The four major American sports could learn something from World Cup soccer and increase their overall quality as a sport. Here are my suggestions:
NBA – Boring Playoff Tournaments
The NBA playoffs are probably the most boring of all major U.S. tournaments. There are maybe one or two compelling matchups in each of the first two rounds. The top seeds walk through more times than not while the bottom seeds are bummed they didn’t do poorly enough to be in the draft lottery.
Adam Silver probably can’t go full March Madness, but how about replicating the World Cup round- robin opening round? Imagine the top four seeds being placed in a four-team group. Each team will play two home and away matchups with the other three teams in their group. The top two teams move on to a knockout stage. The lower seed teams have a chance to win, there’ll be an almost guaranteed nightly excitement, higher stakes all around, and the league gets a guaranteed set number of games to be able to sell the networks.
NHL – Larger Playing Field
Since the game is already heading towards non-contact you might as well increase the playing area and open the game up. Heck, soccer fields are uniform, so imagine hockey surfaces varying like baseball field dimensions. Some teams could prefer tighter, more contact dimensions and some more wide-open arenas built for speedy guys. It could be a whole new world of strategy.
MLB – Celebrations
An old-school “unwritten rule” of never celebrating is uneven, illogical, and outdated. There is currently a culture clash of younger incoming latin players who are used to bat-flips, hand-clapping after doubles and generally having a good time versus the old-school players who were taught that celebrations come only after game-winning home-runs.
Soccer players celebrate after every goal and in a variety of ways. Dogpiles. Team dances. Group hugs. Pumped fists. Kneeling prayers. We saw it all, except running, celebrating with a lack of sportsmanship. The celebrations are off to the side. No one talks smack to the opposite team.
The sportsmanship is the key. They celebrate personal glory. I’m not saying that baseball pitchers should laugh and wave goodbye after a strikeout. I’m just saying there is a lot of fan joy in watching players in a moment of passionate joyous celebration.
NFL/NHL/MLB – Goal Line Technology
Both the NFL and NHL have done a tremendous amount of tech innovations with replays to make close scores more definitive. FIFA addition of goal-line technology that adds a chip to ball allows instant and conclusive decisions if a ball crosses the goal-line. With minimal delays and 100 percent conclusiveness, the NFL and NHL can go to the next level. MLB replays could be eliminated one-day with major stadium upgrades. The time saved would be worth it.
NHL – World Tournaments
There are only two times in which casual fans watch hockey: during the final rounds of the playoffs (kind of) and once every four years during the Olympics (definitely). With an obvious wealth of talent spread around the world, hockey should introduce a World Frozen Cup in the off-years. Baseball has started to see higher ratings and interest and the same can be true for hockey.
NBA – Foul System
The NBA has two major flaws when it comes to fouls. First, as an independent study once said, “there does seem to be issues with different standards and allowances for different players.” In the world cup, it doesn’t matter who you are, the fouls will go against you if you foul. You lose fans if they have to watch their local club get screwed because Michael Jordan is allowed to travel, palm over the ball and then kick his legs out for contact.
The second flaw is the idea that fouling someone can be a clear advantage. The foul game at the end of the last two minutes of a basketball game is boring and completely against the spirit of a non-contact free flowing game.
During the World Cup there are clear consequences for fouling the opponent. Too many fouls and you get a yellow. Two yellows during the same game or a major infraction and you get a red card. With a red card, your team has to play a man down. As hockey teaches, this is a good way of keeping action continuous while also avoiding tedious ticky-tacky fouls that slow down the game.
MLB/NHL/NFL/NBA – Fan Involvement
The costumes at the World Cup are just plain fun. They increase the fan experience and identify. The Raiders do a great job, the Cheeseheads are fun, and the Hogettes are reportedly retired but those are exceptions that prove the rule. We really need to up our game and the leagues could help.
With the exception of MLS and college football, there is a surprising lack of chanting at American sporting events. I’m not talking about played-out clapping along to an organ playing “charge”. Remember last year, when the entire Pittsburgh Pirate crowd chanted “Cue-tooooo Cue-toooo” and the result was watching the player implode? That should be happening way more often.
Not for nothing, but the World Cup could learn a few things from the big four American leagues. A replay system could cut down on games decided by a questionable calls. This includes famous hand-ball goals that changed previous tournaments. Like we are learning in baseball this year, a replay system cuts down on time wasted for people to complain. They need to be stricter with flopping. An NHL style of penalty boxes could be a great experiment.
Last, the NFL does a good job of having multiple referees on the field while still keeping consistency. Another referee might have seen Luis Suarez’ bite.
And get rid of the ties.
Just kidding. More American sports fans just need to learn the difference between a tie and a draw.
Brian Reddoch is a CraveOnline reporter and rabid fan of all teams Seattle. You can follow him on Twitter @ReddReddoch or “like” CraveOnline Sports on Facebook.
Photo Credit: Getty