Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Commish For A Day: Elevating the NBA!

It's that time again! Time to turn another professional league on its ear as I do what I think is necessary to make it "better". Today I'm taking a run at the NBA. I preface this buy saying that I'm not into basketball enough to be so bold as to suggest subtle tweaks to the game itself. With that said, I do think I have some ideas to help the NBA out. So let's get to it!

My changes to the NBA:

  • Move the season: In my new and improved NBA the season starts on New Years Day and the Finals end in mid-August. I'm convinced this would help the NBA for a number of reasons. A big one is that the NBA gets away from the NFL as much as possible. It also puts the league in more direct competition with the MLB, a battle I think the NBA can actually win. Especially with young people. Baseball is pretty boring, give people an alternative during the summer months. This also creates the opportunity for NBA day games, another way to bring in a younger audience (and maybe some moms too).
  • Move the draft: With the season moving, the draft will obviously need to be moved as well. The NBA draft will now take place on the last Friday in September. This provides a decent break after the end of the playoffs but still leaves a buffer before the start of the NCAA season. More on this below...
  • Draft eligibility rules changed: Any player that will be 21 years old on the day of the draft is eligible to be drafted. I don't want kids in my NBA. Granted a 21 year old isn't much of an upgrade from a 19 year old, but I'll take what I can get here.
  • Options for drafted players: A drafted player can still opt to return to their college team if they do not sign a contract. The team that drafted them will still retain their rights for two years. Also, players who choose to return to school will be able to sign and join their NBA team one week after the completion of the NCAA tournament. This will generate some great mid-season buzz as college stars are able to jump right to the NBA after their season ends. Imagine if Carmelo Anthony had been able to join the Nuggets one week after leading Syracuse to the NCAA title (I know he would not have been eligible under my age rules, it's just a hypothetical.)
  • All free throws are 1-and-1: I know this will lead to a drop in scoring, but free throws should really be that free should they? Besides, if a professional basketball player can't make a shot called a free throw on one try, why do they deserve another? This rule is not in effect for the final minute of each half.
  • Start West Coast playoff games earlier: The NBA games on the West Coast simply start way too late. There's no reason why people with playoff tickets can't get to a 6 o'clock Pacific time start. Plus you could even have day playoff games thanks to the fact that the playoffs would be starting in late June. Bottom line, playoff games should not be starting after most of the East Coast is already asleep. It's just common sense right?
So there you have it, my new and improved NBA... I love this game! Okay not really, but it would be nice to have something besides MLB, hockey free agency, and soccer transfers to follow during the long summer months.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Alexi Lalas: No Longer an Inside Joke

Let's get one thing out of the way right off the bat... Alexi Lalas is a moron. Need proof? Well let's let Alexi himself do the talking. While lashing out at the European media members who have been critical of the MLS and American soccer in the wake of David Beckham signing with the L.A. Galaxy, Lalas had these nuggets of wisdom for those uppity Europeans;

"There are a lot of stars in European football who would struggle over here. But Beckham has done his homework on this league, and his team-mates, and he recognises the merit of American soccer."

Oh really? "Stars" of European football who would struggle over here, eh? This must be a different league from the one that is getting lit up by an Aston Villa benchwarmer. I wonder what league he's talking about.

"They took a page out of American football and now have Saturday Showdowns and Super Sundays. I love it. This is high-calibre marketing: taking an inferior product and improving it through packaging. You know, there's no accounting for bad taste. The fact that a segment of the world worships an inferior product in the Premiership is their business."

American football has "Saturday Showdowns" and "Super Sundays"? That's news to me. Last time I checked college was on Saturday and the NFL on Sunday. Maybe I was too busy "worshiping" the "inferior" Premiership to notice. And maybe if Alexi's precious MLS could market itself that well this discussion would not even be necessary.

"In England our league is considered second-class but I honestly believe if you took a helicopter and grabbed a bunch of MLS players and took them to the perceived best league in the world they wouldn't miss a beat and the fans wouldn't notice any drop in quality."

This is the true punchline to this entire joke. Alexi slams the MLS' critics for never having watched a game, but I'm starting to wonder if he has. The level of play in the MLS is atrocious compared to top flight European soccer. I tried watching the opening day game between D.C. United and the Colorado Rapids and I couldn't get through the first twenty minutes without being embarrassed. I give the MLS credit, they are making strides to bridge the gap between themselves and the elite leagues in the world, but it's still the freaking Grand Canyon! You could take the top eleven players in the MLS and they might be able to get some playing time in the Premiership, but if they were really that good they would already be playing in the Premiership. The level of play is better in England and the money is much better. Why would players choose to stay in America if they had a realistic opportunity to play in the Premiership? To suggest that there would be no noticeable drop in quality is also just plain ridiculous. A more likely scenario is that you could drop me and ten of my friends into an MLS game and the fans wouldn't notice a drop in quality.

The bottom line is this, Lalas is trying to keep American soccer from being a big joke across the pond, but by lashing out like this (and in such absurd fashion) he is just cementing the views that most Europeans already have of the MLS and American soccer. If Alexi really wants to strike back at Europe he should try to help get the level of play in the MLS to where top players actually want to come here and play before they are washed up and can't hack it in the Premiership anymore. That is the only way to win this battle. Maybe Alexi realizes that he might not live that long.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Commish For A Day: Taking the NHL to the Next Level

Welcome to the first installment of my new feature, Commish For A Day. In these posts I will be assuming control of various sports leagues and making the changes that I think will help evolve the sport/league. My first task (not surprisingly) will be to take over for Gary "I Still Secretly Work For The NBA" Bettman and try to restore the NHL to major sport status (for those who think it is not currently a major American sport.) So, here's what I would do with my unlimited power:

  • Impose new regulations on player equipment: The NHL has to do away with the body armor players are wearing these days. Modern elbow pads have essentially become weapons. Just look at the Chris Pronger hit on Dean McAmmond in the Finals. New upper body pads need to be developed that still provide suitable protection while being lighter and softer to prevent injuries to other players. I would enforce the rule by having the referees inspect the player's equipment prior to each game (if it's good enough for youth soccer it's good enough for the NHL.)

  • Adjust the Instigator Rule: NHL players need to get back to policing themselves. Too many marginal players are taking liberties with star players with little or no consequence. Players need to be held accountable for their actions on the ice. In my NHL an instigator gets two minutes and nothing else. No misconduct. No suspensions. Two minutes in the box and then get one with it.

  • Contract four teams: The NHL has gotten too big for its own good and it is in too many markets that seem unwilling to support it. So I'm getting rid of four teams and making all their players free agents. The first three teams to go are easy choices; Phoenix, Columbus and Florida are all gone. The fourth team is a little trickier... if the Predators stay in Nashville than they are gone. If they move to Ontario like most people expect them to in the near future than I am getting rid of Edmonton. I know that wouldn't be a popular decision, but a team needs more than tradition to survive in the new NHL. Plus all the upset fans would eventually come back to the NHL if they ever left to begin with. What else is there to do in Edmonton?

  • Minor penalties last the full 2 minutes: I can't find a single thing wrong with this adjustment. It will most likely increase scoring, increase ice time for skill players, and hopefully cut down on penalties in the long run improving the pace of the game. Teams with good power plays should be rewarded.

  • Find a way to get back together with ESPN: It's sad to say, but ESPN decides much of what is relevant in the sporting world. This move cannot be dictated by finances, give ESPN whatever they want to get back on their air. This is the only way to increase exposure on the self-proclaimed "World Wide Leader in Sports" any time soon.

  • Make teams make at least 5% of tickets available to all games on the day of the game: The NHL is awesome in person. The league just needs to find a way to get new people in the stands to see it. Hopefully this measure would lead to some "impulse attendance" and start to build a new crop of fans to carry the sport into the future. Get people into the arenas and they will be hooked.

  • Raise the minimum age for unrestricted free agency: Reward teams that draft well by allowing them to keep their star players for a little longer. Players would not be eligible for free agency until reaching the age of 30 by July 1. That's it, no other conditions. Fans should be able to count on their top players staying with their team for a reasonable amount of time. But in order to appease the players...

  • Lower the compensation for signing restricted free agents: Teams will be forced to give up no more than two first round picks for signing a restricted free agent. The penalties for signing restricted free agents are so steep right now that it should not even be considered free agency. Let teams make offers to RFAs and then give their current team 1 week to match or take the compensation.

  • Fix the schedule: It's really quite simple, every team needs to play in every arena every season. Trimming the league down to 26 teams makes this easier right off the bat. Then just tweak the number of intraconference and intradivisional games to make it work. Western Conference fans shouldn't have to wait 3 years to see Sidney Crosby in person.

  • Allow more contact with goalies: This is an easy, cut-and-dry rule change. If a goalie is in their crease or the trapezoid behind the goal they are off limits, if they wander anywhere else on the ice they are fair game. At the very least this should cut down on goalies flopping around trying to draw penalties (see Ray Emery).

  • Play-in game for final playoff spot: After the last game of the regular season the 8th and 9th seeded teams in each conference will play a single game at the 8th seeded team's home arena to determine who gets the final playoff spot in each conference. The game will be played using playoff rules (5 on 5 overtime with no shootout, etc.) and will be fit in between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs. If the home team's arena is unavailable for some reason, a neutral arena will be determined (possibly a double-header at the other 8 seed's arena).
So there you have it, my new and improved NHL! I really think these changes would help to breathe some much needed life into the league and help it work its way back to making the "Big 3" sports the "Big 4" again.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

06-07 NHL Season Recap: These Ducks Are Mighty Afterall

As the clock ran out on the NHL season last night, it was a perfect time to step back and reflect on what was a pretty solid NHL season when all was said and done. This season gave us quite a few things to remember... Rick DiPietro's monster 15-year contract, an outstanding crop of new young talent, the Pens staying in Pittsburgh, Vote for Rory, the Buffalo/Ottawa brawl, Mike Modano becoming #1 on the all-time American-born goal scoring list, and this:

As I look back on the season that was, I might as well start at the end. The Ducks took the Senators out behind the proverbial woodshed to claim the first Stanley Cup in their brief history. Ottawa looked like they had no business being on the same ice as the Ducks as they were pummeled into submission early and often. They did manage to avoid a sweep thanks to some generous officiating in game 3, but they were never really in this series. I predicted a Ducks victory, but I thought Ottawa had more of a fight in them. I guess they showed me. Congrats to the Ducks, old time hockey is back!

Now to the Awards!

  • Rookie of the Year: Jordan Staal. All bias aside, choosing between Staal and fellow Penguin Evgeni Malkin was tough. Malkin has all the skill in the world, but seems to lack the fire at times. Staal on the other hand looks like he's giving you everything he's got on every shift and has a knack for coming up with big plays at big times. The bottom line, if I was Ray Shero and Mario told me I could only keep one of these two, Malkin would be on the way out of town.
  • Defenseman of the Year: Scott Niedermeyer. One of the most under appreciated players of the modern era. Niedermeyer is the ultimate professional and was the heartbeat of a Ducks team that was outstanding from game 1 of the season all the way up through the Finals. This guy does it all with little fanfare, but true hockey fans recognize what he brings to the ice every game. His Conn Smythe award was well earned.
  • Goalie of the Year: Martin Brodeur. This was another tight race as Brodeur and Roberto Luongo both had monster years. At the end of the day though, Martin was just better. Leading the league in shutouts and setting an NHL record for wins is a pretty good way to lock up this award.
  • Forward of the Year: Sidney Crosby. At the tender age of 19 Sid the Kid has already established himself as the premier player in the NHL. He is going to be the guy in the NHL for the next 10+ years.
  • Coach of the Year: Michel Therrien. I know this is turning into the Penguins Show here, but this is a pretty easy call when you think about it. Therrien went into the season with the NHL's second-youngest team and second-lowest payroll and came out of it with one of the best team's in the league over the second half of the season. Nobody expected the Pens to make the playoffs this year, let alone challenge for the division title. When a young team exceeds expectations that much, you have to give the coach credit.
  • Most Valuable Player: Sidney Crosby. Roberto Luongo is the only person who even comes close to Sid here. Luongo was huge for the Canucks all season long, but Sid simply was the Pens this year. During a tumultuous season Sid put the Penguins on his 19 year-old shoulders and carried them to the playoffs for the first time in 7 years. Oh, and he became the youngest scoring champion in any major professional sports league along the way. Throw in playing the last month plus with a broken foot and Sid has MVP written all over him.
It's sad to see hockey season come to an end, but I'm looking forward to an active offseason and an even better year next year. Whether the mainstream American sports media wants to admit it or not, the NHL is back! Stayed tuned for my Free Agency Preview coming in the next couple weeks.

Monday, June 4, 2007

UEFA Drops the Ball!

It has been a tough couple of weeks for Reds fans. First there was the whole Athens debacle. Then we are presented with these hideous new away kits for the upcoming campaign:

This is a joke, right?

And now UEFA is publishing a report calling Liverpool fans the worst in all of Europe. Claiming that there have been more "incidents" involving Liverpool supporters than any other club in Europe over the past four years.

Various officials around the club and the city of Liverpool have been quick to fire back at UEFA for their report. And deservedly so. After all, these are the same fans who have been repeatedly praised by UEFA officers in recent years and are widely considered among the best if not the best in all of Europe. It is plain for all to see that this is a deplorable attempt by UEFA to deflect blame from themselves in the wake of problems at the Champions League Final in Athens. Problems that were accurately predicted in a report Liverpool delivered to UEFA a week in advance of the match after they had examined the setup for the Final.

The fact that UEFA is trying to blame fans for the fact that supporters with legitimate tickets in Athens were not allowed into the stadium is a joke. The situation was handled horribly by UEFA and now they are trying to avoid their share of the blame at the expense of the Liverpool faithful.

LFC Chief executive Rick Parry has summed it up best;

"To have a stadium with no counting system and no turnstiles is unforgivable for any standard of game, let alone a major final.

"We produced a report to UEFA a week beforehand predicting, sadly, all the things that did go wrong. We told UEFA our intelligence suggested there were 5,000 forged tickets in existence.

"They knew and we knew that thousands of fans would travel without tickets and we stressed the need for a proper check at the outer cordon."

As a Liverpool fan I am glad to see the club and the city fighting back against this report. I know that the club will not stand for these accusations and neither will the fans. It's time for UEFA to stand up and admit they were at fault in Athens. An apology wouldn't kill them either.

Steven Gerrard is now also on record, calling out UEFA for poor execution of the Champions League Final. Captain Stevie says that everything from the stadium to the accommodations for the players themselves were of poor quality.

More reaction:
UEFA President Michel Platini has gone on record as saying that Liverpool's supporters should not bear the blame for the troubles in Athens. He is also one of the first people to point out that Liverpool fans greatly outnumbered Milan fans in Athens. The law of averages tells you there was a greater likelihood of incidents involving Liverpool fans because of this fact. Platini also failed to produce the now infamous report of 25 incidents involving Liverpool supporters over the last 4 years. So now we're stuck with conflicting messages coming from UEFA. Who are we supposed to believe?

Finally a ray of sunshine for the LFC faithful, the club's official website is reporting that Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher have signed new deals to remain with the club through 2011. Hopefully this is just the first show to drop in a very fruitful transfer season.