Fools In Charge: NFL, NCAA, ATP continue to screw the fans

Franklin RizzoContributor IMarch 24, 2010

NEW YORK - AUGUST 26:  Tennis players John McEnroe and Roger Federer (R) attend the Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and John McEnroe Challenge on the streets of Manhattan on August 26, 2009 in New York City.  (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images)
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

If it ain't broken, don't fix it.

Haven't we all been taught that before? It makes sense.
But what if it is broken?

Let's take a look at some sports-related issues that need to be fixed, and a few that weren't broken in the first place, but were "fixed" anyway. I'll start with the ones that irritate me the most.

    We American sports fans are all very aware of the bogus college football system with the lack of a playoff/tournament. Instead of a fundamental playoff, or tournament, we have the infamous BS BCS system. Every October, November, and December this topic heats up and we are reminded that over 95 percent of we the people want a playoff instituted. And we want it now, this season.  

    President Barack Obama has publicly spoken out in favor of a playoff. On November 18, 2008, in Obama's first interview as president-elect, Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes ended the interview with a question about the topic.

    Obama replied: I think any sensible person would say that if you've got a bunch of teams who play throughout the season, and many of them have one loss or two losses, there's no clear decisive winner that we should be creating a playoff system. Eight teams. That would be three rounds, to determine a national champion. It would it would add three extra weeks to the season. You could trim back on the regular season. I don't know any serious fan of college football who has disagreed with me on this. So, I'm gonna throw my weight around a little bit. I think it's the right thing to do.

    According to and information obtained by the Associated Press, United States Senator Orin Hatch received a letter from the U.S. Justice Department concerning the possibility of a legal review of the BCS. The letter, received on January 29, 2010, says that the 'Obama administration will explore options to establish a college football playoff including (a) an anti-trust lawsuit against the BCS, (b) legal action under Federal Trade Commission consumer protection laws, (c) encouragement of the NCAA to take control of the college football postseason, (d) the establishment of an agency to review the costs and benefits of adopting a playoff system, and (e) continued legislation in favor of a playoff system.'

    I realize that our Government as many more important issues to mess up at this point in time. Issues like health care, national security, the economy, corruption, inner-city crime, etc. are more important on a grand scale. However, I appreciate people like Hatch and Obama looking into this bogus situation and wanting to fix it. Think about this for a minute: College baseball has a playoff. Then it culminates in the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska every year. It's an awesome event, which I have personally attended. It allows every team to compete for the National Championship. On the field, not on paper or by voters.

    College hockey, soccer, lacrosse, tennis, golf, wrestling, swimming, gymnastics, track & field, water polo, field hockey, volleyball, basketball all have tournaments.

    They all actually allow teams to actually compete for a title. It's that way in high school sports and it's that way in pro sports. Do underdogs sometimes win? Sure they do. Have there been historic upsets in tennis or basketball or the NFL playoffs? Yes there have been. Does anyone remember Villanova winning the NCAA basketball championship in the mid-80's? Anyone who watched it surely remembers it. 

    Another irony is that college football actually does already have a playoff system with great, exciting playoff games and occasional monumental upsets. What? Yeah, they do, and they have for years, but just not on the Division-1A Level for some reason. Hint: that reason has to do with money and the big bowls, starting with the Rose Bowl. Division 1-AA and 1-AAA have playoffs. So do Division II and Division III of the NCAA.

    Here's one that isn't broken. It's actually the most exciting, thrilling tournament in America. You hear the terms Cinderella and Sleeper year after year. It's a great tournament, and structured perfectly since 1985, with 64 teams making it in.

    Every year, tens of millions of fans across the country fill out their brackets and enter their March Madness office pools. You always have the first round upsets of a No. 13 or No. 14 seed shocking a No. 3 or No. 4 seed. In football, those No. 13 & No. 14 seeds wouldn't even get the opportunity to play games like that because they'd be designated for a tiny little bowl game, if they're lucky. But basketball does it right.

    However, there is growing sentiment from certain people within the NCAA to expand this field to 96 teams. Now keep this in mind; Since the field went to 64 teams in 1985, there has never been a No. 16 seed team defeat a No. 1 team. Not once. So why should they bring in 32 more teams who are less deserving than all those No. 16 seeded teams? 

    Folks in the NCAA; It Ain't Broken! Leave it alone.

    The NFL Draft has been growing tremendously in popularity over the past decade. Over the past six years, viewership is up over 60%, according to the suspicious Nielsen Ratings. It's now broadcast live on both ESPN, ESPN2, and the NFL Network. For the past decade, millions of fans have bunkered themselves in over a weekend in April and watched in anticipation as picks are announced. Wives have been flabbergasted how something like that could be so exciting, and even worth watching. There are no games, no passes being thrown. There is only a man in a suit announcing some name at random. Despite that puzzlement, many wives have learned to leave their husbands alone for these two days, as they do on Sundays from September through January. 

    If anything wasn't broken, it surely wasn't the NFL Draft. But guess what? This year, the 2010 NFL Draft, the NFL has decided to milk the fans even more than the two days on the weekend. Now the NFL has moved the first round of the draft to a Thursday night, for their higher prime-time ratings. Yes, just the first round. That of course, is because they want more bang for their dollars in prime-time advertising.  

    The second and third rounds will now be on Friday night, also expensive primetime advertising territory. The final four rounds will be on Saturday.

    So, does the NFL really expect or think that millions of husbands and fathers will be able to isolate themselves from their wives and kids for three days now? I bet they don't, and I bet they don't care. They just know, regardless of all that, that they will make more money from the two nights of prime-time advertising. And, as usual, that is the bottom line.

    I love tennis. But there are a lot of things wrong with the professional tennis tours. Let's start with their structure. The International Tennis Foundation (ITF) is the governing body of world tennis, made up of 205 national tennis associations.

    The ITF operates the three major national team competitions in the sport, the Davis Cup for men, the Fed Cup for women and the Hopman Cup for mixed teams. The ITF also sanctions the four Grand Slams: the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open. Isn't that nice of them to "sanction" those four tournaments.

    The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) was formed in 1972 to protect the interests of male professional tennis players. Since 1990, the association has organized the principal worldwide tennis tour for men, the ATP Tour, which was renamed in January 2009 and is now known as the ATP World Tour.

    The Women's Tennis Association (WTA), formed in 1973, is the principal organizing body of women's professional tennis. It organizes the WTA Tour, the worldwide professional tennis tour for women, which has for sponsorship reasons been known since 2005 as The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour.

    The ATP Tour and WTA Tour control most of the other high-level professional tournaments worldwide.

    Okay, you got all that? Here's a test for you: Who's in charge? Exactly. It's a crazy hierarchy, messed up right from the structure. It's no wonder why there have been so many changes within the WTA and ATP organizations.

    Now, what are the problems with the actual tours, the tournaments, and the structure?

  • The season/calendar
    Many players complain that the season is too long. Most players feel this way. Yes there are a smaller percentage who want more tournaments so they can make more money, but the vast majority of the players, and all the top-ranked ones, male and female, say the season is too long. They often finish their seasons in November, and then in January it starts back up with big tournaments in the Middle East and Australia, and a Grand Slam tournament already in January with the Australian Open. Players are playing more matches now on hard courts and their bodies are breaking down more often. Injuries are on the rise. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that giving the players about three months off from December through February would go a long way towards allowing players to rest up and let their bodies heal.

    The Australian Open should be moved back two months, to late March. That's a simply wise change that has been suggested by many tennis experts. The main reason it hasn't happened is because Tennis Australia, the folks who run the Australian Open, want it at that time because that is their holiday, right smack dab in the middle of the Australian summer with the kids all out of school. So it works for them.

    But because it is in the middle of their summer, it is also infamous for extremely hot days. An "Extreme-Heat Policy" has had to be put into play when temperatures (and humidity) reach dangerous levels. Moving the tournament back 6-10 weeks surely wouldn't hurt that, while at the same time it would be giving the players that extra couple of months to recoup from the previous season's physical stress. Remember, this is a sport where people's feet, knees, hips and ankles break down in their 20's. Many famous and champion players have had to retire in their mid-20's. It's worth everyone's time to try and prolong these athletes careers by a few extra years, and if giving them 8-10 more weeks off after the Christmas season could help that, it's well worth it.

    This would also mean we'd have the four Slams spaced closer together from March to May, June, and then August.

  • Seeding
    I've played many sports in my time, and come tourney time, you get rewarded the higher your ranking is. If I am the #1-ranked player, I should get to start against the lowest-rated player. If you have 16 teams, or players, the #1 should play the #16, while the #2 vs #15, #3 vs #14, etc... to #8 vs #9. That's fair, and it rewards players for earning more ranking points. It makes sense, which is why all other sports do it that way. But tennis doesn't do it that way. They, apparently, are smarter than all the other sports are.

    They have their silly little "draws". Randomly, players names are pulled out of a cute little hat and thus the tournament brackets are filled. You might have the #1 seed have to play the #3 seed in the semifinals, while the #2 seed gets to play the lower-seeded #4 seed. How does this make sense? How is that fair to the #1 seed? And that is just at the semifinal level.

    In rounds earlier, you usually get more injustice. Sometimes the #1 seed will have to play the #6 seed in the quarterfinals, while the #3 or #4 seed will magically get to play the #7 or #8 seed. Why shouldn't the #1 seed get the lower #8 seed instead of the #3 seed? It's crazy and there is no good reason for it. One popular excuse I get from the so-called authorities is that they want to "mix it up so you don't get the same match-ups over and over." Come on, that's hogwash. First of all, different people win from week to week, so you won't always have the same match-ups on any level. Secondly, the rankings change all the time. Players do well, they move up, and if they do poorly, they move down. That's a terrible excuse, but it's the best one they can give for their cute little 'draws' they have.

  • Davis Cup
    This one is simple. Davis Cup is tennis' version of the much more popular and well-run Ryder Cup. Sort of. Ryder Cup is actually a collection of the best of Europe versus just America. It's held every two years and alternates venues between America and Europe.

    Davis Cup is more like the Olympics, with each country fielding it's own team of two singles players and one doubles team.

    The problem with it is the schedule, again. It's held all the time, nobody can keep track of when and where. There are many rounds, and they are scattered across the whole year's calendar. It is popular in certain countries, and not so much in other countries. What the Davis Cup needs to do is run it every other year, like the Ryder Cup does. This will make it much more meaningful, important, and it will allow the best players to actually play more often instead of skipping it because they need more time off to rest.

    It should be held in one venue, which rotates from year to year (again, hold it every two years, not every year) in the most popular locations for tennis. It should be a two week long tournament, like the Grand Slam tournaments are, and it also should incorporate the Fed Cup at the same time, for women. Again, just like the Grand Slams, both men and women will be present at the same time.

    We could either have 16 countries represented, or 32. Either way, they could easily get both events in on time over two weeks, as they do with 256 players male and female in the Slams.

    It would be much more like the ever-so-popular World Cup, or Euro Cup. It would sell out as fans get to see everyone good, from both the men's and women's sides. It would be like a mini-Olympics, every two years.

    Speaking of Olympics, because we now do have tennis in the summer Olympics (2012, 2016, 2020, etc...), the Davis/Fed Cups should be held in odd years so there is never an overlap. 

    Now why won't this happen, even though many tennis players, experts, former players have suggested similar changes? We all know why: Money. The ITF, Davis and Fed Cups can make more money if they have it every year, and have it broken down to many countries hosting because then they can get money from ticket sales in America, and Croatia, and Switzerland, and Sweden, and Argentina, and Brazil, and Australia, Japan, China, Belgium, etc. And they can get broadcasting right fees from each of those two countries each and every time.

    As usual, it's about money, and because of that, we the fans don't often get the best in sport competition, which I find to be a shame.