Pandemic Ponderings: Sports Edition

The visceral up-chuck I experience at the sound of Trump’s voice, or the imitation of his voice, makes me a dangerous driver.  Therefore, I generally listen to sports radio in the car, as it is reliably a no-Trump station.  As we headed into the pandemic shutdowns., I wondered how sports talk shows would fill the vast emptiness

A key attribute of radio talk show hosts is their ability to turn the tiniest nugget into an entire afternoon debate.  However, by April I could tell they were struggling.  On one errand, they discussed their favorite color of mustard and how to perfect a hamburger flip.  On another trip, they nattered on about the implications of a wink – when it was sexual come-on versus an innocent tease.

These beleaguered talk show hosts need something meatier to discuss.  I’d also  like to contribute to the pandemic-induced clamor for change.  Here are my ideas for revamping each of our major sports.


I will admit I don’t understand basketball.  In the absence of Michael Jordan’s highlight reel, to me it looks like a group of freakishly tall and sweaty men milling around.  However, I do notice, with dismay, that players routinely foul each other on purpose.  Is there any other sport where breaking the rules is considered a routine strategy?

I grew up in the 1960’s when women’s sports were essentially non-competitive.  Breaking the rules was considered the epitome of poor sportsmanship.  Yes, I see that a foul could be necessary to stop a breakaway in soccer or hockey, but then you’d have to accept the risk of a penalty shot.  A penalty should be a deterrent for further bad behavior.  Allowing your opponent to shoot a free throw does not rise to that level.

The end of a basketball game is not the frantic flurry I would prefer, but a drawn-out ordeal cluttered with time outs, intentional fouls and free throws.  Five minutes on the clock can take twenty to play.  As I said, I don’t understand basketball, but I’m grateful that someone named Elam does and has proposed a clever rule to eliminate intentional fouls in the fourth quarter.  At the four-minute mark, the game clock is stopped.  In its place there is a designated “target” score determined by adding a few points – maybe seven points or so – to the score of the leading team.  The first team to reach the target score wins, regardless of how much, or little, time it takes.   The trailing team must play tight defense as the target is approached; they cannot afford to commit intentional fouls.   The Elam Ending was used at this year’s all-star game and was well received.


Unlike basketball, I know baseball – witness my knowledge of its arcane rules like dropped  third strike and infield fly.  Baseball was a major part of my life, both as a spectator and participant, but my enthusiasm has waned as the game has slowed down.  Now baseball only occasionally serves as a backdrop to a long nap,  the kind of nap where you have to brush your teeth when you wake up.  As a former fan, I feel qualified to offer suggestions.

Recently, baseball announced some rule changes for the shortened 2020 season, most notably that any extra inning would start with a player on second base.  This might pep up the finale of an otherwise boring game, but what about the other nine innings?  I need something to keep me awake for the entire game.

In all other sports, the defense and offence are closely tied.  In football, a strong defensive stand requires the offense to dig out of a dicey field position.  In hockey and basketball, the transition between defense and offence can swing from a seamless triumph to a punitive tragedy in a matter of seconds.  In baseball, offence and defense are entirely separate.  A bad defense doesn’t handicap the offense.  I contend that the team on the field should be rewarded if they hold their opponents to three batters.  When they come up to bat, I propose that the batter due up automatically go to first base.

What a bonus if the next batter up is the feeblest hitter (e.g. the pitcher in the National League), what a mixed blessing if the batter is the home run hitter!   A taut double play would be a necessity.  The pitcher would have to be able to hold the runner at first and pitching from the stretch also would diminish the oomph on his delivery.  Perhaps the team at bat could defer their reward to a different inning, a move requiring exquisite strategy.   The announcers would have endless palaver to fill the dead air of baseball.  I’d be honored if they referred to this innovation as the “Blue Bonus.”

By the way, in the past I have proposed that just for variety, bases should be run in the opposite direction.  However, this idea is too radical even for this pandemic season of change.



The only way to watch a football game is join a recorded game about one hour in, click through the ads, catch up and watch the final minutes as a live event.  My new clicker is my biggest complaint about football.  The old clicker had a 30 second fast forward button, which is the exact time allowed for the huddle.  As soon as the play was over, I could advance 30 seconds to precisely arrive at the beginning of the next play.  My new clicker advances five minutes, requiring me to manually inch ahead.  As I write this, I am embarrassed by my demands for convenience.

My understanding of football is woefully incomplete, but still better than basketball.  Despite listening to hours of commentary, I have never “picked up a blitz,” and don’t know what a “dime” or “nickel package” is.  I find it confusing that a tackle is an offensive position, but these players aren’t allowed to tackle anyone, they can only block oncoming opponents.  And then there is the full back, who doesn’t play all the way back at all.  He plays in front of the half back, so their names are reversed.  These gaps in my understanding don’t matter.  It is a beautiful thing to watch an arcing pass fall into the outstretched fingertips of a streaking runner.


The rest of the world probably thinks Americans are ignorant about the elegance of a one-nil final score, but scoring has got to pick up. if the world wants our powerhouse economy to go all-in on soccer.  Kicking the ball out of bounds on purpose slows the game down and seems like a chicken-shit move.  Soccer should take a page from basketball.  Allow the team to intentionally kick the ball out of bounds maybe four times, but after that the opponents are awarded a free kick instead of a throw-in.  The hair-trigger for offsides within the box is a major deterrent to scoring.  Soccer could also take a page from the hockey blue line and eliminate off-sides within the box.   At least they should think about it.

Ice Hockey

My pandemic pondering leads me to conclude that ice hockey is the perfect game.  It’s simple, creative, continuous, fast-moving and unencumbered by arcane rules.  The offence and defense are intimately twined.  Penalties are impactful.   All sports should aspire to its grace and splendor.










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