Every sport needs fixing; here’s how to do it

(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Geoff Burke/Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

NBA: The regular season feels meaningless

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Even Charles Barkley doesn’t watch! How rare is a regular-season game that’s remembered a week after it’s played? My old buddy Dan Shanoff, formerly of ESPN’s The Daily Quickie, said Saturday’s Warriors-Thunder game was the most memorable game since MJ’s double-nickel. (I’d go with the Malice at the Palace, but Shanoff’s point is well taken.) The point: NBA games just don’t mean that much. 

In college basketball, it’s different. You could watch a terrible team all year — take my alma mater, Wake Forest — and if it had gone to Durham on Tuesday night and beat the Dukies, then the year of every Deac fan would have been made, 3-15 ACC record or not. If the Sixers beat LeBron, it’s cool for about an hour. The Warriors this year are a rare exception, as we said before.

But here’s the kicker: The NBA regular season does matter. The difference between a No. 2 and No. 3 seed for the playoffs or a No. 7 and No. 8 can be enormous. (Just ask last year’s Spurs.) The only problem is that it doesn’t feel like it. That’s why the season needs some spicing up, like with a midseason tournament that counts in the standings or some round-robin group play or something like one of the 95 tournaments they have in soccer. I don’t know — something.

Golf: It takes too long

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No pro wants to play six-hour rounds at the U.S. Open. Fans don’t want to watch much more than four hours of any tournament. It’s far too easy to go out for some errands during Masters Sunday and be back by the time the leaders hit Amen Corner. If you’re devoting yourself to a Sunday of watching the final pairing play 18 holes (which is possible now that Golf Channel is doing pre-network coverage on weekends), then you’re killing your day. 

Unlike the other sports on this list, the speed of the game has recreational ramifications as well. I don’t know if there’s a correlation between playing golf and watching golf, but I’d imagine it’s better for the sport’s ratings and interest levels to have more golfers out on the course during the year, something that’s not going to happen as weekend rounds now consistently last close to 5 hours. Plus, how do you expect the weekend warrior who tees off at 10:44 a.m. to be back in time to watch PGA Championship coverage if he’s going to play five hours and have lunch and some brews after?

NCAA basketball: The one-and-done

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The biggest problem is the payment of players but I don’t have an answer for that. No one does. The problem is simple: You can’t pay Kansas’ Perry Ellis the same you pay walk-on Clay Young. You can’t pay Ben Simmons the same as the top rebounder on Louisiana-Lafayette. And what about men’s vs. women’s basketball? Many top men’s teams operate at a profit, many women’s teams do not. Alabama, for one, had an $8.2 million profit for its marginal men’s team against a $2.3 million deficit for its women’s team. Then you throw in non-revenue sports and it’s impossible. What’s fair here? Paying college athletes is like a lot of (bigger and real) problems affecting our country: Everyone loves to complain and say something needs to change, but no one knows how to do it.

So, no, paying athletes isn’t the problem we’re going with here. Ours is the one-and-done rule, something that’s not regulated by the NCAA but is a problem that affects college basketball nonetheless. There are many calls to abandon the "no high schoolers to the NBA" rule, both on legal and ethical grounds. Nonsense. It’s in the best interest of the NBA to have its drafted players be well known and more NBA-ready. So switch the rule to two years, which will have one obvious effect (players stay longer, become better known to national audiences and get more ready for the league as 19- or 20-year-olds) and one less obvious effect (coaches are better able to plan recruiting around the two-and-done guys rather than the one-and-dones that can screw up a team with their departure). Note: This is why Kansas’s 12-straight Big 12 title run is so impressive. When you have so many guys leaving at different points of their college careers, being forced to plug in players is a Herculean task, which is why Kentucky can miss the tournament a year after winning it all and Duke can have the occasional down year. 

But in terms of what the NCAA can do: Now that its finally come to its senses and resumed calling the stupid play-in games by their real name and calling the first and second rounds by theirs, maybe tourney directors can get to the other trivial problem at March Madness: the uniformity of the courts from the 13 tournament sites across the country. THE. WORST. 

NHL: The season is too long

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

The NHL season started on Oct. 7. Its regular season ends just over six months later, with the playoffs going about two months after that. That’s eight months of the year. Even in Washington, where I live and the Capitals are putting together one of the best regular seasons in recent history, people are bored with a season that started just after summer ended and ends just before summer begins. 

And what becomes of the six-month buildup? A playoff season that you might as well decide by coin flip. The 6th-seeded Kings beat the 5th-seeded Rangers back in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. Two years before that, the Kings won the Cup as the eighth and final seed in the West, defeating the sixth-seeded Devils. In the NBA, the regular season, while still too long, at least eliminates outliers and leads to series based on merit.

The NHL plays 82 games to basically throw 16 teams in a large, silver cup and pick one out at random. It’s fun and makes for an exciting two-month playoff, but it renders the regular season meaningless. More than half the teams get in the tournament and getting in the tournament is all that matters. The league has shown that people like their hockey fast — the 3-on-3 overtime is the greatest innovation to the game since slo-mo replay. So play a quick schedule, hold the playoffs and then have teams compete in soccer-like tournaments against European or fellow NHL teams (the Northeast Regional — like the Beanpot but with pros) to fill some of the empty dates at the arena.

Soccer: The World Cup being every four years

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This isn’t a problem across the rest of the world, where it feels like teams are in a constant state of play. International fans seem quite happy. In the U.S., however, the game is like the Olympics — a once-every-four-year treat. The real fans are serviced with MLS and Premier League coverage or the Euro Cup but the casual fan only pays attention during the two World Cups (for the duration of the men’s tournament and only for U.S. games in the women’s tourney). People here don’t even care about it during the Olympics. So what to do? Make the World Cup every three years!

It’s an idea that’s been bandied about before by bigger soccer fans than myself and I don’t see who complains. Unlike the Olympics, the World Cup doesn’t have to involve insane infrastructure, as games are played across a country or region. Doing this means more meaningful soccer for the American sports fan and more opportunities for graft at FIFA. Win, win!

MLB and NCAA Football: The games take too long

You’re noticing a pattern, methinks.

The beauty of baseball is that lack of clock. But it’s also its undoing in an age during which I can’t sit at a spotlight without checking Twitter, Facebook and Drudge, sometimes twice depending on the light. The league has been taking proactive steps, like cutting six minutes (hopefully) from games this year just by tightening between-inning breaks. In the recent past, the league has reducing batter shenanigans like stepping out of the box and do-si-doing around the umpires while adjusting a helmet, glove, shoe, cup or pine tar.

But there’s plenty of time still left to shave: Replay takes far too long. I can be at the game, text a friend "gone?" after a disputed home run, receive his return text in response, as he’s clearly seen the definitive answer on television, and still beat the umps by 60 seconds. There’s no reason it has to take the umps 150 seconds per call. Just put an iPhone on the home-plate ump. Have folks in New York look at the replay one time from every available angle. Then text him the answer. It could take as little as 15 seconds. Why the crew chief has to walk to the screen is baffling.

As for college football, this is easy: Change the clock rules, again. Keep a running clock, except on the setting of a ball after an out-of-bounds plays, for most of the game. Then, during the final five minutes of the game, have the clock stop after first downs, as usual. Games are hitting four hours sometimes (especially with overtime) so keep a cool quirk of the game (the clock stopping, which allows for quick comebacks), but don’t let if drag down other parts of the game.

Tennis: Where oh where are the American men?

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Dear American men,

Watch Serena. Emulate Serena (except when arguing foot faults). Dominate like Serena.

Sincerely, American tennis fans