The Eight Most Annoying Rules (or Lack Thereof) in Sports
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Rulebooks, as is true in the real world outside of sports, aren't perfect.
The NFL recognizes this constantly. Just yesterday, owners voted to delete the “tuck rule” from their official rules, putting a line under one of the most controversial calls in NFL history. Unlike almost every other controversial call, however, the “tuck rule play” was called correctly.
The call was correct. The rule that forced the refs to make that call, most fans agree, was pretty stupid. Worked out well for Patriots fans, but, let's face it, even if a die-hard Patriots fan were re-writing the NFL rules, they wouldn't have thought to include the tuck rule.
It's a stupid rule.
Baseball also eliminated an annoying habit that its players had.
This year, the league will be better for it. Pitchers can no longer fake a throw to third, turn around, and throw the ball to first base. This is good, because a baseball fan could watch several seasons' worth of games without seeing that move succeed.
The fake-to-third move isn't a move, it's a statement.
The pitcher was telling you, the audience, that he was entirely incapable of having the runner thrown out in an attempted steal, so his only chance of keeping the runner at first is to try to catch him having a conversation with the first baseman.
Nobody will watch a ballgame this year and miss that move.
Anyway, it all brings to mind a set of practices and rules throughout sports that bother fans. Here are eight that come to mind.
The Dance of the Batsman
Nomar Garciaparra used to slow baseball games to a crawl.
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When it comes to stupid rules or lack thereof in sports, it's probably best to begin with the reason baseball games are so interminably long these days.
Some people will say it's about “working the count.” That those old Joe Torre Yankees and Terry Francona Red Sox showed the entire league how to be patient and work a pitcher, creating long at-bats seemingly every at-bat.
Other people will suggest that games are so long because a man named Tony La Russa decided that baseball games are too entertaining, so he created the one-out reliever to slow the ends of games to a crawl.
Really, though, the reason baseball games never end is that there's nothing stopping a batter and a pitcher from constantly trying to throw off the rhythm of the other through being slow about a pitch or, in the case of the batter, simply calling timeout and stepping away to have a look at the crowd.
This game of brinkmanship between the batter and pitcher combines with other factors to make games too long for a lot of people.
The reason the lack of a pitch clock (or something) is the dumbest aspect to this is that it's the one thing that can be fixed that wouldn't change the game much.
No one-out relievers would change how teams shape their rosters. At this point, the specialist is a part of the game, and removing them would make about as much sense as removing the hot dog guys from the stands.
Players are taught how to work the count from Little League on, and, honestly, it should be commonplace on the highest level.
Baseball could keep those things and still hurry the games up by simply asking the players to hurry up.
NFL Rules Named After People
Jim Schwartz' name is on a rule that really could have helped Jim Schwartz on Thanksgiving.
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On the surface, this doesn't sound like such a bad thing, but when one considers the rules in question it starts to become weird.
Last season, if a play was automatically supposed to be reviewed and a coach threw the challenge flag anyway, a fifteen yard penalty was assessed, and the play was not reviewed.
When this rule was applied in a Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit, the Lions ended up taking a loss largely because of a play that should have been reviewed, but wasn't, because Jim Schwartz threw his flag at the wrong time.
Kind of a stupid reason to lose a game, right?
Well, the NFL agreed. So they created a rule that makes sure this won't happen again.
Now, an errant challenge flag will not prevent refs from looking at a close play, and the team that threw the flag will only be given a penalty if the call does not go in their favor.
This is a good and sensible rule change for the NFL.
What's weird is that they opted to name it after the person who was most badly wronged by the way the rule was written before. Therefore, every time a Lions fan hears the phrase “Jim Schwartz Rule,” they will have to recall getting the business end of a bad call on Thanksgiving Day.
The Bert Emanuel rule is another example of an NFL rule named after the wrong person.
A replay review at the end of the 1999 NFC Championship overturned what would have been a tremendous catch for Buccaneers wideout Bert Emanuel. That catch would have also given Tampa Bay a few shots at the end zone in a game that a touchdown could have won for them.
The NFL looked at the play after the Rams won the Super Bowl, and the league decided that the letter-of-the-law call the officiating crew had made in the game was correct.
But the rule that they were using to make that call was stupid. So they changed the rule.
Guess what the new rule is called. That's right: The Bert Emanuel Rule. Let's just say that Buccaneers fans do not enjoy having to re-live that moment every time a receiver makes a diving catch near the ground.
Baseball's All Star Game Decides Home Field Advantage in the World Series
Think any Royals fans were concerned about who had home field advantage in the World Series?
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One of the strangest rules in sports, and one of the rules in sports with the smallest number of supporters, is this one.
Baseball fans as a whole really dislike this rule about the All Star Game “mattering.”
After all, this combines with the rule that every team gets to send at least one player to the game. Why would a player already far out of the race care who gets to play at home in Game 1 of the World Series?
The biggest flaw in the whole plan is that there hasn't been a game since this rule was adopted that has seemed at all more intense or entertaining because of it.
Adding weight to the game simply hasn't worked. Nobody plays differently to try and win the big prize of—maybe if things go right—being able to host an extra World Series game.
The NFL's Replay Reviews
All the technology in the world today and the NFL uses this thing to get calls right.
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“What's wrong with NFL replay?”
The National Football League is the most televised professional sports league on Earth. There is not a shot that cameras miss on the gridiron. So the idea that just about anything but holding “can't be reviewed” really makes no sense whatsoever.
Pretty much everything that a ref can see with their naked eye will show up on HDTV.
“But they can't just review everything. Then games would take forever.”
Why? Coaches would still have a limited amount of challenges. There is still a consequence for using a challenge and failing.
So what's to say that every coach is going to become flag-happy if there were less restrictions on replay?
Actually, that's not even the issue at all. Why do reviews take so long in the first place?
Hockey does replay reviews in a matter of seconds. An official who is not on the ice watches controversial plays immediately and sends word to the ice about what the call should be. They get things right, they do things quickly, and the NFL's system is the exact opposite of that.
Rather than trusting an official who is in a booth somewhat removed from home crowd noise (which seems important for some reason, as though NFL stadiums seated 60,000+ or something), the NFL has one of the game officials look at the play. You know, the official who is unlikely to want to tell the entire country that they were just wrong ten seconds ago.
Rather than making the process quick, the NFL gives five minutes and a long commercial break to the replay review. In other words, if both coaches use all of their challenges, the game will stop for challenges longer than it stops for halftime.
Replay also puts a lot of trust in the rulebook, even when the rulebook is flawed.
The tuck rule was invoked on a replay. The Bert Emanuel Play was overturned on a review. The Jim Schwartz Rule is specifically about reviews. It all combines to give the feeling that the NFL is making things up as they go along regarding replay review.
Major League Baseball Has Stupid Territory Rules
Ever wonder how a small market team shares a Bay Area with a big market team?
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Yes, Oakland, this article is going to make fans of your teams very upset.
Not only did it start by talking about the angriest moment in Raider history (and one of the great “what if” situations in all of sports), but now it's going to touch on the MLB rules that handcuff the Athletics.
For the uninitiated: The Oakland Athletics want to move from Oakland Coliseum (nobody cares what it's called anymore) to a yet-to-be-built venue in San Jose. This wouldn't really be a Mayflower-truck move like the Colts gave to Baltimore, as San Jose is still in northern California.
The Coliseum isn't exactly in baseball shape. It's the Raiders' home and always will be. The location isn't optimal, the lease isn't optimal, and just about any living situation would be better for the Athletics.
(This is also why Oakland's baseball team is so cash-strapped. So this will answer a lot of questions about Moneyball for anyone who wondered how the Bay Area manages to be a small market.)
So it makes sense for the Athletics to move. However, they are not allowed to move to San Jose as of yet, because the San Francisco Giants consider that to be their territory.
Most people reading that line have a logical thought: “The Athletics and Giants play in the same general area. How is it that the Giants get to claim a part of Northern California for themselves and exclude the other team in their metropolitan area?”
The short answer is that baseball allows teams to declare a territory, and the Giants made their way to the Bay Area while the Athletics were still in Kansas City.
When a team declares a territory, the other team can't move in. They can't send their minor league club to a suburb of a rival city, for example, and they certainly can't build a home stadium.
Both San Jose and the Athletics are working hard to rectify this situation, but this has been going on for several years with the Giants continuing to hold all the cards.
Major League Baseball, in the meanwhile, is not going to do anything to change the fact that there is a political map of baseball territories.
(Aside: Sorry for writing the name “Athletics” longhand. I have deep issues with the apostrophe in “A's.” It should not be there.)
Professional Leagues vs. Personality
If you had all the money in the world, you'd buy your favorite team and act like Cuban.
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David Stern and Roger Goodell run tight ships.
If an NBA player speaks out against league officials, they are dealt with. If an NFL player is caught saying things not allowed, they are called into the commissioner's office.
This spills into the games as well.
Touchdown celebrations have been the subject of a crackdown over recent years. If a player has a clever and creative wrinkle to a scoring celebration, it often results in a fine and an angry front office.
NBA players who are injured need to adhere to a strict dress code when they come to the game to sit with their teams. Of course, the fans have no such code guiding them, but chaos might erupt if a player dresses the way they would like to.
Mark Cuban is the target of the NBA's fines and anger as often as any player. All Cuban does is act like a fan who has a considerable amount of his own wealth invested in the team, but that's somehow bad for business in the Association.
NFL players on Twitter need to watch what they say. Stirring up the pot, as it were, would get them called in front of Commissioner Goodell.
Of course, there are many reasons that both of these leagues feel the need to protect their identities. The NBA lives in constant fear of another brawl spilling into the stands like one did at the Palace at Auburn Hills.
The NFL's paranoia comes from safety issues. It's bad enough players are getting hurt constantly, but it's really bad for business when players shoot off their mouths about how they wish they could continue to hurt people.
The end result isn't a cleaner sporting world, though. The end result is that the NFL and NBA take a lot of the life out of their leagues by restricting players' ability to be themselves. In football's case, perhaps players being honest about the way they hit one another would actually move a safety conversation forward.
The Way Baseball Seeds the Divisional Round
The team with the best record in the NL opened up the playoffs on the road.
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The top seeds in baseball's playoffs begin their postseason on the road.
They still have home field advantage because they get three home games while their opponents only get two, but those two road games are the first two games a team plays.
In the first year of these new playoffs, two higher seeds fell to 0-2 deficits, having to fight off elimination in their very first home game.
The reason this doesn't make much sense is that baseball has the smallest playoff in major American sports.
After such a long regular season, the top five teams in each league are going to be pretty close together. There are no “fluke” playoff teams in a sport like that. Every playoff team is, by definition, one of the top ten teams in baseball that year.
The case could be made, then, that baseball's playoff structure puts the highest seeds in the most danger.
How We Order Drafts
Indianapolis didn't get the first pick in the 2012 draft by accident.
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The dumbest rule in sports is consistent across all four major sports: draft seeding.
In Major League Baseball and the NFL, of course, the highest draft pick goes to the team with the worst record the year before. The NBA and NHL do lotteries, but those lotteries are weighted to favor the teams with the worst records.
The flaw here is obvious.
Because of these rules, the most desirable position for a non-playoff team to be in is to have the worst record in their sport.
Again—because this bears repeating—it is beneficial in every major sport to have the single worst record in the league.
In basketball and hockey, not only does a team want the worst record, they want a record much worse than everybody else, so they can kind of rig the lottery.
This is how the Cleveland Cavaliers ended up with LeBron James in the first place.
The Indianapolis Colts in 2011 lost their starting quarterback due to injury.
Knowing that this quarterback was getting older, and knowing that the top quarterback due to enter the next draft was held in extremely high regard, they quickly decided to essentially stop trying to win football games.
The reward for the Colts all but intentionally losing games: they got a franchise cornerstone in the draft. Meanwhile, teams who tried to win that year ended up with less attractive draft picks for trying to do right by their fans.
Remember, in 2011, people paid the Indianapolis Colts and the NFL good money to attend Lucas Oil Stadium and cheer on a team that, for all intents and purposes, was cheering on their opponent.
The Colts were rewarded by intentionally ignoring their fans in 2011 in favor of fans who would come in future seasons.
The Charlotte Bobcats are currently collecting ping pong balls by not winning games, not entertaining fans and not trying to figure out what they can build on in the future. They're just collecting ping pong balls.
You do that in the NBA by losing.
If a team performed like this for any other reason than a draft pick, it would be game-fixing, and it would border on illegal. Instead, it's accepted practice.
The Cleveland Browns really shouldn't be punished in 2013 for not intentionally trying to lose in 2012. Of course, football fans know how this works, and the Browns have a lesser draft pick for their efforts.
How fair that we reward the teams that quit on their coaches and quit on their fans while shortchanging the teams that try to put on a show no matter what.