Re-Writing The Rules

Introduction

The rules governing sports seem unassailable. The rules are, well, the rules.

That said, this doesn’t mean they are the best rules or the best way to play. Well-meaning rules have unintended consequences. And some rules are just plain bad rules.

This small book suggests some new rules. It offers fans something new to think about, and the opportunity to explore some possibilities and potential outcomes.

These suggestions are not meant as recommendations to the governing bodies of any sport.

As for methodology, I based all my prescriptions on enhancing fan enjoyment. That made things easy. Further, the most important assumption in the book is that fan enjoyment varies directly with scoring. That’s the moment that brings us to our feet. The more scoring there is, the more fans enjoy the game (except in a lonely outpost called soccer).

Some of these rule changes could provoke and enrage enthusiasts. Don’t take the bait.

David R. Evanson


Table of Contents


Horseshoes

Ice Hockey

Ping Pong

Football

Swimming

Soccer

Baseball

Field Hockey

Badminton

Beach Volleyball


Horseshoes

Hey, if it’s a sunny summer day, and you’ve got nothing better to do than toss horse shoes and sip cold beer it might be one of the best days of your life. Still there’s room for improvement.

Move the stakes closer. It hurts to suggest this, but there’s no denying moving them closer will increase scoring. And, among the back-yarders, closer stakes would make the game more intergenerational. So what if grandma still comes up 10 feet short? At least she’s in the game.

Magnetize the stake. Yep. In its current form too many points are won on the closest to the stake standard. You were closer than this guy, but still 3 feet from the stake? Big deal. Magnetizing the post would bring more leaners and ringers into the equation, and, you have to admit, ringers and leaners bring the fist pumps and the cheers.

One of the key drivers of these pumps and cheers is the clang. It’s viscerally satisfying, especially compared with the all too common thud that happens when the shoe falls long or short. Perhaps also because bells summon so many happy moments in all of our lives. Dinner bells. Morning bells. Evening bells. Church bells. Wedding bells. And cow bells, if, of course, you pine for Heidi.


Ice Hockey

Full disclosure, I played ice hockey and love the sport. Even today, more than 40 years later, I still play street hockey in south Philadelphia. (A low point here though was getting into a shoving match with a girl, albeit a grown one who richly deserved it, but still.)

My affection for the game notwithstanding there are still ways to improve the sport.

Shrink the pads and widen the net. Goals per game in the NHL have shrunk from about eight goals in 1980 to about five today. That means the joy factor for fans has shrunk by almost 40%. And, if you’ve never been in a hockey arena when your team scores, you may have never experienced the true joy of being a fan.

Goalies now are about two feet wide, and that’s a conservative metric. With the nets at six feet in width, an NHL goalie is likely to stop a shot simply because he’s in the way 33% of the time. The NHL shrank goalie pads twice in recent years, but did not go far enough as the decline in goals per game demonstrates.

Widening the net from the current width of six feet to seven would increase scoring. With the goal seven feet wide, goalies will randomly be covering just 28% of the net at any one time versus the current 33% of coverage. As a result, fans would be treated to more athletic and dramatic action from the goalies to defend the additional area.

Ice hockey goalies practice a beautiful art, but seeing it often requires a discerning eye, which the average fan may not possess. A larger net and smaller pads would put goalies’ talents more prominently on display to a wider audience of fans, albeit at the cost of their pride.

Make the goal posts fatter. Short of a score, a rocket of a shot clanging off the post provides a shot of adrenaline to all fans.

Make all penalties “majors.” With major penalties, the player stays in the penalty box for the duration of the penalty, even if his or her team is scored on. With minor penalties, if the opposing team scores, the penalty is over.

Longer penalties are important because power plays represent some of the best passages in any game Making all penalties major means power play hockey keeps on coming. The other benefit is, with potentially dire consequences for even minor infractions, fans will get a much cleaner game, and those seemingly indestructible hockey players might be a tad safer.


Ping Pong

My thinking about Ping Pong is the entire sport needs to be bifurcated much the way the great American past time has been divided into hardball and softball.

Hardball is for people who know what they are doing. Softball is for people who want to have fun (except for that small, but dangerous portion of the population who want to relive their glory days). I’m thinking Ping Kong and Ping Pong, with the former, kong, serving as the more elite echelon of play. ’So, dude, are we playing Pong or Kong?’

Fix the ball. The problem with the ping pong ball is it’s too fast, and the table too smooth and too small for most to gain proficiency, except those lucky bastards who had a Ping Pong table in their basement growing up.

The solution for players of Pong (not Kong) is to coat the traditional ping pong ball with rubber to produce a new ball that is slightly heavier, larger and slower, but still with a bit of a bounce to it. Further, a ball like this adds a new and competitive element because players can more effectively utilize their rubber faced paddles for English and spin.

Widen the table. A larger area means better, longer volleys. Mechanically, widening a table, yet still maintaining the width necessary for Pong—not Kong—is a simple matter of adding small sideboards that fold up into place with a hinge underneath. The net can be adjusted by spooling, enabling players to retract or extend as needed, or as their sobriety allows.

Possibly, when playing Kong in bars, the sideboards could remain up as a handy perch for your buddy’s beer. How such a table could revolutionize beer pong across American campuses is perhaps limitless.


Football

Oy, where to start? Football is so complicated it’s not even a sport any longer. It’s a theoretical construct laced with television commercials and, sometimes, incidentally, spectacular athletic feats. Here are some ways to improve the game.

Fourth down. Sorry, no punting before the 50 yard line if it’s less than a yard to a first down. As it stands, fans get treated to too much ‘three and out’ football. While eliminating the fourth down punt at intervals, this suggestion provokes the possibility of getting four and out in equal measure. But it’s a better fourth down because fans get to see players die trying to hold or break the line. Further, better field position for offenses that take over on, say their own 40 yard line, will lead to more scoring.

Field goals. Move the uprights to the goal line and narrow them by half. Field goal kickers are just too good anymore. Most of the time the field goal is a sure thing. What’s interesting about that? Because of this, fans get robbed of the drama they are paying to see. By moving the uprights to the goal line, the rate of attempts will increase, while narrowing the target will decrease the number of successes. Net, net, the contribution of field goals to overall scoring would likely remain the same, while the amount of suspense offered to fans would increase.

Worried about injuries from the uprights? Have the posts rise up out of the turf like antennas from the goal line, and retract them after an attempt has been made. Hey, could VIAGRA wrap a sponsorship around that or what?

Widen the fields. The NFL likely sports some of the fastest runners in the world–don’t we want to give them five more yards on each sideline to turn the corner and run up the field?

Eliminate the two minute warning. The clock is one of the most prominent fixtures on the field. Who needs a warning? If a coach or player doesn’t know there are only two minutes to go and adjust accordingly, I would offer they don’t deserve a warning. Let’s be honest here: the 2:00 warning is a de facto time out that allows coaching staffs to get sloppy about how they use their real timeouts and for the league to sell more commercials. And the fans, what do they get from the 2:00 warning? GEICO ads.

De-ice. Icing the field goal kicker offers a shot of adrenaline for exactly one person in a stadium filled with more than 50,000 people: the kicker. What’s
fair about that? Between the 30 seconds that tick- off down to the kick, the 30 second timeout and the second 30 play clock for the second attempt, icing the kicker chews up 1:30.

With 50,000 fans sitting in the stadium, a 1:30 delay represents 52 days of lost time. Now throw in a television audience and then consider how much aggregate time the 2:00 warning wastes. It’s eons. With icing the kicker, The NFL is literally sucking the life out its fans.


Swimming

The only people who could really like watching swimming are moms and dads with a kid in the pool. For the rest of us, it’s like watching paint dry.

Alter the pool.

This is radical, but the only solution is to change the pool into an oval-shaped track. Initially, I thought of taking away the ropes marking lanes, but that disadvantaged the swimmers on the outside, with no way to fix it; unlike track which staggers runners at the start. Solving this problem naturally led to the notion of the pool as a track as well.

The idea behind the removal of the lanes is to get some jostling into the mix. As it stands now, watching a row of swimmers is like watching parallel rows of dominos fall. Or think of it this way: how interesting would it be to watch horse racing if each thoroughbred was running in its own lane?

This jostling need be no more pronounced that what’s seen in speed skating, horse racing or track. That’s not to say things might not get out of hand and devolve into something like roller derby. But hey, that might work too.

Swimming still needs a lot more help. But this is a start.


Soccer

The rest of the world calls this game football, or futbal, and we call it soccer. We should take advantage of our differentiated status to change the game to

fit our own, uniquely American vision. The rest of the world can play football, and we’ll play its more exciting cousin called soccer.

We can Americanize the game. Here’s how:

Increase the net dimensions. Spending 90 minutes watching a game where the score is 1-0 is, in my view, a waste of time. The rest of the world seems to disagree. That’s ok. They can fall asleep in their seats and we’ll spend our time celebrating with happy dances.

Increase distance on direct penalty kicks. The goalie has, what, 0.7 seconds—seven tenths of one second—to recognize which way a shot is going? On penalty kicks, the kicker scores about 80% of the time.

And, come clean, it’s sad watching the goalie leap one way while the ball goes another. We can eliminate this humiliating experience for goalies and add more drama simply by moving the ball back 10 more feet on the penalty kick.

Enable offsides. The only thing offsides do, in my view, is allow fullbacks to get sloppy. Enabling offsides is tricky, because I don’t feel unbridled off sides is workable, where, say, an opposing player is camped out in front of the opposing goalie. Better to have lines every five yards on the field, like in football, and allow attackers to be one full five yard swath behind the defender if he or she so chooses.

Branding “Soccer” in the U.S.A. as differentiated from the football played elsewhere in the world will be crucial to the sport’s successful entertainment of fans.


Baseball

Yes, it’s the great American pastime. But you have to admit if the enjoyment for a large portion of its fans rests with how well the game is announced for the TV audience, something is very wrong.

Get rid of the short stop. I’m not even sure why a short stop position should exist, unless there’s something like a long stop position between first and second base. Further, in the current constellation, the short stop interrupts a flawless presentation of symmetry. Few sights are more American and soothing than an emerald diamond with the players perfectly positioned upon it. The best part of this change is, absent the short stop, there will be more singles and doubles, and, as a result, more scoring—all of which equal more action along the way.

Make the fences uniform. In terms of hitting one out of the park, it’s different in every stadium. Yes, this makes things interesting in a way, but not in a way that’s superior to the results fans would enjoy
if all the fences were the same. Particularly, the height. Eight feet seems about right; high enough to provide a significant challenge, but upping the odds of robbing the batter.

Make the bases smaller and shape them differently. The art and science of running the bases, and sliding into them has been advanced and largely perfected over the last 150 years. Let’s up the tempo a little. Smaller, differently shaped bases would mean more spectacular steals, and more careful and more interesting base running.

Take the visor off baseball caps. I don’t see that protecting players from prevailing conditions adds anything to the game. If sluggers actively incorporate the possibility of blinding the outfielders with the sun it will not only add more scoring, but a new dimension to the game.


Field Hockey

A qualifier at the outset: My comments with respect to field hockey apply only to the game as it’s played by American girls and women. My research found that field hockey has a long and venerable history as a sport and participation is dominated by men.

I thought field hockey was developed in the ‘40s and ‘50s exclusively to give girls some kind of parity in after-school athletics. In this regard, my theory extended to the mistaken belief that the crappy sticks they played with were meant to slow them down so they would not sully their feminine grace with overly enthusiastic exertions.

Hey, I’m not a pig. That’s the way public administrators thought back then. But now, thanks to Title Nine and big changes in prevailing attitudes, women’s sports are a big deal.

Give the players a real hockey stick. Women who play sports are every bit as serious as men. So, my view is, let’s give them the tools they need to show off the kind of athletes they really are. And that starts with the stick, which needs to go from its current, rather ridiculous form to a real hockey stick, to the kind that’s used on ice.

Don’t quibble with my “ridiculous” characterization. Proof: field hockey sticks are routinely used by Leprechauns as a cane. And think what the fans get in return: better stick handling, better passing, better shooting and more scoring. What’s not to like?

Just so they don’t feel left out of all the progress new sticks will bring, let’s give the goalies bigger and better pads. With the way shots will be coming their way, they’ll need them.


Badminton

Badminton is a serious sport. But then crafty marketers at companies like Brunswick and AMF figured out how to put a court in every backyard in America, and keep selling Badminton sets through unending suburban sprawl.

Like ping pong, I envision a bifurcation of the sport with changes mainly for
the household arena, and professional or Olympic play remaining more or less unchanged.

Increase the size of the racquet. A larger racquet head and string bed mean a higher likelihood of connection with the shuttle cock, which means more returns and more volleys. Hey, if we’re out there to bat that thing around, let’s do it.

Light it up. Place a red light just above the rubber nose, but below the plumage of the shuttle cock. When the rubber is depressed by the pressure from the racquet, it completes a circuit that causes the light to blink for a split second.

Put a bell in the shuttlecock. Why not? A ping (and a flash, see above) might give the players on the offense a certain confidence, while giving the defense some clues about what’s coming their way. Further, the regular, melodic pings, might provide a sense of rhythm for spectators—most likely family members looking for nothing more than a little distraction between burgers.

Add a whistle. As long as there’s a bell, why not a whistle? Imagine all the whirring as the shuttle cock alights from a sky just after sunset.


Beach Volleyball

Add another player. Two players are nice, but it takes too much away from the familiar pattern of volleyball: pass, set, slam. It’s not that this doesn’t occur in the current beach volleyball format, it’s that it would occur more spectacularly, offensively and defensively, with three players instead of two. Further, three players occupying the same coverage area means longer and better volleys. And that’s what the fans like, right?

Tone down the uniforms. The uniforms worn by the women are likely what put the sport on the map. I suppose there’s men’s beach volleyball, but I can’t ever recall seeing a televised match.

The women’s matches are now regularly televised, presumably because a good portion of the audience likes seeing slender, athletic women jumping around in a thong. Have you ever noticed the camera angle on many of the serves?

In a way I’m surprised, and a little disappointed, the players perpetuate this. There’s a lot of discomfort around the globe among women who feel unfairly sexualized, and here we have a sport, played and presumably lead by women, shamelessly building an audience with a sex sells strategy. Isn’t this something we would expect from less attuned males?

If beach volleyball is about athletics, let’s give the sport and its players their due. Knee-length shorts and an oversized sleeveless shirt will work well. It’s the right thing to do.


Got a rule change? I’d love to hear about it. Email me at david@davidevanson.com.