By Neil Patrick Healy
I look around the sports landscape and I sometimes think, “This would work so much better if I were in charge.” If I had absolute power as the commissioner of all of sports, I would make some sweeping declarations, some fundamental changes and finally some tweaks that just make sense.
Top 16 teams make the playoffs, regardless of conference. Historically, one of the conferences (mostly the east) sends teams to the playoffs that have a losing record. On the flip side, the other conference has a team with the stronger schedule and a better record that is left out and is stuck with the last pick in the lottery. This change would mean that the leagues would have to play a more balanced schedule, but travel isn’t an issue because the means of travel are better now than they were in the 1980s. Each team that wins its division clinches a playoff berth and the rest of the seeds are up for grabs. This would almost eliminate teams with losing records making the playoffs.
I would also start the NBA season three weeks early in order to eliminate the brutal back-to-backs and three games in five nights. These stretches of the season cause major player fatigue and increase the odds of injury, so by starting the season on Oct. 4 instead of Oct. 27, the players are more fresh for games and don’t need to be rested or don’t succumb to injury. Eliminating back-to-backs is a key staple of my improvements of the NBA.
My third addition is one to All-Star Weekend. I believe that the NBA has the best All-Star festivities in sports, but one tweak can make it better. Everyone complains about the actual All-Star game itself, so have all the All-Stars team up in three-man teams and they play to 11 in a massive All-Star tournament. Imagine the three-on-three matchups we’d get to see! Something like Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis vs. Damien Lillard, LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki. It’d be like “NBA Street,” but in real life.
My final addition is the one that would have the most people talking. The issue of players entering the NBA draft out of high school is one that has been hotly debated since the rule was put in place back in the 2006 draft. The solution is taking a note out of baseball’s book. High school players can enter the NBA draft, but if they sign a letter of intent with a school, they are linked to that school for two years. A clause: if a high school player enters the draft, but isn’t selected, he is allowed to go back and sign a letter of intent with a school.
The amount of inter-league play needs to be addressed. I love inter-league play around late May until July 4, but there is no reason that the two leagues should be playing each other in August and September when the games really start to matter. Keep inter-league play from Memorial Day through July 4 and it is perfect, but why are the Giants playing the Orioles in August? The teams should be playing teams in their leagues to make their pushes for playoff berths. The Red Sox playing the Padres in September is useless baseball.
Former ESPN analyst Keith Olbermann suggested this and I completely agree: Dodgers’ announcer Vin Scully announces every World Series game. You’re welcome, America.
The time has come to up the amount of scholarship players for each program. The NCAA limited the amount of scholarships to 85 in 1992 when the normal schedule was 10 to 11 regular-season games and one bowl game. Fast forward to 2015, and certain teams are poised to play anywhere from 13-15 games. Now many teams have a conference championship game, the possibility of making either a bowl game or the college football playoff and can take advantage of the Hawaii Exemption (which allows teams to play a 13th regular-season game that season if they play a game at Hawaii). With the increase of games and the raised awareness of player safety, increasing the amount of scholarship players will alleviate some of that pressure. More depth along collision-heavy positions like running backs, offensive linemen and defensive linemen would encourage rotating players to keep players fresh. It won’t eliminate injuries, but it will cushion the blow.
The main complaint for college basketball is that it is over-coached. It’s time to dock a timeout from each coach to keep the game moving. The amount of media timeout and stoppage of play built into the game are more than enough.
Some small changes also include: changing the shot clock to 28 seconds and changing from two halves to four quarters (like the rest of the basketball world).
Hockey is a good product, but the league isn’t given enough exposure. I purpose a new contract with ESPN that will air on Tuesday and Thursday nights. The NBA gets Wednesday’s and Friday’s, so no one is stepping on anyone’s feet and ESPN has the number of platforms to get hockey on the air. NBC tries, but no one can promote a sport like ESPN can.
Oh, the NFL. So much that I can’t even fathom where to begin. First, it’s time to increase the size of the roster from 53 to 60. How does a league that claims it’s about player safety have a small roster and play a minimum of 16 games a season? Adding seven spots will increase depth and will allow collision-prone positions to have more depth and coaches to rotate players in and out. Plus the addition of seven roster spots per team will result in 224 more players being employed. Yay, jobs!
PRESCRIBED PAINKILLERS VS. MARIJUANA
Athletes, notably football players, are in the business of putting their bodies through pain, so why are we limiting the options that athletes can use to numb the pain? Medical marijuana would be an alternative to the painkillers athletes are currently being prescribed that are both harmful to the body and addictive. A football game is the equivalent of getting into a car accident, according to a Virginia Tech study where players had sensors in their helmets that are used to trigger airbags. With medicinal marijuana becoming more prominent in our society, it’s time for sports leagues to embrace the usage of medical marijuana.
Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @NP_Healy.