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Some people stew over bank bailouts. I boil over ballcarrier bailouts. One occurred last Saturday when Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, at the end of a scintillating 34-yard jaunt against San Diego State, crash-landed onto the turf, sending the ball flying. But no one even remarked on the loose pigskin, because after all, as announcers always tell us, "the ground can't cause a fumble." Well, why in the name of Walter Camp can't it?
This miscarriage of justice is just one of many sports regulations that need serious reexamination. Sports rules have not come down from Mount Olympus; they can and should be organic, adapting to changing styles and conditions and reflecting—imagine!—common sense. Why are there not riots in stadiums and arenas over hoary customs and capricious impingements on our viewing time? As your sporting Howard Beale, I'm here to tell you I'm mad as hell (although I probably will continue to take it).
Start with the ground/no-fumble stricture. You can look it up. In the NCAA's football rule book, Rule 4-1-3-b states, "A live ball becomes dead ... when any part of the ball carrier's body, except his hand or foot, touches the ground or when the ball carrier is tackled or otherwise falls and loses possession of the ball as he contacts the ground with any part of his body, except his hand or foot." Intellectually, I can accept this. Viscerally, I cannot. This is a rule, adopted by the NCAA in 1932, that comes from football's early days, when runners would keep churning even after they were knocked to the turf; they were ruled down only when stopped cold or held down.
Still, defenseless as he is when on the ground, shouldn't the ballcarrier be required at least to hold onto the damn ball? There's even precedent in another sport: baseball. A fielder who hits the ground after making a catch has to hold the ball to record an out.
For a ruling on the field, I sought out Fox Sports's Mike Pereira, who oversaw NFL officiating for more than a decade. He didn't dismiss the notion. "The rules themselves are inconsistent," Pereira said. "After all, the ground can cause an incomplete pass, and [in the NFL] the ground can cause a fumble if you're not down by contact."
Since Pereira did not flag me for insanity, I move on. In basketball, the timeout situation is a joke. Players shouldn't be allowed to call one unless there is no defender within five feet; no more using a timeout to escape a well-sprung trap. And in the NBA when a timeout is called in the backcourt, why is the team automatically allowed to advance the ball to half-court? Oh, and how about limiting teams to one timeout in the last two minutes of a half? Right now during some games, entire Wagnerian Ring cycles can be performed before the fat lady sings.
Speaking of time-wasters: In baseball and tennis, how much fan productivity has been sacrificed waiting for a pitcher to throw plateward or watching a server bounce, bounce, bounce the ball? Yankees--Red Sox and Novak Djokovic service games last longer than the Thirty Years' War. Let us decree a 15-second pitch/serve clock. And while we're at it, in tennis, let's play the lets. After all, the ball landed in the service court, didn't it?
While on the subject of pitching, in softball, how about moving the mound back five feet, maybe 10? Against fireballers like Jennie Finch the current 43-foot distance doesn't allow batters to blink, much less hit. Back in the 1800s, baseball gradually moved its pitcher's starting point from 45 feet to 60'6", and it didn't hurt Cy Young any.
Soccer ... now, here's a true infamia. A player maims an opponent with a flying tackle, gets a yellow card and ... nothing happens! He's allowed to stay on the pitch until he sins again. How about sending him off for five minutes and making his team play shorthanded? That'll teach him!
And the "gentlemanly" game of golf has one of the most unjust rules of all: If you've addressed your ball while putting and the wind moves it before you've struck it, you're assessed a one-stroke penalty. For an act of nature! This has happened twice to PGA Tour player Webb Simpson, most recently in May during the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. Honorably, Simpson called the penalty on himself—and it probably cost him the tournament.