NEWS: Major League Baseball announces measures to speed play in the new season.
Responding to complaints that the increasing length of games (three-hours-plus on average last year) was turning off younger fans (among others), MLB last fall appointed a blue-ribbon committee to suggest remedies. Last week the group’s recommendations were enacted. Instead of an elephant it delivered a mouse.
The “changes” are as follows:
--Once he assumes his stance, a hitter will be required to keep one foot in the batter’s box until his turn ends, barring things like foul balls or wild pitches.
--Managers will be “encouraged” to stay in their dugouts while requesting a TV review of a call.
--Between-innings breaks will be a limited to 2 minutes 25 seconds for locally televised games and 2:45 for nationally televised ones.
--Pitching changes will be timed to comply with the break times cited above.
I put the word changes in quotes because they’re really not. The one-foot-in-the-box rule already exists as do those governing between-inning breaks-- they’re just not enforced. The business about managers staying in their dugouts during challenges refers to the expanded video-replay opportunities put into effect last year; managers would feign disputes with umps while their confederates checked TV monitors to determine if challenges might succeed. Not incidentally, the new replay rules proved to be a drag on game times, each challenge usually taking several minutes to resolve instead of the one minute MLB advertised initially. So much for expeditiousness.
It’s worth noting that enforcing the new guidelines may slow games further. At the last Arizona Fall League season MLB installed 20-second pitch clocks at one ballpark, and in each of the few instances violations were invoked managers took the field to protest, setting off arguments that more than negated any time savings the clocks produced.
Untouched by the committee were the interminable pitcher’s-mound meetings, pitcher- warmup routines and infielder catch playing that make baseball turgid. I devoted a whole blog to this subject last October 1; you can scroll down to see it. Some of my recommendations were tongue-in-cheek, some weren’t, but any of them would have more impact than the ones announced. If this is what we can expect from new-commissioner Rob Manfred, only more disappointments loom.
NEWS: The “Power 5” college conferences consider banning freshman eligibility for men’s basketball.
For the non-cognoscenti, the “Power 5” group (the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and PAC-12), i.e., those whose members are both feet into the sports/entertainment biz, gained autonomy from their less-enterprising NCAA brethren last year and have set about creating their own rules governing the revenue-producing sports of football and men’s basketball. Some of their proposals, such as multi-year athletics scholarships and $2,000 stipends on top of room, board and tuition to more-fully cover college costs, would seem to benefit so-called student athletes, although some possible upshots, including the elimination of more “non-revenue” sports such as swimming and track-and-field to cover the added costs, would be less friendly.
Now the group is said to be mulling denying freshman eligibility to male basketballers. That was startling because a year to settle into academe without competitive pressures would do more to put the “college” back into college sports than anything that’s taken place in recent decades.
Before one cheers, however, a couple of caveats are in order. One is its probable motive of removing the “one-and-done” stigma that has attached to men’s hoops since the NBA raised its entrance minimums to age 19 and a year out of high school, causing some youngsters to view college as a kind of double-parking spot between themselves and the pros. The fact that one-and-done usually is a misnomer—boys in that position rarely finish their second academic semesters—makes the bad publicity all the worse.
The other is that it probably won’t be enacted. Denying freshmen eligibility would winnow out most if not all young men bent on pro-hoops careers, sending them abroad or to the NBA’s Developmental League for seasoning. That wouldn’t be good for the business the Power 5ers are all about, so don’t hold your breath for any action.
NEWS: Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota dueled at the National Football League scouting “combine” over which will be the No. 1 choice in the coming draft.
VIEW: Talk about comparing apples and oranges.
The two quarterbacks—winners of the last two Heisman Awards—were poked and prodded, timed, weighed and measured with the rest of the aspiring herd at the overhyped Indianapolis event. The result was a draw: Mariota ran faster and jumped farther than Winston, but the latter did better in the passing phase. The journalistic consensus was that, all things being equal, Winston emerged as the better prospect.
Ah, but things aren’t equal, especially in the department the league likes to call “character.” That’s because Mariota is said to be a nice kid—a real Boy Scout-- while The Notorious J.W., aka Mr. Winston, uh, ain’t. Indeed, he has a well-known rap sheet and probably would be in jail or on probation if he’d played college ball anywhere except Tallahassee, Florida.
It thus will be interesting to see what the quarterback-hungry Tampa Bay Buccaneers, holders of the No. 1 pick, do at the April 30 draft. Will they choose talent over character? In this post-Ray Rice era, will they brave the inevitable protests that would come with choosing Winston? Will they invest tens of millions of dollars in a young man who’s been an off-field loose cannon?
Stay tuned. This should be better than the games on the field.