NBA ball isn't only bad idea in sports

December 13, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

Here's something you don't hear every day:

If only the other professional and major college sports could be more like the NBA.

Of course, I'm saying this in the wake of the surprising reversal Monday by NBA commissioner David Stern, who announced that the league is dumping the new composite ball and returning to leather Jan. 1. The move is unusual not only because the change will take place in the middle of the season, but also because it was made without the endless bureaucratic dithering that usually accompanies issues of such fundamental importance in big-time sports.

If this were Major League Baseball, there would have been a two-year study group followed by a MasterCard Internet fan poll, the results of which would be announced before Game 4 of the World Series. If it were the NFL, the owners would have spent months trying to determine which ball the players and fans enjoy the most, then opted for the other one. If this were the NHL, they'd probably just cancel the season and hope nobody noticed.

I can tell you one thing: The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals aren't going to be happy. The animal rights organization has long discouraged the use of leather sports equipment and hailed the NBA for going to the new microfiber basketball, which was strongly opposed by both the players union and a small group of activists fighting for the preservation of endangered synthetics.

Stern bowed to pressure from the game's biggest stars, even though he insists the new ball has led to improvements in several key statistics. The negative feedback inside the sport was almost unanimous, so the league moved quickly to defuse the controversy before the regular season reaches the point where the games actually mean something.

Now, if only some other sports would have a similar attack of common sense.

Major League Baseball: They've been arguing about the designated hitter rule almost from the day it debuted in 1973. The DH was approved by the American League to add excitement to the game after decades of pitching dominance, but the DH dichotomy should have been settled - one way or the other - when the sport instituted interleague play in 1997.

Instead, MLB commissioned a fan survey and determined that National League fans liked the NL style of play and American League fans liked the DH, so baseball has chosen to ignore the competitive inequities inherent in a system with two sets of rules.

Somebody ought to do something.

I say get rid of it.

NFL: Maybe baseball's DH rule is too institutionalized for such decisive action, but the NFL's new Thursday night schedule has only been around long enough to demonstrate that it's a terrible idea. The visiting team is at a distinct disadvantage playing two games in five days, and the scheduling disruption for selected teams could have an impact on their performance in the postseason.

Factor in the clinically proven harmful effects of listening to Bryant Gumbel doing play-by-play and there's only one thing to do. Pull the plug.

NHL: I'd like to have that little comet trail put back on the puck during telecasts, but maybe that's just me.

College football: Whose idea was it to start the clock on changes of possession? What, was the college game suffering from too many exciting finishes? Does the NCAA want to get the players back to their books four minutes quicker to improve graduation rates?

The NCAA was looking for ways to mollify the TV types who want every college game to fit into a three-hour box. I'm just going to guess that shortening the television timeouts was not a consideration.

College basketball: I've never understood alternating possession on jump balls. Don't people in basketball like to jump? Does the NCAA think it's standing up for some kind of equity principle by removing the height advantage from a jump ball situation? Isn't being tall in basketball considered a good thing?

These are deep philosophical questions that probably should be left to the experts, but I don't like it when a kid makes a great defensive play to tie up the ball, only to have the official award the ball to the other team. Seems un-American to me.

I guess as long as the ball is made of leather, we should count our blessings.

The Peter Schmuck Show airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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