457 Comments
Mar 6, 2023·edited Mar 6, 2023

Wow, what a great guest post. I have beat up on previous guest posts, but please keep these kinds of guest posts coming! It was opinionated, and backed up those opinions with robust argumentation, while leaving plenty of room for disagreement in the comments.

Speaking of disagreements, the sports czar idea is terrible. Whatever theoretical improvement might come of it, would pale next to the downside of turning yet another major aspect of society into a partisan political fest. You'd add "preferred sports rules" to the already huge basket of opinions that come bundled with political identity. It's already hard to be pro-gun and pro-market but also pro-choice and pro-immigration, for example. Now I have to choose who to piss off by being pro-Elam? [Edit! I accidentally wrote I was pro life. My actual position is that all aspects of pregnancy should be under the pregnant person's control.)

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I think as long as the sports "czar" has a big ol' Teddy Roosevelt moustache and constantly lets loose with phrases like "hit hard and don't shirk, boys!", I support the concept.

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I want to chime in beyond a simple heart-click. What an excellent way to start my Monday morning.

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There's nothing wrong with chiming in beyond an upvote, but some of my favorite comments are ones that have a huge number of upvotes without a single reply: it's just everyone silently nodding in agreement that that was an awesome comment.

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Agreed.

What a great post! Enjoy your day off, Matt!

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Doh! I mistyped, I'm actually pro choice. Still friends, I hope?

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The NHL made a number of rule changes in the past 25 years to increase watchability, most notably the elimination of the two-line pass rule (which prevented a player in their defensive zone from directly passing to a teammate on the other side of center ice). College hockey never had a two-line pass rule, and it was well-understood that college hockey was a more wide-open game and, specifically, included tons of breakaways. The result in the NHL was pretty immediate---just a much more wide-open game that *feels* faster to fans. All this despite the fact that overall scoring has *dropped* since the two-line pass rule was abandoned (largely for other reasons, such as improved goalie play).

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Mar 6, 2023·edited Mar 6, 2023

It's a pretty "duh" observation, but hockey was by far the biggest beneficiary of the rise of HDTV. The cursed 90s glowpuck was a clever (if hopeless) attempt to address the rather serious problem that you just couldn't see the damn puck on SD.

If you had gone to enough games live, then you knew where the puck was by how players were behaving, but that's how quantum physicists get paid. It's not how you attract casual fans.

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Odd, I'm a decidedly casual hockey watcher, and I've never had problems following the puck, be it live, in HD, or in SD.

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Interesting point. I got a little interested in hockey 20 years ago because of where I went to college (and by 20 I actually mean 30) but found it absolutely impossible to parse on television. Maybe things would be different now.

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Hockey is just markedly better than it was 20 years ago. Unfortunately I don’t know how much impact it has had on the bottom line since hockey will always be something of a regional sport, but this hockey fan appreciates it.

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I just really really wish they'd fix the OT rules. There was nothing wrong with a tie! Literally no incentive for teams from different conferences not to play for OT since the loser gets the bonus point (and the data bears this out). Just go to soccer style 3-1-0 point totals to incentivize wins.

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Even if they do not nix OT for draws, the point system still needs to change. I cannot stand that it’s 2 points for a win and 1 for a loss in OT.. with a system like that it’s almost inevitable that every year the teams fighting for a final playoff spot can actually be fairly far apart from a total wins perspective if someone lost a ton in extras..

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Also the elimination of routine fights

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College hockey was/is a more wide open game because the ice sheet is often wider. A number of teams still play on a rink with Olympic dimensions. Unfortunately, that has fallen out of favor and most teams have or are planning to move to an NHL sized sheet

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This was the Gophers' final season on Olympic ice :(

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That's just unthinkable. As a UMN alum, I never imagined they would put an NHL rink in at Mariucci.

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It's gross and sad. The program I enjoyed in the 2000s is decrepit at best (who gives a fart about playing Ohio State?)

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Completely agreed. I get that the Final Five wasn't always what is was in the 2000s, but it's sad not to have that same culmination of the season. The new conference tournament format is kind of a joke.

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The "random segments of the game don't count because someone was offsides but nobody scored," seems pretty embarrassing to me. They need to widen the blue lines and utilize the width to prevent offsides (puck must enter blue area before player exits) or use one edge of the line for on-ice calls and the other edge for challenges.

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Regrettably, there's no reasonable prospect of shifting to Olympic ice. Players have become too big and fast for the 85ft sheet.

(I think the NBA could do with a wider court and more distant 3pt line, too)

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This rule sounds analogous to the offsides rule in soccer, which AIUI was introduced to (apparently) improve the product by reducing (what was apparently considered bad) "cherry picking" of goals by the offense just hanging out in front of the opposing goal waiting for a pass. I presume the (much) smaller field and other differing characteristics keep this from being a concern in hockey?

Alternatively, should soccer abolish the offsides rule?

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The term you're looking for is 'goal-hanging' rather than 'cherry picking'.

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I played soccer for 23 years, and we always used 'cherry picking'.

From the South, though, so perhaps there are regional variations?

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I'm from the Northwest and I've always known it as cherry picking, too.

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Soccer games tied at the end of regular time should not be settled by penalty kicks.

The penalty kicks are too much like coin-tosses -- they are very inaccurate reflections of the merits of the respective teams.

I'm not a serious soccer fan, so most of you are better informed about this than I am. But as a casual fan -- i.e., the kind that the soccer world needs to convert in order to grow in the US -- I have to say that games ending in penalty kicks are very annoying. And this is compounded by the likelihood of ties, given the generally low scores.

Maybe do something about the low scores, too. But at least find a different way to resolve ties.

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Strongly agree. Shootouts are always terrible in any sport, and they're especially terrible in elimination games. In soccer I've always liked the idea of taking a player on each side off the field after X minutes to open the field up, and keeping doing it until someone scores.

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Fundamentally, overtime/tiebreaking should resemble the actual sport being played as much as possible. A shootout would not be a bad way to break a tie in a game of HORSE, because that's what the game is. It's awful for any sport we're talking about.

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Exactly, radically changing the nature of the game all of the sudden is terrible.

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90 minutes of soccer is a lot of running though, which is the argument for PKs. But it's so unsatisfying... I used to like the MLS hockey style shootouts (5 seconds to shoot with a running start from something like 40 yards out). It was wacky but interesting!

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Hockey is so grueling that the best players who are in incredible shape can't play for more than 60 seconds at a time without taking a breather, yet somehow in the playoffs they can play as many overtimes as it takes to decide the outcome. I don't see any reason why soccer players can't do the same in the biggest tournaments. Sure, they'll be tired, but you can always increase the number of permissible subs to account for that, and/or just accept that guys will be tired but they'll still have to play.

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Mar 6, 2023·edited Mar 6, 2023

Overtime soccer isn't good even now with the 120 minute cap, usually both teams are exhausted, so I'm not sure more of it would make the game better. The removing players someone floated would be interesting but it would encourage a lot of gamesmanship with subs.

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1) If tied at the end of regulation, play a 10 minute overtime without goalies. It’s always struck me that shots on goal better reflected the relative strength of play than the actual score

2) To increase overall scoring, enlarge the goal

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1) "...play a 10 minute overtime without goalies...."

I like that suggestion a lot. Not only for the reasons that you mention, but also because the PK method has always seemed to put an entirely unreasonable amount of pressure and blame on the goalies.

2) Maybe, but that again puts the burden on goalies, all through the game. And would it change the nature of play, or just put more numbers on the board?

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1) yeah, it's a measure of how well teams play together; the opposite of penalty kicks. Perhaps if still tied after overtime (or a second overtime?), then do penalty kicks to test what was missing in overtime.

2) or it may make the goalies seem less responsible when a goal is scored. In basketball, even the best-known shot blockers generally aren't blamed when a opponent makes a basket. Also, with more scoring, a single goal is less crucial (which also makes awarding a penalty kick a less extreme measure).

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Good points, all.

" In basketball, even the best-known shot blockers generally aren't blamed when a opponent makes a basket."

On the other hand, basketball does not have a designated role that is strictly to block shots with no offensive role, analogous to the goalie's role in soccer.

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Maybe a better analogy is an outfielder running down a hard-hit ball - you don't expect him to get every one but some are seen as easy while some catches are spectacular

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"Maybe a better analogy is an outfielder running down a hard-hit ball...."

Fair.

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Simulation also needs to actually be an enforced rule. I understand the arguments for why players feel the need to exaggerate contact to get the ref's attention, but players are also hugely incented to dive/flop because the counterincentives are all but nonexistent, and it makes for a product that's not only bad, but actively infuriating to watch, on top of soccer's penchant for incredibly low scores.

This, of course, also inevitably gives even more power to the refs, but (a) if you're gonna have refs and VAR, use them, especially in service of a better product, and (b) some proposals I've seen include mandatory substitution or off the field time for any ostensible injury, which seems appropriate and not super easy to game, inasmuch as in theory we *want* injured players off the field to recover, whereas we want actual consequences for divers.

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My favorite call on the ice ever.

TWO MINUTES FOR EMBELLISHMENT

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This is a confused objection because games only go to penalty kicks (1) in tournament (vs. league) (2) knockout games (3) that are tied after 120 minutes. It's perfectly possible to watch soccer for a year as a reasonably committed fan without seeing a penalty shootout--especially if it isn't a season with a summer tournament. The format of the World Cup, casual fans' only exposure, is unusual.

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"This is a confused objection because games only go to penalty kicks (1) in tournament (vs. league) (2) knockout games (3) that are tied after 120 minutes."

I would not say that my objection was confused.

I'd say that my objection was deeply ignorant, instead.

Your three points are entirely new to me, because (as you guessed) my exposure comes largely from World Cup matches.

So, if the use of PKs as tie-breakers really is as rare and restricted as you say it is, then I revise my proposal as follows:

Tournament knockout games tied after 120 minutes should not be settled by penalty kicks.

Thanks for teaching me new facts.

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I want to upvote this twice, one to signal agreement and one to signal how much I laughed once I got to the second to last sentence.

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Right, but ties in league games are also a problem. The three points for a win (and one for a tie) is a lousy solution. If two teams play each other twice and the scores by each half are 1-0, 0-0, 0-1, and 0-0, they split both games by 1-0 scores and they both get 3 points but if they are 1-0, 0-1, 0-0 and 0-0, they tie both games by 0-0 and 1-1 scores they only get 2 points each. Because scoring a goal in soccer is so difficult with a large element of randomness. this is unreasonable.

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I kind of like shootouts. They're these high stakes all or nothing sub-contest filled with strategy and mind games, it's like the closest thing to live televised dueling.

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At the very least they need to move the penalty kick backwards, maybe to 18 yards. This was keepers aren't forced to guess, which is very much coin flip material.

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They should play 5 on 5 til a goal is scored rather than have a shootout.

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In the spirit of meritocracy, one European soccer idea that I love is relegation of bad teams to a lower level league. It wouldn’t work in American pro sports for a variety of reasons, but college sports realignment would be so much more fun if Northwestern had to worry about losing its Big Ten status to Buffalo or Miami of Ohio

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Promotion and relegation would be *awesome* in college sports. Agreed that it's unworkable in pro sports.

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The prospect of losing treasured rivalries makes this proposal untenable to me. Vehement hatred of the next state over, if only for three hours every fall, just the way your great-grandfather did, is one of the most treasured parts of the experience.

Ugh, now I'm going to have more games against UCLA, about whom I do not care one whit, and fewer games against Michigan or whatever (fuck those guys, they know what they did). Realignment sucks, too.

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Have four or five regional conferences and then have a second tier conference in each region; that would mean that most rivalry games would stay in the same tier (Michigan and Minnesota are likely to both be in the top tier in the Midwest, but they'd likely be in different tiers nationally) and requiring every team to reserve one non-conference game for an in-region rivalry would cover most of the rest.

Wouldn't be perfect, but realignment is such a mess that that wouldn't be either.

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You could still work in regular out of conference scheduling with archrivals, and I do agree that realignment has sucked in ruining several rivalry games.

I'm also trying to figure out who you support in CFB given what you've said.

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Is there a sadder one-two pair than Minnesota and Washington State?

uffda

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Mar 6, 2023·edited Mar 6, 2023

Aren't the selection effects of known football schools on top of the Div I / Div II / Div III division basically accomplishing much the same thing? I don't follow college sports (nor care about football at all) but even I have a vague awareness of who the top college football schools are.

[The answer to this question may well be "no," of course. I mean it when I say I really don't follow CFB, so it may be a dumb question.]

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The problem is that there are plenty of teams in the top conferences that are regularly terrible, and plenty of teams in the mid major conferences that are regularly excellent. Using a highly local example, Boise State would have been no worse than a mid level contender in the Pac-12, and could have won the conference a few times, but they've been stuck in the WAC/Mountain West for reasons somewhat understandable (population) and not so much so (academics). I would go to far more BSU games if they were playing the other top Northwest teams on a regular basis.

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I would like this but as a Fresno State fan I cannot.

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Media market is their main issue. I could see them joining the Big 12 someday. The Pac has looked at them but it would be tough to join since they just barely got their R2 research ranking (Pac schools are all R1 with SDSU and SMU as possible "emergency admits" in good media markets that are pushing for R1).

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The proposal would be to further stratify Division 1. The current realignment push is to create 2 football superconferences (SEC and Big 10). The remaining Power 5 conferences are next tier down (Pac-12, Big 12, ACC). And "mid majors" below that.

Relegation, unfortunately, would be a tough sell because programs are tied into actual schools.

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Why would promotion/relegation not work in pro sports?

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They use the draft to equalize competition. And FWIW, I'm fine with this model, but Matt takes the radical opinion that drafts in sports should be abolished.

https://slate.com/business/2013/12/nba-draft-is-absurd-end-tanking-by-ending-drafting.html

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FWIW the MLS draft is basically irrelevant but MLS still has very good parity compared to European sports. It’s the salary caps that make more of a difference (though that too is anticompetitive).

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Part of it is also that the MLS is content with being bad but equal, as it has no real hope of ever matching European and South American teams for quality

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That makes sense! However, wouldn't it be resolved if players were getting drafted to the second level? This is in part what happens in Europe with football/soccer. The desirable teams get the best players but they often loan them out to smaller teams to give them the chance to compete with worse players for a starting spot, so that they can indeed play games and grow.

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The closest thing we'd have to that over here would be the minor league farm system in baseball.

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Basically there isn't a lower level of pro sports in football (college football is the closest thing but isn't officially professional). And in the other sports, the major league teams own the minor league teams, so a minor league team could never really displace a major league team. I'd love to abolish the farm system (where major league teams bought all the minor league teams to control their developmental systems) to allow relegation to happen though.

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America is the place where the worst teams get priority in getting the most desirable young talents. That is exactly the opposite of meritocracy in my view. Add things like salary caps and American sports are basically communism.

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Two important addendums to the salary cap for the NFL:

1. The salary cap is what the players ceded in the CBA in exchange for free agency, which lack thereof was far, far more limiting in players' earnings.

2. There is also a salary *floor*, where all teams are mandated to pay a certain amount of cash over several seasons to the players. This is important to stop cheapskates like the Bengals' Mike Brown from trying to reap profits wherever he can.

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I think, as a third matter, there's just something intrinsically distasteful - not to mention anti-competitive (in the sense of creating lopsided games) in a system where the richest team effectively buys its way to victory, something that's enough of a problem in professional sports already, and where the quality of the product actually depends on having relatively evenly-matched teams rather than watching one team curbstomp the others and then leverage its increased popularity and revenues into even further dominance. Salary caps may be communism, but they're (a) communism that involves people who play a game professionally getting tens of millions of dollars a year in exchange for their services and (b) actually have a fairly compelling pro-competitive rationale.

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The richest team is the richest team because it has the most fans. That's another sort of meritocracy.

This is why rich owners are so objectionable in soccer - because their teams win for reasons that have nothing to do with the game itself. If the New York Yankees win more often than the Kansas City Royals, well a lot more people are happy at a Yankees win than a Royals win (obviously, more people are happy at a Yankees loss, but, well, you can't have everything, and they still lose more World Series than they win).

But when the Emirati royals buy Manchester City, that doesn't suddenly mean they have more fans than Manchester United or Liverpool or Arsenal. But they have more money and they start winning as a result.

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The NFL has a special exemption from anti-monopoly laws! The idea that there's a true pro competition rationale to this monopoly org is hilarious to me

If they were really all about competition there's dozens of ways to do it better (see promotion and relegation).

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The exemption applies only to TV broadcasting deals, and their future immunity from player action comes from agreeing to a CBA with the players' union.

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Without the draft system and salary caps (or revenue-sharing) teams in the largest markets would permanently price teams in smaller markets out of competitiveness. Inasmuch as that is analogous to our federalism where the Constitution protects small states from being dominated by large states, it is a very American scheme.

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Did you watch the latest Super Bowl? I watched both that and the latest World Cup Final, and I have exactly the opposite view.

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The DB admitted he held the receiver. While it made the end of the game less exciting, rules are rules.

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Penalties aren't 'no better than a coin flip'. I've seen this line several times now in this thread and it's completely untrue. All you need to demonstrate this is to re-watch the World Cup final, where Martinez (who is known to be much better at saving penalties than Lloris, who is particularly poor at it for a top-level goalkeeper) effectively psychs out (some of) the French players.

Goalkeepers actually have quite wide variation in penalty-saving ability, and outfield players have similar variation in scoring ability. You can train and become better at scoring penalties, or at saving them. None of this is true of flipping coins.

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I heard a good amount of Americans question the "minimal referee judgement" in the latest Super Bowl.

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I agree that comes of a little obnoxious. Do you think that soccer fans in the UK really don't want the best team to win we want to see which team the ref gives it too?

That is so far from my lived experience.

Do you really think America is uniquely meritocratic to this extent. Its almost slightly insulting

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Except for the baseball playoffs, which are a total crapshoot. And college football overtime, which is a total crapshoot. And hockey shootouts, which aren't as much of a crapshoot as soccer PKs but still aren't a good way to decide games.

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What makes any of those crapshoots? And hockey OTs are decided by a 3-on-3 sudden death 5 minute period, not a shootout.

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The baseball playoffs are a crapshoot because the marginal differences between the teams are smaller compared with other sports. It's quite common for bad teams to beat good teams in single games or in 3-game series in the regular season, but over the course of 162 games the best (usually) rise to the top.

I like the high stakes of playoffs, but I wish MLB had some kind of formalized method of recognizing the team with the best regular season record that people actually cared about.

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There's probably a way to fix the MLB playoffs if you really want more teams... switch to two divisions (so you remove the third-best division winner getting an automatic berth when they're often worse than the top wild card team). Reward teams like the Dodgers with, say, 8 more wins than the second best team with an auto-berth to the LCS. And then set a lower limit on wins (90?) to reach the playoffs. Then just adjust the playoff series based on the number of teams.

Last year the Braves would have to play hard at the end to prevent the Dodgers from running away with it, and the Padres and Phillies would have to play hard to get to 90.

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Yeah, those seem like good ideas. I will say that peak baseball fandom coincided with the early wild card era in the late 90s and 2000s, which led to a lot of weird outcomes but which my mind just thinks of as the default. Probably the optimal structure was two divisions - which did lead to some weird outcomes, but not as many, and an occasional weird outcome is fun. Having the "world champion" be a team that won 87 games almost every year - which seemed to be the case for awhile there - gets a little ridiculous.

(OK, I'm a Mets fan and I'm still a little salty about the 2006 NLCS.)

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As a Dodger fan I wish the regular season record counted. *lolsob*

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They do, to maximize your disappointment.

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The NHL has the Presidents' Trophy.

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I think those points are in a bit of tension with one another. The marginal differences ARE smaller (you're never gonna have a 130-32 team in MLB, but you'll have 13-3 teams in the NFL every year). But that just means that the differences between teams in the playoffs are going to be very slight, so things like pitcher quality and injuries can have a HUGE impact. A team with the two best pitchers can win a best of 7 series, but in the regular season those two pitchers won't start 50%+ of the games. That doesn't make it a crapshoot or random- it just means that the best teams in a best of 7 series in October might not have been the best team in May, but that doesn't meant they weren't still the best team at the time the series was played.

I think the formalized method of recognizing the team with the best regular season record sounds like a fine proposal, especially because it would recognize that playoff baseball and regular season baseball are different beasts.

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Mar 6, 2023·edited Mar 6, 2023

Yeah, that's kind of what I was getting at. I still agree with J. Willard Gibbs' proposal to restructure the playoffs to make it more likely that the best teams win, but there's always going to be a significant crapshoot element in a short series in baseball. Which is fine, that *can* be part of the fun, but I think tilting things away from that somewhat and creating some widely-accepted method of rewarding the best regular season team would both be good things for the sport.

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After 3-on-3 OT, there is a shootout.

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I totally forgot about that, despite having attended a game live earlier this year that went to a shootout ;) (insert facepalm emoji). So I withdraw that prior comment.

Still wondering what makes baseball playoffs or college football OTs crapshoots though...?

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It forces the defense to defend only 25 yards of field. A FG attempt is practically guaranteed unless the offense screws up royally. Then after 2 OTs, they just alternate 2 point conversions. It doesn't reward the better team, it just punishes the team that makes the bigger mistake.

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If the rest of the world doesn't care about meritocracy, maybe they'd be willing to make me the highest-paid player on the AC Milano team, or FC Bayern or something? I certainly do not merit it!

But from here it looks like, to the contrary, world-cup soccer is extremely meritocratic, and only people who are incredibly gifted and hard-working ever get to play at the highest levels.

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Weirdly, it's AC Milan. It was founded by British immigrants into Italy, and so was named in English; Milano is the city, but the Italian-language name of the team is Milan (it's not pronounced the same as the English do, though - it's "MEE-lan", not "Mih-LAN")

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So now I know of three different ways to pronounce that word, along with our own Milan (rhymes with Dylan) Singh.

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Didn't David Frum or someone like that write a column about that exact idea like 15 years ago or so?

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"...write a column about that exact idea..."

If you had quoted a bit of what you were responding to, then I might be able to follow your contribution to the conversation. But given how Substack comments work, it is impossible without that sort of clue. I just don't know which "idea" you are referring to, alas.

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I was replying to Fooooo's statement: "America is a meritocracy, and we like our sports meritocratic. In the rest of the world, you win or lose based on some powerful person's whims or just blind luck, and that's why soccer is decided by the referees (in regulation time) or blind luck (if it goes to PKs)."

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"I was replying to Fooooo's statement."

Thank you!

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European basketball is very good and obviously incredibly meritocratic. Yet Europeans still cling to soccer. Go figure.

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right because if a more meritocratic sport existed than Basketball, or NFL then all American's would immediately disavow their current team loyalties and switch on mass to the new sport because they are so much more meritocratic than the rest of the world.

Europeans can like soccer because its what they grew up with without proving that they aren't as meritocratic as American's or even proving that they love every aspect of soccer. Ask soccer fans. Penalty shootouts, time wasting, diving to win free kicks and games being decided by controversial ref decisions are all widely disliked.

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European basketball is very good! And while not as popular as soccer, still pretty high on the totem pole in terms of fan interest (outside of the UK at least).

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There is basketball in Europe? What are the better known teams/players?

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Teams: Olympiakos, Panathinaikos, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayen Munich, Fenerbahce, Maccabi Tel Aviv, AS Monaco.

European sports (outside England) are mostly operated as single organisations that compete in multiple sports, and the same organisations that have dominant soccer teams tend to also have the dominant basketball teams.

This has the result that there aren't very many famous basketball teams because they all have the same name as even-more-famous soccer teams.

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I was testing the Americans here though, and I think you're British. :P

I can tell you that I think I've seen like 5 of the teams you mention live in Euroleague games. I have seen all of them on TV.

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Just look at all the awesome European players that have come over to the US (Jokic, Doncic, Giannis, just to name three). And remember the name Victor Wembanyama. You'll be hearing that name a lot in years to come!

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I agree about Dončić, but Jokić and Giannis basically came directly to the NBA, right? It's hard to make the case that these players are what basketball in Europe is about (even though they come from there). Dončić also didn't play in Europe for long, but he at least has a Euroleague.

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I don't watch Euroleague games very much, but all you have to do is see the quality of the players they produce to understand that Europe is very good at basketball. Giannis, Doncic and Jokic are arguably the best players in the NBA. Obviously, they were very well trained in their time in Europe.

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In general I agree innovation in sports is good and the lack of competition limits the rate at which major leagues tweak their rules. But I think this post dramatically undersells the amount of rule change in the NFL and NBA in recent decades to make the game product more appealing (and, in the NFL’s case, safer). They perhaps haven’t made a “big bang” like the introduction of the 3 point line but the cumulative effect of incremental changes has been dramatic. To wit:

The NFL has dramatically increased the importance of the passing game through rules protecting the quarterback, limiting defensive contact with receivers, and reducing when and how defenders can hit offensive players. It also introduced the 2 point conversion in the mid 90s then changes the PAT rules to make the 1 pointer less appealing.

The NBA’s introduction (or renewed enforcement) of the hand check rule in the mid 2000s dramatically increased the importance of offensive guard play. They have also adjusted rules around illegal defense, take fouls, and time permitted to bring the ball up court. Of course they also have made myriad changes to the draft lottery, playoff seedings, and now the play-in tournament to incentivize regular season performance.

Baseball was largely the exception until now, which is why these changes (especially pitch clock and shift banning) seem long overdue. They did introduce the zombie extra inning runner and universal DH in recent years, plus the ever-expanding wild card and inter league play.

It almost goes without saying that the tension is that sports leagues rely on history and tradition to build their narratives and sustain their fan base so there is a natural conservatism against major rule tweaks, so they typically occur more frequently only when the product on the field is clearly suffering (as baseball is now, or your 1990 soccer example). I don’t think the NFL or NBA really have that problem right now, in part because of the continual tweaking they do.

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I agree. 1 small change per year for 10 years can have a bigger impact without alienating fans than 1 big change every 10 years.

Rules that apply within the game need to be distinguished from decisions about league structure. The NFL, NBA, and NHL have been decent at within-game rule improvements -- all three are more exciting to watch than in the past. MLB less so. (I can't comment on soccer or much on baseball). NFL's frequent replays and NBA end-of-game foul parties are clear exceptions.

But there's most distinction between the leagues in terms of structure. The NFL has managed game inventory to keep each regular season game exciting. NBA has done the opposite. The big difference is finances. The NBA is funding by regional sports networks who mostly survive by getting general cable subscribers to subsidize sports-watchers while the NFL's finances are driven by total ratings * inventory. The NFL had to balance ratings and inventory, NBA did not. NHL expanded so much that the product was diluted.

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It’s a good point. I was reading the column nodding along, and I’ve been nodding along a lot in the comments, and then someone mentions baseball, and I completely change my attitude. Because all this new bullshit is not baseball. And I, as a baseball fan, have a strong opinion about that. Even if it is likelier to get the filthy casuals to pay attention to the game. Whereas, as a very casual fan of basketball, I would love a rule change that stops the game from grading to a halt in the last minute due to all the intentional fouls.

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Haha but I would argue 4 hour games and the shift are not baseball either... certainly didn’t have those when I was a kid.

But as a longtime national league fan I’m still mad they made us take the DH.

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Is the DH rule really that bad? Pitching is such a specialized skill so why should we force players who are valuable even though they can't hit a lick to take an at bat? (And please don't offer the "managerial tactics" argument -- it's a weak argument imo).

I mean, would you require your best hitter to pitch one inning? (Assuming the science of cloning doesn't progress to the point where every player is Ohtani.)

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It’s not the end of the world but I did enjoy the tactical game of pitching changes, double switches. And some pitchers do hit well so it seems a shame not to let them take advantage of their relative prowess.

The thing I’ve always wondered is, if you don’t want the pitcher to hit, fine, but then why not just have an 8 man batting order? Give the guys who actually are playing in the field more chances.

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My hot take DH rule is that each team should get one DH but it does not have to be for the pitcher. Make it essentially a 10th position which isn't on the field. 99% of the time, this has essentially no effect, but it really incentivizes competent 2-way play. When Ohtani pitches right now, he still takes up the DH slot. I think the Angels should get to say actually we're going to have a DH for the second baseman today. Then when Ohtani comes out you bring back some of that interesting strategy deciding who goes where.

I mostly like this idea because there a few pitchers in the league right now who were actually decent hitters when they had to, now teams have no incentive to let them because they don't want to waste their DH slot. Two-way players are a super exciting idea, so there should be rules that incentivize them.

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Also means the stars hit 10% more often, which is another bonus.

It would mess with all the records, though. Easy to break the HR record when you hit more often.

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Sounds good to me, except that baseball is in love with the mystical power of multiples of 3 (9 players, 3 outs, 9 innings, 3 strikes, etc)

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I can’t stand the DH, it makes managing a game so much less tactical. And every once in a while a pitcher would ding one over the fence and it would be the most exciting moment of your whole week.

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Weighed against the 99 other times when there were runners at 2nd and 3rd with two outs and the pitcher weakly flails at three pitches in a row.

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If it happened every day it wouldn’t be exciting.

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I think shifting is very much baseball. The four hour games I could do without, sure, but my unscientific impression is that you could shave a half hour just by eliminating the DH.

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As an AL fan, I prefer the DH, but I also had no problem with the NL not taking it if they didn't want it.

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The NBA has been using the Elam ending for the All-Star Game. It's reportedly being considered for next year. OT games are fun to talk about but they can get ugly as players fatigue and foul out.

For baseball there are a few implemented innovations that I'd consider fan-friendly. 1) Universal DH. I love to see good-hitting pitchers (I'm glad they added the Ohtani exception) but the development and risk of injury turned the 9 spot into an offensive sinkhole. I'm a NL guy but think this was a good change. 2) Banning the shift. We'll see how this goes but it might encourage less "three true outcome" strategy. Could prolong games, though. 3) More interleague play. EVERY team will play a series at your stadium once every 2 years (alternating home and away). All part of MLB finally erasing the NL/AL divide (it's about time though I really am a NL traditionalist at heart). 4) Making relief pitchers face 3 batters. LaRussa is a great manager but his endless parade of relievers strategy dragged the game on forever.

For all the gnashing of teeth by traditionalists who threaten to stop watching, they're the least likely to actually tune out. They're the "base voters" of the sports world. It's nice to see the leagues actually target "swing voters," especially since it spurs innovation. And there's your Slow Boring tie-in.

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Yeah I think this post misses the most important changes I know of to any sport recently.

More importantly to the nba is the change to illegal defense as well as the removal of hand checking (both around 2000), which are almost universally acknowledged to have drastically increased the rate of scoring.

Before 2001, you literally couldn’t play zone in any way. This includes help defense where you sag off your man and help, which is the main way of handling isolation scoring in the post or from the elbow. Teams used to clear out whole sides of the court and let a single player cook: now that’s way less effective because the defense can bring over another man to help the 1-1 defender while the other men play 4-3, but are able to rotate. This led to the idea of shooting being important; because before everyone had to be guarded no matter what, now they only guarded if they’re a threat.

Hand checking was disallowed in 2004, and had just as wild of an impact - dribblers can actually, you know, dribble now rather than just being held in place by their defender.

Again, these both drastically increased scoring: most of the huge rises in scoring and 3 point / guard revolution can be traced to these 2 changes almost exclusively.

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Agree 100% on these rule changes leading to massive adaptations. It's much more of a team sport now both defensively and offensively. And much less of a grind. It's kinda fun to see how Kobe had to adapt as someone whose career spanned both eras.

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Late fouling and time wasting in basketball games is deeply unpleasant for me to watch at least. Let's go to the Elam ending. Plus, the chance for comedy is great in the first few years. Who can forget LeBron's look at his old teammate after he went the wrong way down the court?

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Hahah I agree. The long game endings don't bother me but I know they bother a lot of people. And the Elam ending keeps some drama in, though I will miss buzzer beaters a ton. There may be some intermediate ground before an Elam ending (like an NFL-style clock runoff for fouls) but something really does need to change.

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I don’t think I would support the Elam ending. You might could achieve a lot of the same benefit with less dramatic rule changes. For instance, a foul in the last two minutes of the game counts as two fouls for purposes of the bonus and a player fouling out. (Or even three?)

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That's interesting, have to think about that and the flow of the game.

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Totally disagree on the Elam ending as I stated below, but you know where it might work better? The NFL. Football hasn't been able to figure out its OT problem (don't get me started on college football OT, which is a total gimmick). But set a target score for OT at +8? Now we're talking.

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Not sure why NBA doesn't adopt the NFL's clock runoff for penalties. If you foul in the last minute the clock runs off 14 seconds (equivalent to a shot clock reset possession).

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Great idea! Probably have to tweak it some based on how many seconds vs. how far behind the trailing team is, but seems workable.

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Never thought of that but that's a good idea. It was unconscionable that CFB did not have this rule until very recently.

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The college football OT process is great. Why not use it in the NFL?

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It's terrible! Trading possessions inside field goal range with exhausted defenses on the field is no way to settle a game.

Actually my favorite proposal (though the leagues would neeeeever go for this) is to auction off the starting yard line for possession. Or have one team name the possession line and the other say whether they want the ball or to defend. Now you actually add some intrigue and set the stage for second guessing your coach. Who doesn't love that?

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College football OT is very bad. The NFL's OT is much worse.

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I think the NFL has finally gotten it right for the playoffs at least, and hopefully the regular season will follow soon. And I strongly, strongly agree that CFB's OT is an abomination, especially the newest addition where they turn it into a dreaded shootout after triple OT. Go hunt down the nonuple OT nonsense that Penn State and Illinois played recently as a prime example of the abomination.

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You could make that 9OT game 40% less bad by simply not changing ends of the field. Doing 2 2-point conversion attempts then walking 100 yards to try again was excruciating.

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The tradeoff comes if a student section is located on one of those ends, though.

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Right, but once you are at the 2-point shootout portion of the proceedings, you've had plenty of chances to settle it. Just go with where the coin flip landed you.

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And now I'm back to my original point, which is that instead of tinkering around the edges, CFB's OT rules need to be launched into the sun and replaced with the NFL playoff OT rules.

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They just need to adopt some FIBA rules. It's been > 10 years since I played in Europe, but when I did, here were some rule differences:

- in FIBA, intentional fouls are two FTs *and* possession. Intentionally fouling to stop the clock is not a thing. This doesn't mean that teams don't foul to stop the clock -- they do, but they have to be careful about it. So you get teams playing recklessly and fouling while going for the ball, but not obviously hugging a player to foul them.

- in FIBA, you can't call a timeout while the ball is in play. You can register your intent to call timeout with the scorekeeper, and then you actually *get* your timeout at the next stoppage of play or after the next basket that the other team makes (i.e. when you get possession). But you can't just stop live play with a timeout.

- in FIBA you get way fewer timeouts. This one might be hard to change because most of the NBA timeouts are about TV, so you get the one at the six minute of the quarter called a "TV timeout", etc. But in general we could reduce the timeouts in the last 2 minutes by a lot.

- There is no timeout that lets you advance the ball to the frontcourt in FIBA, and this is a stupid rule that we should eliminate, both because it slows the game down and because it removes one of the few ways the defense has to more reliably ramp up pressure to cause turnovers (full court press, a high risk/high reward tactic). It also entices NBA coaches to do stupid things like "draw up a play" instead of just letting the players run up court and freestyle in close games (there is a mountain of statistical evidence that these timeouts benefit the defense far more than the offense [controlling for the advantage of advancing the ball]. The theory is that getting your defense set is the hardest part of playing defense, so a timeout takes away the need to play "transition d").

Having said all that, games in FIBA are less likely to end in nailbiters. But the thing is, *so are games in the NBA*. NBA games can *look* like they were nailbiters because of all the ways they get slowed down, but the losing team still loses the vast majority of the game in which they employ these tactics. But a game in which one team was up by ten with 90s to go, and ends up winning by four because of free throw shananigans is not, in fact, more exciting than a game where neither team employed those tactics and the team ended up winning by ten.

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I hope they never outlaw the shift. If the defense decides to leave huge holes in the field, learn to hit to them.

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it's actually outlawed as of this year :D

Have to have 2 defenders on each side of 2nd base, and can't have any part of your feet on the outfield grass when the ball leaves the pitcher's hand

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That's too bad. I'd prefer to see the offense forced to adjust.

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yeah, I don't disagree. Part of the issue is the heavy shifting happened at the same time as the "chase home runs over everything" revolution. So singles to the opposite side were less valuable than continuing to try to pull and launch (called the "hit it over").

I think probably if the heavy heavy shifting had been 20-30 years ago, players may have adjusted. But instead, it was still considered more valuable to just launch it, so the game had to adjust

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Whacking a solo homer over the shift will continue to be preferred until some team puts together a roster that wins by hitting lots of doubles against the shift and the analytics start to catch up with that.

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> The regional sports networks model is collapsing before our eyes, as cord cutting has led to lower revenues for cable networks that spent millions for the exclusive rights to broadcast games for local teams.

Even if you’re not much of a sports fan, I highly recommend reading the linked article by Ben Thompson, “What the NBA Can Learn From Formula 1”, https://stratechery.com/2023/what-the-nba-can-learn-from-formula-1/

It’s a highly informative and entertaining piece about the history of the sports media business and the current challenges faced by every US sports franchise outside of the NFL, particularly the NBA. These leagues are ultimately victims of the broader disruptions in the media ecosystem as cord cutters are ditching cable for streaming services. The sports leagues, and their intermediaries like the regional sports networks had a great deal with the cable bundle and it’s not clear how they’ll survive without it.

Of particular concern is slow decline in viewership of these sports, and that will only accelerate due the failure to cultivate fandom among younger cohorts. Cable used to serve as something of a gateway drug that made it easy for anyone to become a casual fan, and for many of those to become diehard fans. With the younger generations ditching cable for streaming, that opportunity is lost.

Thompson contrasts that against the massive success of Formula 1 to grow a new fandom, including through the Netflix series “Drive to Survive”. The show is apparently part documentary and part reality TV (I’ve never seen it), and also highly accessible to non-fans since it’s on Netflix. Many attribute this series to the growing fandom of Formula 1. Thompson says that other sports franchises need to similarly adapt to the changing media ecosystem in order to nurture a new generation of fans.

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Any model that creates regional blackouts needs to die.

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Yes, and the regions are ridiculous. For example, Sacremento Kings games are blacked out in Hawaii, Portland Trailblazers games are blacked out in Seattle, etc

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I’d also recommend Shishir Mehrotra’s great article, “ Four Myths of Bundling”, which Thompson quotes within the aforementioned piece to explain the benefits of bundling to both consumers and producers. I think a lot of instinctually prefer the a-la-carte model so that we only need to pay for what we want. Yet bundling allows us each to slightly subsidize products that we’re less excited about, some of which we still consume, and thereby get access to more media than we could afford a-la-carte.

I’m quoting the key text below, but you should just find it in the article because Substack comments don’t support list formatting and the article also includes helpful visuals,

https://coda.io/@shishir/four-myths-of-bundling

> Imagine there are four products each delivered as a monthly subscription. We have a choice to deliver them each a-la-carte, or to produce a bundle across all of them. Now let’s divide the population for each good into 3 parts. Imagine that for each good, each prospective customer is one of these 3:

> 1, SuperFan: This is someone who fits two criteria:

> ** They would pay the a-la-carte price for the channel. This means that they are fairly far along the price elasticity curve for the good (perhaps to the inelastic point)

> ** They have the activation energy to seek out the good and purchase it.

> 2. CasualFan: Someone who would value the good if they had access to it, but lack one of the two SuperFan criteria ー either they aren’t willing to pay the a-la-carte price for the good, or don’t have the activation energy to seek it out, or both.

> 3. NonFan: Someone who will ascribe zero (or perhaps negative) value to having access to the good.

>

> If we offered these goods a-la-carte, then:

> * The providers would only provide service (and collect revenue) from their SuperFans (the blue highlights), and

> * Consumers would only have access to goods for which they are a SuperFan

>

> The a-la-carte model clearly doesn’t maximize value, as consumers are getting access to fewer goods than they might be interested in, and providers are only addressing part of their potential market.

> On the other hand, the bundled offer expands the universe and not only matches SuperFans with the products they are SuperFans of, but also allows for those consumers to get access to products of which they may be CasualFans. From a providers perspective, it gives access to consumers much beyond their natural SuperFan base. This is the heart of how bundles create value ー it’s not about addressing the SuperFan, it’s about allowing the CasualFan to participate.

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Sometimes I sort of wish I could put the streaming/unbundling genie back in the bottle. I really love the idea of connecting with my extended family over a game, but I’m just never going to pay as much as it costs for the privilege. And honestly I’m perpetually slightly confused about what I’d need to pay for where.

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Mar 6, 2023·edited Mar 6, 2023

If CausalFans aren't willing to pay the a la carte price, isn't cross-subsidization just a straight value extraction from them? You'd have to argue that there's some kind of economy of scale here for the bundle at large that results in net consumer surplus for them.

The linked excerpts characterizes CasualFans as follows:

"CasualFans who care more about TV shows than they do sports — but might catch an All-Star or Finals game — no longer have any reason to subscribe to pay-TV for the reasons I just articulated"

People who "care more about TV shows than they do sports — but might catch an All-Star or Finals game" seem like a class of consumer that gets a lot more consumer surplus out of not paying the ESPN tax and watching post-game highlights if they care to....

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> You'd have to argue that there's some kind of economy of scale here for the bundle at large that results in net consumer surplus for them.

Yes, Thompson and Mehrotra’s argument is that many of these media endeavors aren’t economically viable without cross-subsidization. Within the bundle everyone pays a small amount for some stuff they wouldn’t otherwise buy, and also benefits from having their preferred content partially paid for by others.

For a specific media property, this solely benefits the CasualFans. They might be willing to pay $5/month to occasionally watch it, but there aren’t enough people—SuperFans and CasualFans combined—to fund the product. Higher prices would be needed, but that dissuades CasualFans from paying. There just doesn’t exist a price point at which enough people would pay for the product to make it viable. It can only work by forcing NonFans to pay up.

Yet everyone is a CasualFan of something in the bundle. Some sports fans might never watch a Disney’s child show but they have to pay for it, and thereby make it viable for the households with the opposing preferences. And vice versa.

Some products can work a-la-carte. Eg, Slow Boring. There likely exist subscribers that wouldn’t pay a penny more regardless of what was bundled in alongside, and they benefit from the current financial model. Other current non-subscribers might be willing to purchase a specific bundle with SB, and they would thereby benefit from the liberal technocratic indoctrination if such a package deal existed.

It ultimately comes down to the details of the bundle to determine how the economics work out for consumers and producers. Cable worked for decades, but that model is now faltering. Participants, particularly sports, need to find something new.

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Mar 6, 2023·edited Mar 6, 2023

[EDIT: leaving in for posterity and context by you can ignore this and skip to below]. Can you link to or illustrate a model or example showing how a bundle with this could end up up not being negative-consumer surplus despite it being negative consumer surplus in the margin in isolation? Not trying to be snarky here (tough to convey tone in writing), just didn't have much luck Googling it and I've been having a hard time setting up the problem to my satisfaction in a way that doesn't end up looking isomorphic to a basic marginal question of "should this exist in in isolation because it produces more consumer surplus than its price, integrated over all customers?", which I suspect could well just be an error on my part.

EDIT: I think this works out if set up as a heterogeneous preferences gains-from-trade multiple-consumer model, but potentially only as between cross-subsidizing Casual/Superfans - I think NonFans still rationally self-exclude.

Example: shows A, B, Persons 1 and 2, Each show costs 7 to make (3.5 divided by 2)

Person 1: Values A at 5, B at 3

Person 2: Values A at 3, B at 5

A or B individually don't get made at a 3.5 price point, but A and B together is welfare-increasing with a consumer surplus of 2 (1 each for Persons 1 and 2).

I'm not sure if this works for nonfans, though, because this setup depends on total summed utilities exceeding total price, and a nonfan has zero (or negative) marginal utility to add to that sum, and so the total summed utility can't be increased (and can't exceed total price) by including them in the market.

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The core argument goes something like this:

Suppose you're prepared to pay $50 a month and there are 100 things (TV series, sports leagues, whatever) you could watch. Suppose the distribution of people is equal across those 100 things (ie 1% of people have each as their #1, 1% as their #2 and so on down to 1% having each as their #100).

If each thing gets 10% of the possible audience, then they would need to charge $5 per month to reach their profit target. Net effect: every person buys the ten things they like the most for $5 per month each and can only watch those ten things.

But if each thing gets 100% of the possible audience, they can charge $0.50 and still get the same income. So a bundle of all 100 things for $50 ends up with everyone paying the same, every content producer receiving the same income and loads of consumer surplus as they get to watch their #11-#40 things that they couldn't watch before (their #100 thing they presumably wouldn't watch if they were paid to).

Edit: yes, NonFans (defined as "people who don't like TV", not "people who don't like sports") don't subscribe to individual items or to a bundle.

The point here is that, if you unbundle, then people only pay for the content they are SuperFans of, so Star Wars fans get Disney+ and NBA fans get ESPN (etc; there are lots of different groups of SuperFans). But if you bundle those together, then people who are SuperFans of one thing in the bundle and CasualFans of another can watch both - for no more than the price of buying just the number of things that the average person is a SuperFan of.

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Truly a great description/breakdown!

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Mar 6, 2023·edited Mar 6, 2023

These leagues are ultimately victims of the broader disruptions in the media ecosystem as cord cutters are ditching cable for streaming services.

>>> Yup. Growing up, I was a big (but not quite die-hard) baseball fan and a casual NBA fan. When I moved out out on my own for good in 2009, I didn't get cable and just...learned to live without it, eventually getting a Roku and watching TV via streaming. My interest in sports gradually declined over the course of ten years, and Covid basically killed it.

But sometimes I do miss being a fan. Now that I live outside of the home market of my favorite teams, I've considered paying for MLB TV. I'm not sure if I'd actually watch it, though.

Regarding bundling...something I've always wondered is, why aren't there smaller bundles? Like, I can actually see the value in bundling, but the cable bundle where they stuff it full of channels that you never watch and charge like 80 bucks a month (increasing every year, of course) seems massively inefficient to me. I don't want to pay $80-100 per month for 500 channels, but I'd pay $20-30 per month for ten selected channels, or some combination of channels and streaming services that I can pick. Why has no one tried this? Is it not economically viable?

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I get MLB.tv free with T-Mobile. I use it frequently since I live outside my team's market so rarely get blacked out.

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Mar 6, 2023·edited Mar 6, 2023

MLB TV is actually pretty reasonably priced - I think it was $55 for the entire regular season last time I checked. It's not bad if you live outside your team's market (which I do, as well). I've just gotten out of the habit of following baseball closely, so I'm not sure if I'd actually watch it. This does create a rather odd situation for cord-cutters, in that it is easier to watch your team's games if you live outside the home market, but pretty much impossible if you do.

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Mar 6, 2023·edited Mar 6, 2023

>>I don't want to pay $80-100 per month for 500 channels, but I'd pay $20-30 per month for ten selected channels, or some combination of channels and streaming services that I can pick. Why has no one tried this? Is it not economically viable?

IME There are bundles that are like, this but they seem to be less like products and more like the kind of crappy alternative offering that you put next to a higher-margin product to incentivize the upsale because the price savings are relatively minimal. E.g., Verizon offers a minimalist "local cable garbage plus 5 channels of your choice" for $75, then things that look more like traditional cable packages for $100 (including many more of the default cable channels regional sports) and $120 (deluxe everythingish) respectively. I've tried to "5 channels of your choice" one and it's a bit aggravating / limiting, and you'll notice that it's already 75% of the price of a more traditional deal, so the savings are pretty modest. (My response was to cut out pay TV cable entirely but if you were someone who actually cared about cable TV you can see how the $75 product is so expensive that it makes the $100 product seem like a better deal.)

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Mar 6, 2023·edited Mar 6, 2023

True, but as you say, that's not really *so* different from the more traditional packages - you're still paying for a lot of crap, and the savings are minor. What I was suggesting had more of an a la carte element in that you get to pick the channels and they're not necessarily the garbage ones, but you get far fewer of them. "Pick ten channels from this menu of fifty and we'll charge you $25/month." You could fiddle with the numbers a little on that; maybe it's five channels for $25 and ten for $40, but the key points are that you only get the ones you pick and non-garbage channels are offered.

I have a feeling that this is not economically viable and that's why it's never existed, but I don't know this and I've never seen a good explanation as to why it's not viable.

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Because the reason people are paying $100 is for five to ten channels. Just everyone is paying for a different five to ten channels and they all get everyone else's preferences thrown in for free.

$10-20 per channel is about what a single channel subscription looks like on its own - Netflix, or Disney+ or HBOMax or Hulu, or ESPN+.

If the system fully unbundled, putting the full bundle back together would be $200-300. No-one would pay that. Because no-one actually wants to watch every single channel. But the $100 bundle would miss all the third-tier channels that you flick over to because there is one show you like so you watch the channel for 45 minutes a week for six months a year.

Thnk of it like Substack. I bet there are very few Substack subscribers that pay for more than ten subscriptions. But you'd get more value from an all-of-substack for $50 than ten $5 subscriptions. Yet Substack would probably get more total revenue that way as more people who currently pay for, say, six $5 subscriptions step up from $30 to $50 than the few people that currently have 20 subscriptions get a big saving.

That can't happen because (a) allocating that money to individual writers would be a nightmare, (b) lots of people would object to their money going to writers they vehemently dislike, (c) it would break their current super-premium price discrimination system with all the $500-a-year subscribers.

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> Even if you’re not much of a sports fan, I highly recommend reading the linked article by Ben Thompson, “What the NBA Can Learn From Formula 1”

There's so much good stuff in this article (and everything else Ben writes), but I feel like he completely whiffs on what makes Formula 1 stand out: It's not a real sport. You can tell it's not a real sport because there are no ugly participants; everyone is chosen for their ability to sell watches. This is why Drive To Survive works so well -- Formula 1 is already reality television for dudes who would be embarrassed to say they watch the Bachelor, and a docudrama about it fits perfectly. The problem with other sports adopting this model is that they all still function as real sports where people who are good at them rise up the ranks according to their abilities.

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Another potential issue with this concept is that, let's be honest, most pro athletes are kind of boring people. (This is why the post-game TV interview is such a ridiculous format.) I doubt following pro athletes in general - there are some exceptions, of course - would make for compelling reality TV/docudrama for people who don't already find sports inherently interesting.

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Boxing is the frightening example. When I was a kid people were talking about boxing in elementary school, it was on TV all the time, and prize fighters were household names. Now the only people who have any connection with boxing are obsessed super fans. I got kind of interested eight or ten years ago because my phone plan had thrown in a free year of Showtime, which shows a lot of boxing. So I would watch boxing, and I realized that I really enjoy watching boxing. And then my free Showtime subscription ran out, and that’s the last time that I watched a bout because it’s impossible to find boxing on TV if you’re not willing to pay for it. (Obv. the rise of MMA, which I find entirely uninteresting is involved here, but I think boxing’s PPV-related decline happened before MMA became popular.)

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The Elam Ending is NOT an improvement. It completely eliminates buzzer beaters and overtime. Last night the Knicks and Celtics played a 2 OT thriller. Last week the Kings and Clippers played a 2 OT game that was the second highest scoring game in NBA history!

The problem it proports to solve is eliminating late fouling; however, this can be remedied by giving the team being fouled the option of shooting free throws or taking possession with a fresh shot clock (yes, there are issues with this as well, but there are other ways to solve this that don't involve such a dramatic change to the game). But most importantly, by eliminating the clock at the end of games, the sense of urgency in a comeback is completely gone. It's actually quite exciting to watch a team try to execute a play with a limited amount of time on the clock!

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I tend to think the Elam ending idea is a bit obsolete... with NBA players now so good at 3 point shooting the foul game actually can be pretty exciting even if a team is down 6-7 points in the final minute.

In addition, the most exciting play in basketball is any buzzerbeating shot to come from behind and win the game (a do or die shot...) Elam ending eliminates this possibility because defensive team can no longer win with a stop.

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Is it more exciting in basketball _because_ it's rarer - since normally time just runs out with the winning team winning?

With the Elam ending, you can still have a team that is behind win with a shot (they need a 3-pointer, other team needs a 2-pointer) where next basket wins. Less exciting than a buzzer beater perhaps, but the least exciting endings would be more exciting? Moving things towards a higher median?

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The least exciting endings involve a team up by 30 playing their scrubs against the other team's scrubs. The starters are on the bench cheering for the 14th man to start chucking up 30 footers. It's dumb but kind of hilarious. I can't imagine having one of those types of games end on a made shot makes the game any better.

Elamites would argue, "well, there's always the 0.001% chance that some team runs off a 30-0 run to close out the game in epic fashion" and I'll grant that. But we've seen plenty of 20+ point comebacks in the NBA this season under the current rules so there's no need to mess with things to provide for this possibility.

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I’ve never been hugely into basketball, but intentional foiling is a huge problem, as are excessive numbers of timeouts.

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Well the NBA now limits teams to two timeouts each after the 3 minute mark of the 4th quarter, which has helped significantly. I agree on fouling, but again, there are ways to mitigate that without doing something as drastic as the Elam ending.

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Presumably, like penalties in football, the team being fouled would have the ability to decline.

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The point of that innovation is that it removes the incentives for fouling for at least one team. I just watched the Blazers-Magic game last night, and at the end of the game, the Blazers were up three, and both teams were fouling - the Magic to stop the clock and have a chance to catch up, and the Blazers to stop them from shooting a 3.

With the new system, the Magic would no longer want to foul the Blazers, as they could just keep running out the clock - going for a steal or a rebound is the only way to get the ball back. And in that situation, the Blazers wouldn't really want to foul either - it just gives the Magic an opportunity for an inbounds play for a 3 pointer, which is easier than against a set defense.

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Well the other team only has so many fouls to give, they'll start running out of guys.

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As for baseball (besides soccer, probably the sport most in need of a kick in the pants), by all means yes to the pitch clock. But if you're talking about pace of play, limiting the number of pitchers on the roster would force starting pitchers to stay in games longer and thus generate more offense late in games. The rise of the bullpen ("LaRussa Ball") has not coincidentally been correlated with Three True Outcomes hitters.

Banning the shift -- eh, you know, have batters learn to hit the other way (like Big Papi, poke a double down the left field line occasionally to keep them honest). Bigger bases, whatever. The extra inning ghost runner -- do these guys even like baseball??? Again, get rid of all the pitcher bloat and you don't need to pull crap like this.

Oh and fix the playoff format!!! 162 games is more than enough to figure out who the best teams are... you don't need a 5th or a 6th place team in there (basically an admission that the playoff titles are meaningless).

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Agree on limiting pitchers. Disagree strongly on the shift - hitting the other way is harder than hitting home runs, so it’s just never going to happen that we get a large number of hitters who do this. Football defines positions and has illegal formation penalties and there’s no reason baseball shouldn’t do the same

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Well said. I was where JWG was some years ago, the shift was rewarding smart, analytical baseball, and I had always hoped that hitters would respond with similar smartness by working on beating the shift, but it...just didn't happen. I think there will still be enough strategy with moving infielders during the pitch and doing innovative stuff with outfielders while still opening up hitting.

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I'm willing to be convinced on the shift. Just feel like it was a good response to dead pull home run hitters and wish it would lead to more opposite field doubles hitters getting roster spots (which leads to more excitement). It seems like it goes against the spirit of baseball to not be able to put your seven fielders wherever the hell you want. But again, I'm willing to be convinced -- if it leads to more baserunning, then it's a good change.

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Honestly the main thing baseball needs to do (but probably never will do) is de-juice the ball. Home runs were exciting in the 90s but they are boring now.

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Yeah chalk that up to "too much of a good thing" much like the expanded playoffs. Kind of like NIMBYism... great for you personally, not so great for the collective. :)

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I really dislike the ghost runner. Like, I'd be fine with capping extra innings and allowing for ties or maybe messing with pitch counts somehow (allow for strikeouts on foul balls? three-ball walks?), but just saying "we're gonna pretend there's a runner on second" is stupid and seems to violate the spirit of the game.

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It is so, so stupid. It's not like there were THAT many 14+ inning games (and when you get one, it's always fun in a goofy sort of way). I'm with the critics here who claim that Manfred and (some of) the other owners don't even seem to like baseball.

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Forcing starters to stay in longer would also increase the frequency of pitcher injuries, including career-ending and career-altering injuries.

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Beat me to it, that should be a no-go on those grounds alone.

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It’s not clear to me that limiting the roster of pitchers would necessarily mean starters get used longer. I could see it accelerating the decline of the starter further and leading to strategies where you use a greater mix of “middle reliever” types that go 2-3 innings (one time through the order basically).

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It could! But premium middle relievers who go multiple innings don't pitch every day. If you were limited to 10 pitchers, you could have 5 starters, 3 middle relievers, and 2 one-inning guys. But at least then you're not just stocking your bullpen with guys who throw 100 and strike everybody out.

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Right, but I guess when you organize it that way it seems like the “starters” would have to go 6-7 innings. And I’m not sure any team counts on that from their 4th and 5th (and 3rd) starter anymore. Seems more likely you have a couple of “aces” who can consistently pitch those long starts and get the full starter rest, and one or (maybe) two “closer” types. Everyone else you probably need to keep on rotation where they pitch three innings max and then get 1-2 days rest in between outings.

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Under any scenario, I think you’re absolutely right that pitchers would have to start throwing slower as a means of self-preservation. I think it’s an idea worth considering for sure. One thing I really like about baseball is that the strict substitution rules and playing nearly every day make roster management and this kind of strategy more important, and this change would reemphasize that for pitching.

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I think the way to go on this is simply limit the number of pitching changes per game.

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Soccer is growing in popularity, streaming-based, and optimized for speed--the clock doesn't stop and there are no commercial breaks--so if anything it's the sport that's best-positioned for the current media landscape

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Most of the delay from pitchers comes from taking too long in between pitches, the 3 batter rule already fixed the issue with relievers coming in for specific batters. Making pitchers stay in longer probably makes game pace worse as they get tired and take longer rests and overthink every pitch since they know they're more hittable as the game goes on.

The pitch clock might do what you want though, one theory I've heard is that guys are taking those breaks in part because they're throwing so much harder these days. If they have to take a bit off to throw quickly then batters will make more contact

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I'm of two minds about the new pitch clock. I think it'll be very beneficial 96, 97, 98% of the time. Speeding up the game is good.

On the other hand, when I think of my favorite moments of all time, the moments with the highest drama, those moments have often played out with excruciating slowness, and the drama was magnified not in spite of that slowness but because of it. The cat and mouse battle between batter and pitcher and so on. In situations like that the delays magnify the tension for the very reason of being so frustrating.

Baseball has two modes. Most of the time, particularly in the regular season, it's supposed to be leisurely and chilled out, something you and your kids can watch together while eating hot dogs and enjoying the weather. But at its biggest moments it transforms into a high-wire suspense movie, where the whole world seems to slow down, and the pressure ratchets up with every pitch until there's a massive payoff or a massive letdown, depending on which team you're rooting for. Baseball's drama is different in kind from the drama you get in basketball or football, which are *not* suspense movies, but rather action movies.

I fear that blanket application of the pitch clock will detract greatly from the greatest moments baseball has to offer. I can't imagine putting, say, the Kirk Gibson homer or the Jose Bautista grand slam inning on a clock. It seems like baseball is really focused on turning itself from a bad action movie into a mediocre action movie, but may sacrifice the suspense that makes it most special.

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Maybe have a pitch clock budget for the whole game along with an X-seconds-allowed-per-pitch such that teams can tactically manage or allocate their extra time in such a way as to increase or psycho out opponents in high-tension moments while also incentivizing quick pitching during most of the game?

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Agreed. For all baseball's faults, its greatest strength is that of anticipation: what is just about to happen?

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I agree and think the rules should be adjusted in the last inning or two. You should not get a win because a guy is a sec late to the box or the mound. I also would like to see the pitching rules get moved up to 3 outs or 4-5 batters before a change is allowed. Maxing on one inning specialists is clearly a superior strategy but turns down the offense, and I think this is ultimately the reason. And a bigger deal than the shift police.

Btw shout out to the Astros for being the first to run defensive optimization and swap left and right fielders when the situation calls for it. Never stop being McKinsey guys (I hate them).

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Random idea that I haven't thought through enough yet so it may be half baked: in the last/extra innings, instead of adding a ball/strike for a violation, remove a strike/ball if it exists. That prevents the violation from at least directly deciding the game.

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Watching the last quarter of the Super Bowl reminded me why I can’t be bothered to watch football anymore. The rules-lawyering, pettifogging bitchiness surrounding everything, but most especially clock management, is just miserable.

I’m in Philly of course, and no one likes to lose, but my firm also has an office in eastern Nebraska, and none of the folks out there were particularly happy with how KC won either.

Start the game clock and run it unless sometime is at risk of dying on the field. Miss the play clock? Turnover on the spot.

Make Football Great Again!

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It was kind of a perfect outcome for Philly fans... their coaches completely botched the second half, then the DB holds the jersey right in front of the ref who correctly throws the flag, but Greg Olsen makes enough of a stink about the call that they can whine about getting robbed. Which is what Philly sports fans love more than anything!

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Lol.

It was also quieter and less arsony. Given that IDGAF about football (as a result of it being boring and painful to watch nowadays), I wasn't really complaining.

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What made the SB ending particularly dissatisfying is that the Chiefs won the AFCCG against Cincinnati in a very similar fashion.

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As a football ignoramus who didn't watch the SB - what did the Chiefs do that fans were annoyed by?

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Both of their winning drives were set up by penalties. The Chiefs didn't do anything wrong, it was just a deflating way to see them win.

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Maybe don't commit penalties.

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Not for nothing, I suppose I’ll save this for the mailbox: why *has* Google gotten so much worse? It really, really has.

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I think it really, really hasn't. Why do you think it has?

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Mar 6, 2023·edited Mar 6, 2023

In significant part it's SEO spam dominating the results, the spammers are winning the war. A lot of tech folks / frequent searchers are adding "reddit" or site:reddit.com to just try to get answers written by real humans.

Separately, Google is more and more overtly showing me results that not only aren't responsive to the question I asked, but also ignoring my attempts to work around it's anti-"helpfulness." Most egregiously, search no longer consistently honors the use of quotes to find exact strings. This is *maddening* to power users (and probably to everyone familiar with the feature) and makes the spam / bad results problem that much wors