Tag Archives: brilliant ideas

The Eastern Catholic League redux

11 Dec

Hey, loyal TPY readers. Remember my post about how the Big East basketball schools should split and form a new league? Well guess what. Looks like some Big East athletic directors and presidents were also reading. That’s right. I’m a visionary.

I made a couple small errors in my original post. I didn’t realize Creighton and Dayton were Catholic schools. It also looks like these guys don’t want anything to do with St. Joe’s. Too bad. I know Villanova has some kind of dumb beef with them or something, but they’d be a good fit. They’re also talking about Butler, VCU, et al. That would sort of kill my idea of a Catholic league. Even though I’m not Catholic, I like the idea of those schools having their own conference. Here’s my revised lineup. Ten teams, 18-game double round robin conference schedule.

Dayton
DePaul
Georgetown
Marquette
Providence
Seton Hall
St. John’s
St. Louis
Villanova
Xavier

This is a good conference. Apparently the current Big East hoops schools will only get like $1.1 million a year from their new TV contract. I think this league could do better than that without dead weight like Tulane and UCF dragging them down.

Again, your main takeaway: I came up with this idea first. I am prescient. I have great ideas that everyone should listen to. This is why my blog should be required daily reading for everyone. Even on days when I don’t have a new post. EVERY DAY.

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The Eastern Catholic League

20 Nov

Yesterday I wrote a long post about NCAA conference affiliations. I have an addendum. It’s related but I thought I would make it a separate post. Most conferences are mainly about football. The exception has been the Big East, which has seven members who don’t even play FBS football. Ever since the Big East started sponsoring football twenty years ago, this has made it a weird mishmash conference. Especially after it expanded to sixteen schools, a bunch of whom are only marginally in the East. The whole thing is a disaster. As a former athletic department employee of two Big East member institutions, I say this with confidence. Everyone involved knows it and that’s why any school with an opportunity to leave does. The only original Big East football member left is Temple. It’s documented kind of hilariously in this Wikipedia chart. Even schools who haven’t started playing in the Big East yet are trying to leave. The tentative football lineup going forward is:

Boise State*
Cincinnati
Houston
Louisville*
Memphis
Navy
San Diego State*
SMU
Temple
UCF
UConn*
USF
*Schools almost certain to leave. And let’s be clear: every single one of these teams would bolt if they got an invitation from the Big 12 or ACC.

This is a bad conference. There’s no logic or sense to the teams involved. The fact that most of them are bad teams doesn’t help matters. The basketball lineup is even stupider:
Cincinnati
DePaul
Georgetown
Houston
Louisville*
Marquette
Memphis
Providence
Seton Hall
SMU
St. John’s
Temple
Villanova
UCF
UConn*
USF
*Again, likely to leave.

Do you notice a pattern in the basketball lineup? It’s like two conferences mashed together: the football schools and the basketball schools. It doesn’t make any sense. It used to sort of make sense because the conference had a lot of basketball schools who also had football teams (Syracuse, Boston College, etc.). They’re all gone. The current football members don’t fit. Except for UConn, who will probably end up in the ACC, and Temple, who actually fits pretty well except for one big thing. That thing is it’s not a Catholic school. DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s, and Villanova are.

Those schools should bail on the Big East and start their own conference. I bet you can guess what I think it should be called. Here’s the beauty of the Eastern Catholic League: there are a bunch of other schools that could also join. Here are the Catholic universities that aren’t on the West Coast:

Big East
DePaul
Georgetown
Marquette
Providence
Seton Hall
St. John’s
Villanova

ACC
Boston College
Notre Dame

Atlantic 10*
Duquesne
Fordham
LaSalle
St. Joe’s
St. Louis
St. Bonaventure
Xavier
*which is also a big clusterfuck of a sixteen-team conference

Horizon League
Detroit
Loyola-Chicago

Patriot League
Holy Cross

MAAC
Almost the whole conference but they’re tiny and irrelevant schools.

NEC
Same as the MAAC. The NEC is notable for containing two St. Francises. St. Francis (NY) and St. Francis (PA). I enjoy this.

The ECL would be a conference that competed in every sport but football. None of these schools have FBS football teams except for BC and ND. They’re not leaving the ACC for the ECL so forget about them. The primary reason for this league’s existence is basketball. The ideal basketball conference would have ten teams. You could then play an eighteen-game double round robin conference schedule. You could still have the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden. It would be awesome. So who would be in it? Here’s my lineup:

DePaul
Georgetown
Marquette
Providence
Seton Hall
St. Joe’s
St. John’s
St. Louis
Villanova
Xavier

This is the Big East schools plus St. Joe’s, St. Louis, and Xavier. The Big East teams are easy picks. So is Xavier. St. Joe’s is next. That’s a good program. Remember when they had Jameer Nelson and Delonte West? That was a fun team. The last spot was tricky. I went with St. Louis. I didn’t want to add LaSalle and have three teams from Philadelphia. The Philly schools are a whole different ballgame and I think it’s good to split them up a bit. Some of the other omissions also have a lot of basketball history. Loyola and Holy Cross even have national championships. But I don’t think they can really compete at this level. Too bad for them.

This is a fun conference. It would be unique in the NCAA. Fans would love it. There would be good rivalries. There would be a good TV contract. It makes at least a little geographic sense. This is a good idea.

College sports are out of control

19 Nov

So Maryland and Rutgers are joining the Big Ten. The Big Ten now has fourteen teams. This is stupid. The whole march of recent conference expansion is stupid.

The Big Ten used to be important. Not just athletically, but culturally. I grew up in a Big Ten city. I’m a proud alumnus of a Big Ten university. The Big Ten represented a geographic place that was distinct. This is the part of the country that’s now called the Midwest. Before that it was called the Middle West. Before that it was called the West. You might think of it as the Great Lakes region or something similar. That geographic identity was formed, in part, by the conference when it was established as the Western Conference in the 1890s. When Michigan State replaced the University of Chicago after WWII that identity remained intact.

What a conference meant then is far away from what it means today. Then, it was a group of academically, geographically, and culturally similar colleges that decided it would be good to be associated with each other. Now, with the addition of Penn State, Nebraska, Maryland, and Rutgers, the Big Ten is more a group of partners in a cable TV network than anything else. I hate everything about it.

It’s not just the Big Ten–conference expansion and consolidation have been ruining college sports for awhile now. I think that trend is likely to continue until the major conferences all have 16 teams. Everyone seems to have decided that’s a good number for some reason. I wish we could go back to a simpler time. If I were in charge, things would look a lot different. Conferences would look like this:

Conference USA is eliminated and absorbed into the new conferences.

ACC
Clemson
Duke
East Carolina
Maryland
North Carolina
North Carolina State
South Carolina
Virginia
Virginia Tech
Wake Forest

This returns South Carolina to the ACC and adds East Carolina. All of the Carolina schools are now together.

SEC
Alabama
Auburn
Florida
Florida State
Georgia
Georgia Tech
LSU
Mississippi
Mississippi State
Tennessee

Goodbye Kentucky, hello Georgia Tech. This makes more geographic sense. Florida State is a natural fit. Tech also replaces Vanderbilt as the SEC school with some semblance of an academic reputation.

Big Ten
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Michigan
Michigan State
Minnesota
Northwestern
Ohio State
Purdue
Wisconsin

Big Ten Classic.

Southwest Conference
Baylor
Louisiana Tech
New Mexico
Southern Miss
TCU
Texas
Texas A&M
Texas Tech
Tulsa
UTEP

Like the old Southwest Conference, sort of. Dominated by the big Texas schools just like the old Southwest Conference.

Big East
Boston College
Kentucky
Marshall
Pitt
Rutgers
Syracuse
Temple
UConn
UMass
West Virginia

Adds UMass, Kentucky, and Marshall and returns the current ACC defectors.. Hopefully UMass’s football team can improve. Kentucky’s here because they don’t really fit anywhere, if you ask me. Marshall is a nice complement to West Virginia.

Plains Conference
Arkansas
Iowa State
Kansas
Kansas State
Missouri
Nebraska
Oklahoma
Oklahoma State
Wyoming
Rice

Sort of like the old Big Eight. Adds Arkansas and Rice, because Rice has to go somewhere. Same with Wyoming.

Pac-10
Cal
Oregon
Oregon State
San Diego State
San Jose State
Stanford
UCLA
USC
Washington
Washington State

The old Pac-8 plus San Diego and Jose State.

Mountain West
Arizona
Arizona State
Boise State
Colorado
Colorado State
Fresno State
Nevada
UNLV
Utah
Utah State

I think this is as good a geographic fit as is possible in this part of the country.

Metro Conference
Cincinnati
Houston
Louisville
Memphis
Vanderbilt
SMU
Tulane
UAB
UCF
USF

There used to be a Metro Conference in basketball. The conceit was that it was schools in big cities (DePaul, Marquette, et al. were involved). I think it’s a pretty good idea for these misfit football schools.

Independents
Air Force
Army
Navy
BYU
Notre Dame
Miami
Penn State
Hawaii

Service academies. Religious flagship universities. Traditional independents Penn State and Miami. Hawaii, which doesn’t really fit anywhere. I like independents. There should be more of them.

So that’s how I would like things to be. There would be no conference championship games. For the national championship, you could do two things: a reasonable playoff system, or the old bowl system where polls decide things. I kind of liked that. It was unapologetically inconclusive and chaotic. There’s something endearing about that. The BCS is a terrible middle ground and no one likes it.

—–

But things will never be like that. Conferences just a loose affiliation of schools trying to maximize their athletic department revenue. The Big Ten would rather add Maryland than, say, Pittsburgh. Obviously Pitt is a better fit in every way. Maryland is perceived as better precisely because it’s a bad fit. Pitt doesn’t “expand the conference footprint” or “grow the Big Ten Network’s subscriber base”. Maryland does. Did I mention I hate this? Unfortunately, this is the world we live in. That being the case, why don’t schools go all the way with it in a way that would also be awesome for fans? Well, some fans. Maybe even most fans. I have a radical proposal. If this blog is good for nothing else, it’s new sports proposals.

Introducing the Superconference. It’s a new breakaway league of powerhouses that would be the best conference ever. It would dominate college football. It would be fun to watch. Lots of colleges who are left behind would be pissed, but you know what? Fuck ‘em. This is how college sports works now. I would so much rather have my team in this new conference than the new Big Ten. In the current landscape, you need at least twelve teams so you can have a championship game. You need compelling matchups and built-in subscribers for your new TV network. You need a lot of programming for said network. The Superconference has all that and more. Here it is. Get ready for your mind to be blown.*

Superconference
Clemson
Florida State
Miami
Michigan
Nebraska
Notre Dame
Ohio State
Oklahoma
Oregon
Penn State
Texas
USC

Can you imagine how great this would be? If I was the President of any of these universities, I would start making phone calls tomorrow.

*When designing the Superconference, my assumption was that no SEC teams would want to join, since SEC schools have their heads so far up their asses and love the SEC so much that they would never leave. Now obviously if certain SEC schools wanted to join, they’d have a compelling case for membership.

These are twelve schools with giant stadiums and huge and passionate fanbases. Oregon and Miami are the exceptions here. My assumption is that Phil Knight will keep Oregon funded with Nike money in perpetuity and Miami will go back to being Miami at some point with a run of average Miami recruiting. Penn State is obviously going to be in a bit of a hole for awhile, but in ten years, they’ll fit right in. For now they still have the fans etc. even if the team isn’t good. Texas and Notre Dame would be the two toughest gets, since they’re both in love with themselves* and have their own sources of independent TV money.

*I think Texas would do this, even if they had to forfeit the Longhorn Network. I can’t imagine them willingly giving up a seat at the new premier conference. Notre Dame loves being independent, but they just signed an agreement to play five games a year against the ACC. Which do you think they’d prefer, that or eight games (including their biggest rival USC, and traditional ND opponents Michigan, Penn State, and Miami) in the Superconference? They could still schedule Navy, Stanford, and BC with room left for one more.

Speaking of TV money, there would be giant piles of it. Way more than any of these schools makes now. The Superconference would easily command the largest TV rights contracts of any conference. There would also be a Superconference Network. The Big Ten Network is a resounding financial success. It shows games like Illinois-Purdue. Imagine how the Superconference Network would fare broadcasting games like Texas-Florida State every weekend. The following cities are Superconference home media markets:

Chicago
Cincinnati
Cleveland
Dallas
Detroit
Houston
Indianapolis
Los Angeles
Miami
Oklahoma City
Omaha
Orlando
Philadelphia
Pittsburgh
Portland
San Antonio
Tampa

It would be simply a matter of time until the Superconference Network was on basic cable nationwide. Imagine the phone calls cable companies would get when people found out that they couldn’t watch that weekend’s USC-Oklahoma game. As things are now, that would be a highlight of college football season. On the Superconference Network, there would be matchups like that every week.

The conference schedule in the Superconference would be a murderers’ row every year. Part of what makes this feasible is an assumption that the forthcoming playoff system makes any kind of sense. Instead of simply trying to avoid losses, it will be to a school’s advantage to play a difficult schedule. Teams would play eight conference games. It doesn’t really matter how divisions are aligned; the only consideration would be putting rivals (Michigan/Ohio State, USC/Notre Dame, etc.) together. Ideally you’d reconfigure the divisions every ten years or so to keep things interesting. With eight conference games, there’s room for four other games so teams could still schedule whatever rivalries they wanted or needed. Michigan-Michigan State, Florida State-Florida, USC-UCLA, etc.

The only drawback is that the Superconference wouldn’t be great at basketball. But I think that would be a temporary problem. Remember the giant piles of money I mentioned? Nothing helps to build a successful basketball program than giant piles of money. New arenas, elite coaches, the exposure of the Superconference Network–it’s an inevitability that all of these schools would be able to recruit elite players in basketball just like they do in football.

It’s not just football where the Superconference would excel. Half the teams in the league are baseball powerhouses. There are elite Superconference programs in every sport from water polo to men’s volleyball. Baseball would be an anchor for Superconference Network programming. So would hockey and lacrosse. Affiliate members in those sports would make them the best in the country. It would be easy to get affiliate members to join because you could write them giant checks. Plus the existence of the league could be incentive for Superconference members to add new sports. It would look something like this at first:*

Hockey
Michigan
Notre Dame
Ohio State
Penn State
Boston College
Boston University
Maine
Miami (OH)
Michigan State
New Hampshire

Lacrosse
Michigan
Notre Dame
Ohio State
Penn State
Denver
Johns Hopkins

*Obviously you couldn’t poach programs from stable existing conferences for just one sport. So Denver and Johns Hopkins in lacrosse; the cream of Hockey East and the CCHA in hockey. I don’t think anyone from the WCHA would bolt–it’s like the SEC of college hockey.

Football in the fall, basketball and hockey in the winter, baseball and lacrosse in the spring. Plus Olympic sports, softball, etc. The Superconference Network would be a must-have for college sports fans. I’m getting excited about it already.

Back to the main attraction: Superconference football. This would be one of the biggest things in American sports. It would dwarf the rest of college football. Every high school kid would want to play in it. Every fan would want to watch it. It would complete the decades-long trend in college sports from quaint and local to corporate and national. There are a lot of good reasons to be uneasy about this trend, but the simple fact is that things are already fucked. Why not just admit it and remove any pretense?

How to make the NHL awesome

31 Oct

If you’re not a hockey fan, watch this video first for a good rules primer

I don’t follow hockey very closely. I’m a basketball guy. But I am from Minnesota, which I think makes me qualified to talk about hockey like an expert.* The NHL has a lot of real problems right now. I am not the man to solve them. However, I did spend a lot of time today solving a fake NHL problem that I made up. For my purposes, the NHL lockout doesn’t exist because that would complicate things. This plan is a total pipe dream and will never in a million years be implemented. It was still fun to think about.

*Disclaimer: I am decidedly not an expert. I did no research for this. Some, many, or most of my statements and assertions may be totally wrong.

District 5 show me you’re alive

One thing that hockey fans always gripe about is how the NHL overexpanded into southern cities. The league is bloated, and having NHL teams in Miami, Tampa, Phoenix, Nashville, Raleigh, Dallas, Los Angeles, and San Jose feels wrong. That’s almost a third of the league. A common solution proffered is to shrink the NHL and/or move some of these teams to Canada. This has become more viable lately with the strength of the Canadian dollar, and the Atlanta Thrashers moving to Winnipeg was a good first step. Clearly, there are a lot of hockey fans who don’t have an NHL team to cheer for. There are quite a few minor league, junior, and college teams that regularly draw over 5,000 fans a game, and several that average around 10,000. Instead of contracting, the NHL should expand and split into divisions, with promotion and relegation. Yes just like European soccer. Yes this is a total hack sportswritery thing to write about. Every year some idiot writes a column about how the Kansas City Royals should be sent down to AAA and they don’t realize how stupid it makes them sound. This is especially dumb to suggest in baseball, but I think if the NHL really wanted to do it they could.

Of course, this will never happen. Sending current NHL teams down to a new second division is a total non-starter, and having a bunch of 30-team divisions is probably unworkable. TV money, arenas, player allocation, etc. would be unsolvable arguments. I don’t care. I’m doing this anyway.

Hockey is by far the most logical sport to adopt a multi-tier structure. Baseball’s need for extensive affiliated minor leagues would make it impossible there. Basketball and football would need to compete with their college counterparts in the lower divisions. That’s a battle they probably can’t win. No one’s going to follow a new Louisville NBA division two team instead of the Universities of Kentucky or Louisville. Hockey is perfect. There are a lot of established minor league teams whose major league affiliation is much looser than in baseball. It’s quite feasible that they could become independent operations. Plus the NHL doesn’t compete with college hockey for fans in any meaningful way.

Sometimes minor league sports have stupid promotions

The current system for developing North American hockey players needs to be overhauled. Elite teenagers don’t follow the same path as elite teenage football, basketball, and baseball players do. This has its benefits, but the patchwork system of junior leagues and development programs currently in place is highly inefficient. Players who are drafted by NHL teams very rarely sign with the team and start playing for their minor league affiliate. They usually go to either the NCAA or one of the Canadian Major Junior leagues* for a year or two or three first. In baseball, players who are drafted either sign with the team and play for a minor league affiliate under the parent club’s supervision, or re-enter the draft. In hockey, a team who drafts a player retains his rights for years, and instead of signing them and paying them money, teams usually elect to let the players keep playing for free until they’re close to ready for the NHL. This is a dumb way to do it.

*The NCAA v. CHL is a whole different topic that’s beyond my scope. People think one or the other is better hockey or better for the kids and there are huge fights about where talented kids should play and whether Junior teams illegally pay players under the table and it’s a whole stupid thing. I know this because I keep an eye on college hockey recruiting. My dedication to my dear alma mater is so irrational that I read about hockey recruiting sometimes. There are multiple blogs that cover my alma mater’s hockey recruiting efforts. And yes, college hockey would suffer under this proposal. The NCAA would lose most of their best players to new youth academies. The sensible thing for the NCAA to do would be to work out some way for kids who played for pro teams in their youth but didn’t make the big time to be eligible. I’m not going to delve into that. The NCAA’s tortured relationship with amateurism is a different topic worthy of its own long blog post. Suffice it to say that college hockey could survive and thrive if anyone competent were running things. Too bad that’s more unrealistic than this crazy NHL idea.

Not quite the same as the Stanley Cup

A better way to allocate and develop players would be to eliminate the draft and allow NHL teams (in all divisions) to run youth academies and sign players at will. This way teams have a vested interest in developing new players and those players will receive much better and more consistent instruction than they do now. Teams would have a reserve squad that would allow young players close to NHL-ready as well as players recovering from injuries etc. to compete against other reserve teams. They could also loan players out to other teams in lower divisions for some seasoning. Again, yes this is just like European soccer.

Enough prologue, here’s the proposal: 80 teams, four divisions of 20 teams each. League conferences and divisions are eliminated. Teams play the other nineteen teams four times each for a 76-game schedule. The bottom three teams get relegated, the top three get promoted. Don’t worry, I have a lower-division playoff structure all worked out. Keep reading.

I organized the top three divisions. It would be easy to find 20 places to put teams for the fourth, but I didn’t get into the details. I allocated the teams by recent standings and attendance, history, and geography. This is the kind of thing that could prove controversial, and there are a lot of other ways to do it. I like my way best.

NHL1:
Boston Bruins
Buffalo Sabres
Calgary Flames
Chicago Blackhawks
Detroit Red Wings
Edmonton Oilers
Los Angeles Kings
Montreal Canadiens
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
Ottawa Senators
Philadelphia Flyers
Pittsburgh Penguins
San Jose Sharks
St. Louis Blues
St. Paul Wild
Toronto Maple Leafs
Vancouver Canucks
Washington Capitals
Winnipeg Jets

Winner gets this

The Original Six. All the current Canadian NHL teams. US teams based mostly on past and current success and fan support. I included the Islanders instead of the Devils because of their move to the Barclay’s Center, their four straight Stanley Cups in the 80’s, I like their uniforms, and I’ve always thought it was cool that they represent Long Island.* That’s always struck me as kind of cool. Notice I changed the Minnesota Wild to the St. Paul Wild. Keep reading for all the info on the new Minneapolis team.

*The Islanders is a cool name but here’s an  idea: change the team name to the Pets, to match the Mets, Jets, and Nets. Their logo could be a puppy on a leash. Alternate logo: fishtank.

NHL2:
Anaheim Mighty Ducks
Carolina Hurricanes
Chicago Wolves
Colorado Avalanche
Columbus Blue Jackets
Dallas Stars
Florida Panthers
Halifax Mooseheads
Hamilton Bulldogs
Hartford Whalers
Kitchener Rangers
Lake Erie Monsters
London Knights
Minneapolis North Stars
Nashville Predators
New Jersey Devils
Phoenix Coyotes
Quebec Nordiques
Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Marlies

Here’s where things get interesting. I’m starting to include teams from the AHL and the Major Junior leagues (QMJHL, OHL, and WHL). A hearty welcome back to the Hartford Whalers and Quebec Nordiques. Anyone else excited for the return of the North Stars? One of the hard things in deciding on teams was what to do with cities that have more than one. I think the Twin Cities could pretty easily support two pro hockey teams as well as the University of Minnesota. The North Stars could play at Target Center. It would be interesting if nothing else. The Chicago Wolves are very popular now, and I think would get even more so in this structure. They’d peel off some Blackhawks fans and become the de facto team of the northwest suburbs. Toronto could probably support three teams. The only question is how many Maple Leafs fans would really defect. Everything I read tells me they’re by far the most popular NHL team despite being terrible for most of my 29 years. Second-tier Canadian cities and the dregs of the NHL fill out the league. These Canadian Junior teams draw in the 7-10 thousand range. Imagine what they’d draw with professional players. The Lake Erie Monsters play in Cleveland and have the dumbest team name I’ve ever heard. They should call themselves the Cleveland Spiders.

Craig Kilborn used to play this on The Late Late Show sometimes

NHL3:
Anchorage Aces
Calgary Hitmen
Edmonton Oil Kings
Ft Wayne Komets
Grand Rapids Griffins
Hershey Bears
Houston Aeros
Kelowna Rockets
Milwaukee Admirals
Ottawa 67s
Portland Pirates
Providence Bruins
Rochester Americans
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Penguins
Saskatoon Blades
Seattle Thunderbirds
St. John’s IceCaps
Syracuse Crunch
Vancouver Giants
Windsor Spitfire

I picked a lot of these based on cities who already have successful minor league teams. I didn’t do any research about arena size, so some of them might not have much hope to grow and get promoted. The Providence Bruins and Edmonton Oil Kings would have to change their names since they’d lose their old NHL affiliations. I threw Anchorage in because it would be cool to have a team in Alaska. Some of these Canadian teams are tricky. The Edmonton, Vancouver, and Ottawa teams draw something like 9,000 a game, but would that continue if they were in direct competition with their established NHL teams? I don’t know. None of those are as large as the US cities with multiple teams. I think it could work.

NHL4:
I didn’t work this all the way out. Possible team locations:
Atlanta
Baltimore
Barrie
Duluth
Fargo
Guelph
Kansas City
Las Vegas
Montreal
Moose Jaw
New Orleans
Oklahoma City
Oshawa
Regina
Salt Lake City
San Antonio
San Diego
San Francisco
Sault Ste. Marie
Victoria

This is a statue of a moose in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan

Lots of big US cities and small Canadian cities. A lot of those Canadian cities you’ve never heard of have Junior teams who draw 3-4,000 fans a night. It’d be cool to have teams in Minnesota’s Iron Range and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Lots of these US cities have NBA arenas ready to go. Easy.

One thing I haven’t talked about is money. How would TV contracts be awarded? How much would players earn? What would the differences be between divisions? How would minor league teams get the money to fund their new associated costs? I’m not going to answer those questions. The economics is really what makes this all unfeasible in the real world, so I won’t even bother. Let’s all just pretend it would work somehow.

In European soccer, there aren’t playoffs to determine league champions. Most points at the end of the regular season wins. In the lower divisions, the top two teams are promoted automatically and teams 3-6 have a playoff for the last spot. Obviously I wouldn’t eliminate the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In NHL1, the top eight teams would qualify for the playoffs, which would be the same as they are now.* In the lower divisions playoffs would work a bit differently. The regular season champion gets the league championship trophy and gets to hang a banner. But that’s not how you get promoted. That’s where the playoffs come in. The top nine teams qualify. They’re divided into three groups. Group A: 1, 5, 9; Group B: 2, 4, 8; Group C: 3, 6, 7. These groups play a sextuple round robin. Three home and three away against the other two teams. That’s twelve total games per team. Teams earn points just like the regular season, and the top two teams from each group advance to the “Promotion Round”. Group A winner plays Group C runner-up, Group B winner plays Group A runner-up, and Group C winner plays Group B runner-up.** Best of seven, the three winners get promoted. This would be incredibly exciting. It would make casual sports fans care about minor league hockey.

*Except there would be one fewer round of playoffs than there are now. This, combined with the shorter regular season, would help keep the season from being as ridiculously long as it is now.

**The groups are paired such that if the seeds hold, the promotion series are 1-6, 2-5, and 3-4. Figuring out the groups was the hardest part of this whole post. Let me know in the comments if you have a better way to do it. The groups, that is. Not the promotion system in general. I like my system.

This is a great idea and no one will convince me otherwise. I wish I were the commissioner of the NHL. I would be a hero to sports fans everywhere.

NFL overtime blows

22 Oct

Until this year, everyone always complained about NFL overtime. They used to play sudden death, meaning that the first team to score in overtime won. The team who won the coin toss got the ball first, and a lot of people thought it was unfair that teams would take the kickoff, gain 40 or so yards, and kick a field goal. The other team didn’t have a chance to possess the ball at all. Sometimes idiots on TV would defend sudden death by saying things like, “Well defense is a part of the game too.” You’re right, genius. Defense is part of the game. And the team who won the coin toss didn’t have to play any. I hated NFL overtime.

College football uses a different system. Each team gets the ball at the opponent’s 25. If it’s still tied, then they go to another overtime period. This has all kinds of its own problems. Games go to two or three overtimes pretty regularly. It wasn’t uncommon to see games go to five or six overtimes once, but there’s a rule now that you have to go for two starting in the third overtime, which helps end things faster. It seems kind of shitty to me to change things up only in the third overtime period. Even with that rule change, these games can take forever. There’s also no possibility of a tie, which is still possible in the NFL if no one scores in overtime. Rare, but possible. I always root for ties in NFL overtime games.

Having overtime games end after one possession isn’t ideal, but the really galling thing is how games would usually end. NFL kickers are so consistent that there isn’t much suspense in a kick from under 50 yards. NFL coaches are also incredibly conservative and fearful of criticism. In their mind, trying to score a touchdown is a reckless gamble that might end in a turnover. If they just stop playing offense when the team gets to the 30, then they can just blame the kicker if he misses. After all, field goals are supposed to be automatic, right? Nothing was worse than watching a game where a team took the opening overtime kickoff, ran a few plays, and kicked a field goal. It’s the most anticlimactic ending possible. Game ending field goals in regulation are exciting because of the time pressure. A team runs out of time and kicks a field goal as time expires! Wow! Sometimes teams will stall and not go for a touchdown at the end, but it’s not nearly the epidemic it used to be in overtime.

I say used to be because of the new NFL overtime rule. Now, if the team who receives the kickoff kicks a field goal on their first possession, the game continues. They can only end the game with a touchdown. This is an improvement. Now teams do at least try to score a TD on the first overtime possession. This solves part of the problem. Not the whole problem. I was watching the Raiders play the Jaguars today. The Jags fumbled on the opening possession. The Raiders recovered, and promptly lined up for a field goal. Game over. They didn’t run a single play. Bogus. This is still a systemic problem. After the first possession, any team inside the 25 will stop playing offense and kick a field goal. This is boring and insulting to fans. The other overtime game today was the Patriots and Jets. The Pats opened with a field goal, then ended the game with a turnover. This was a better outcome than Jags/Raiders, but it still wasn’t exactly satisfying. And notice that the decisive score in both of these games was a field goal.

I still do not like NFL overtime. College overtime isn’t ideal either–there are the problems I mentioned above, plus there are no punts. Punt blocks and returns are exciting. Additionally, the teams get the ball close enough to the end zone that they don’t always run their full regular offense and they can’t try to spread the field vertically. It also limits defenses, knowing that a single error or penalty can have an increased impact, so there isn’t as much an incentive to be aggressive.

It’s a good thing I have a solution. It’s easy. If the NFL adopted it I would be a national hero. Instead of the “you need to score a touchdown, but then you can kick a field goal” rule, simplify things. Just play sudden death. And ban field goals. You can only win in overtime by scoring a touchdown or a safety. If it’s fourth down, you can punt or go for it. Think about how exciting this would be. First and ten at the opponent’s 20? Big series for the defense instead of game over. The offense kept moving and now it’s fourth and goal from the one? Dramatic exciting play instead of game over.

I can’t think of any reasonable objections to this plan, but I know idiots on TV would say, “But field goals are part of the game and kickers are part of the team too whaaaaa.” Fine. Field goals in regulation are a necessary evil. Teams should be rewarded for getting close to the end zone. Teams should have an option at the end of the half and the end of the game. Anyone who likes field goals or thinks there should be more of them or is fine with them being the decisive play in almost every overtime game is an idiot. If a game is so evenly matched that it goes to overtime, one of the teams should have to do something decisive to earn a win. Getting a three and out and then gaining 40 yards just doesn’t do it for me.

The other objection I can think of is that this system will make games longer and result in more ties. I see this as a huge strength, but whatever. In college, the game can go on theoretically forever, and the short possessions allow constant TV timeouts. This wouldn’t be a problem in my new and improved overtime. The game can only last one extra quarter, and it doesn’t have the timeout problem. A lot of people hate ties. I don’t really get that. Sometimes a tie is the best outcome. I guess people hate fairness. More ties would also make end-of-season playoff scenarios more exciting. Everyone loves it when a team can make the playoffs only if “they win, the Bears and Lions lose, and the Cardinals, 49ers, and Rams tie.” Maybe more ties would mean more teams alive for playoff spots until the end of the season. Maybe it would mean more relevant late-season games. Maybe it would mean fewer players sitting out of meaningless games in week 17.

I would hate it if teams started playing for ties, but I don’t see how that would be possible. You can’t play for a tie for a whole quarter. If a team decides to take a knee with a minute left, fine. I’ll be disappointed, but that’s their prerogative. I don’t think that would be much of a problem. There’s not much of a downside to at least trying to run plays. Worst case, you can punt. It would still be just as exciting as a team kicking a field goal on first down with a minute left, and a lot more exciting than someone kicking a field goal with twelve minutes left. You just got twelve extra minutes of tense, high-stakes football for free. Buffalo Wild Wings patrons already love this idea.

So that’s the main solution. The one remaining problem is the coin toss. It’s still possible for one team to start with the ball and score to end the game. That’s not really solvable in a sudden death scenario, but there’s a better way to hand out the ball to start overtime. It’s not my idea, but I can’t remember where I read it. Instead of a kickoff, the head coaches would bid for field position. The coach with the lowest bid gets the ball. Here’s how it works: Home team gets the first bid. He’ll take it at the 30. Visiting coach will take it at the 25. Home coach will take it at the 22. 21. 20? 19? How low will they go? This is so much better than a coin toss and a kickoff. Fans would love it. I know I would. Just imagine some of the league’s dumber coaches trying to manage the process. The entertainment value of someone like, say, Brad Childress trying not to fuck up the overtime auction might exceed that of the game itself.  Regardless of the coaches involved, it would be one of the highlights of any overtime game.

Watching football on TV is one of my favorite activities. It’s disappointing that the most exciting games so frequently have such a terrible ending. Even more so since it doesn’t have to be that way. Tell all your friends about my idea. If not for yourself, then for me.