Monday, January 19, 2009

FROM MY SEAT: Pointers for the New Prez on a National Priority, Sports

Posted By on Mon, Jan 19, 2009 at 4:00 AM

The world changes this week -- may we all hope for the better -- when Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. As if the new leader of the free world doesn't have enough already on his plate (economy in the gutter, unrest in Gaza, two wars, and Blago-gate), I have a few suggestions on how the Sportsfan in Chief might improve the games we cheer stateside. Mr. Obama has already suggested adding a basketball court to the White House. (If Nixon could bowl, I'm all for the new prez working on his jumper between staff meetings.) But for sports change that might give us all more hope, President Obama should confront a few larger challenges.

• Let's start with the big picture, and create a U.S. Sports Commission, in charge of (as Major League Baseball would put it) "protecting the interests" of American sports and all it encompasses (athletes, coaches, officials, agents, mascots, and most importantly, fans). Among the countless problems we have in sports are the splintered standards from one "governing body" to the next. A player busted for steroids in baseball is punished differently for one caught with the same juice in football. Performance incentives (appearance fees) differ in golf from those offered in tennis. And don't get me started on the alphabet soup that is professional boxing. (The sweet science can be saved -- don't laugh -- but we must do away with the WBC, WBA, IBF, WBO, and any other organization that has the temerity to declare the 12th-ranked heavyweight in the world "champion." There's only one world, folks. There can (must!) be only one world champion.

Now, who might be seated on this all-powerful board of blood, sweat, and tears? Exactly three people. A triumvirate, in the tradition of ancient Rome. The new president should name an official from the world of finance, another from health, and a third from education, the three areas that stand to gain -- or lose -- the most in relation to the integrity and growth of U.S. sports. (By the way, the education official cannot be affiliated with an NCAA program.) Like the Supreme Court, these three "sport justices" would be appointed for life. Baseball's commissioner would answer to them, as would football's, even the NBA's mighty David Stern. The Sports Commission would not have profit margin in mind (as do the commissioners) when deciding what might help or hurt a particular enterprise. They would be considering the same virtue any modern fan must consider a given before she or he enters an arena: fairness.

• The new president has hinted at a preference for a playoff system to determine college football's national championship on the field. And this simply has to happen. (You tell the undefeated Utah Utes that they didn't earn a shot against Florida, because I couldn't.) For this to happen someone is going to have to gather NCAA officials, university presidents, and bowl representatives into the same ballroom . . . and let them have it. President Obama can enlist his new Sports Commission for these hearings on the right way (and wrong way) to treat the great game of college football and its multigenerational fans.

This could be done without eliminating a single solitary bowl game. All it would require would be six fewer teams going to those 34 events. (Sixty-two teams in the "postseason" are enough, people.) On New Year's Day -- a return to the historic, rightful place for bowl season's peak -- four games would be played among the top eight teams in the country (as ranked, I'm afraid, by the BCS system until a better methodology is unearthed). How about the Fiesta, Cotton, Gator, and Liberty Bowl (darn right) for the national quarterfinals? The following week, the Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl would serve as the national semis. Then around January 15th (merely a week after the current system wraps things), the national championship would be played in the granddaddy of 'em all, the Rose Bowl.

• Finally, Mr. President, two important pieces of legislation for baseball, once (still?) this country's national pastime. First, the DH should be as illegal as HGH on a baseball diamond. The designated hitter is an abomination and has insulted fans, managers, and especially pitchers who can hit for 35 years now. Be gone!

Then, of course, there's National Baseball Day. Welcome to the White House, President Obama. I'll see you at the stadium.

NOTE:

Last week I suggested that Stephen Gostkowski (first team) and DeAngelo Williams (second) recently became the first former Memphis Tiger football players to be named All-Pro by the Associated Press. And I stand corrected, on three counts.

Tackle Harry Schuh (with the Oakland Raiders) was second-team All-Pro in 1967 and '68, then first-team in 1969. Linebacker Tim Harris (with Green Bay) was second-team in 1988 then first-team a year later. Most recently, wide receiver Isaac Bruce was a second-team selection with St. Louis in 1999.

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