular variety. Adam Silver projected that 45 percent of such fouls would be eliminated, but after Year One that seemed a little ambitious. Hack-a-Shaq still exists, just not inside the final two minutes of a quarter. So now we can all watch Jordan brick free throws with 3:00 instead of 1:30. Hooray.