Worst Sports Rules Changes of the 2000s

Zac Wassink@https://twitter.com/ZacWassinkFeatured ColumnistJanuary 20, 2017

Worst Sports Rules Changes of the 2000s

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    Mat Otero / Associated Press
    Mat Otero / Associated PressAssociated Press

    Some sports rules make little sense. Others are downright terrible. 

    The rule that awarded home-field advantage in the World Series to the league that won the Major League Baseball All-Star Game upset and even angered passionate baseball fans. It was, in fact, such a bad change that individuals running the league eventually had to erase the mistake made years ago. That rule now no longer exists, and fans around the country are happy for it. 

    FIFA plans on expanding the World Cup and allowing more countries to enter the competition. We still don't know what is or isn't a catch in the NFL. NBA rules regarding "hack-a" fouls are silly. 

    We can do better. 

    The sports world could use an individual who serves as the "commissioner of common sense." This person, ideally, would scrap any ridiculous rules before they become enforced by an organization or league. 

    What absurd rule change from the past 17 years is your least favorite? 

Illegal Contact in the NFL

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    John Bazemore / Associated Press
    John Bazemore / Associated PressAssociated Press

    NFL rules favor passing attacks these days more than ever. Quarterbacks are protected, and wide receivers are offered certain advantages. 

    As Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times explained, the NFL took steps in the summer of 2014 to crack down on, among other things, illegal contact on WRs during games. In short, the league mandated that defensive players, such as cornerbacks and safeties, cannot initiate contact with a receiver after the offensive player is five yards past the line of scrimmage. 

    Per Farmer, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman suggested this change was made to increase offensive production and fantasy football stats. Sherman may have a point, but he failed to mention this rule offers bailouts to WRs who can earn cheap first downs by attempting to get a cornerback to engage in physical contact down the field. 

    Like pass interference, illegal contact is a judgment call. Perhaps the NFL should change this stipulation and eliminate the clause that awards automatic first downs for illegal contact fouls. 

NBA Playoffs

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    Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press
    Sue Ogrocki / Associated PressAssociated Press

    It often feels as though the NBA playoffs go on forever. Heck, you may have a playoff game on in the background as you're reading this sentence. 

    We kid, we kid. 

    The 2016 playoffs began in the middle of April, and Game 7 of the NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors occurred on June 19. It took over two months to determine the champion of the league via the postseason tournament, a competition that included a bunch of lousy games. 

    As Alex Wong of Sports on Earth wrote, the NBA changed the playoff format back in 2003 to turn the first round of the playoffs from a best-of-five format to best-of-seven. This, as Wong explained, decreased the likelihood of massive upsets in the opening round of the playoffs. It also extended the length of the tournament. 

    The NBA needs to bring back the best-of-five series for the opening round of the playoffs, even if it only shaves a week off the schedule. 

World Cup Expansion

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    Jae C. Hong / Associated Press
    Jae C. Hong / Associated PressAssociated Press

    ESPN personalities James Tyler and Nick Miller recently debated FIFA expanding the World Cup to a format in which 48 countries receive invites to the tournament. Tyler swooned over the thought of smaller countries earning opportunities to join world football's biggest party, while Miller stated that FIFA is diluting the quality of the tournament. 

    Miller is correct. 

    The World Cup should feature the best of the best countries every four years. If, for example, the United States fail to earn the necessary results in qualifying rounds, the nation doesn't belong in the World Cup. It is that simple. 

    The World Cup was already the best tournament in international football before this recent change. Expanding the tournament field wasn't necessary, as it creates a watered-down competition that includes teams not worthy of playing for the sport's top trophy and honor. 

Expanding the NCAA Tournament

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    Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press
    Charlie Neibergall / Associated PressAssociated Press

    What is the proper amount of teams for any college basketball tournament? 16? 32? 64? 96? When will the expansion of the tournament end? 

    Fans had to ask that last question when, as Adam Himmelsbach of the New York Times explained, the NCAA expanded the tournament field to 68 teams before the start of the 2011 competition. This rule created an entire additional round of the tournament, and it resulted in teams arguably not worthy of playing for a championship receiving bids. 

    March Madness, as it existed back at the start of 2000, was already one of the best parts of the sports calendar. It didn't need any tweaks or changes, and that remains the case today. What's truly unfortunate is that it feels as if it's only a matter of time before the NCAA expands the tournament again. 

    Before long, college basketball regular season games will merely be warm-ups for teams preparing for March encounters. 

Rules That Protect QBs

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    Elise Amendola / Associated Press
    Elise Amendola / Associated PressAssociated Press

    Reasonable football fans understand the NFL wants to protect quarterbacks. QBs, after all, are the faces of franchises, and the top players at the position are paid millions upon millions of dollars each season. Owners want these stars to remain healthy. 

    As our own Michael Schottey once explained, the NFL took steps earlier this decade to protect alleged defenseless players, including a QB who is either in the act of throwing or who has already tossed a pass during a play. That's fine, but what we've seen over the past six seasons is that a defensive player can be called for roughing the passer if he completes a tackle or accidentally makes contact with a particular portion of the QB's uniform. 

    Say, for example, a defensive lineman brushes the top of a QB's helmet with his hand as he attempts to knock a pass down in the backfield. This, technically, roughing the passer per the league's current rules. Such a rule punishes an athlete for doing something that could never cause any harm to an opponent. 

    The NFL can protect QBs while at the same time using logic when evaluating plays. 

Targeting in College Football

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    John Raoux / Associated Press
    John Raoux / Associated PressAssociated Press

    As Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports wrote last October, the targeting rule in college football is, on paper, a nice thought. It's meant to protect young college athletes from potentially suffering serious head injuries. 

    One issue with the rule is that it's left to interpretation. You and I may have different opinions regarding a certain hit and if that hit was, in fact, an instance of targeting. While I'm not sure what the NCAA can do about this, the fact remains the rule needs to be reworded. 

    Even worse is that a player deemed guilty of targeting a supposed defenseless opponent is ejected from the game. There's no second chance for that person. He's simply tossed from the contest, whether or not he meant to cause harm while making a hit.

    The NCAA should model soccer officiating and issue warnings, or yellow cards, to players who "target" opponents. This way, a player who accumulates a certain amount of warnings during a particular season could be subject to suspension. 

    It's better than how the NCAA currently handles these situations. 

3-on-3 NHL Overtime

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    Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press
    Gene J. Puskar / Associated PressAssociated Press

    I understand why some within the NHL wanted to move to a 3-on-3 overtime format before the start of the 2015-16 season. Doing so creates more space for attacking players, which, in theory, makes it more likely a team will score a goal and win the game during the period and before a shootout.

    The problem here is that this rule changes the nature of the sport dramatically. Imagine if, in an attempt to decrease the lengths of games, Major League Baseball created a rule that restricted clubs to only one outfielder during extra innings. Some may find it enjoyable, but it would likely upset multiple players and fans. 

    Last October, Dustin Byfuglien of the Winnipeg Jets told Tim Campbell of the Winnipeg Free Press (h/t Adam Gretz of CBS Sports), "It's not hockey."

    He's right. The 3-on-3 format punishes teams that, otherwise, win games by playing solid and stingy defense. The experiment needs to be abandoned as quickly as possible. 

"Hack-A" Rules

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    Danny Moloshok / Associated Press
    Danny Moloshok / Associated PressAssociated Press

    The NBA should never coddle adult athletes who are terrible free-throw shooters. That, however, is exactly what the league did in the summer of 2016, per Sports Illustrated, when the league created a rule that gives a team a free throw and possession of the ball if a player is fouled away from the ball in the last two minutes of any quarter.

    DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers is one of the poor free-throw shooters mentioned in the SI piece. Jordan, per Spotrac, has a base salary of more than $21 million for the 2016-17 season. One would think he would be able to afford lessons to improve this aspect of his game during the offseason. 

    "This rule is to promote more offensive play," a fan in favor of the statute may argue. That's true. Allowing traveling would also increase offensive statistics, but that doesn't mean the league should adopt such a rule. 

    Besides, fans enjoy watching a player struggle at the charity stripe. Did you see that one time LeBron James hit nothing but air from the line? It was hilarious. 

MLB All-Star Game

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    Rob Foldy / Getty Images
    Rob Foldy / Getty ImagesRob Foldy/Getty Images

    Here's the rule that is so bad the league responsible for it had to admit it got it wrong. 

    There was never a time where it made any sense to award home-field advantage for a World Series to the league that won the MLB All-Star Game, an exhibition contest played between players in the middle of a long and grueling campaign. Seemingly, the idea behind this rule is that it would force players to try to win what is, essentially, a meaningless game. 

    Why? Baseball fans watch the All-Star Game to see great pitchers play against great hitters and maybe see the occasional home run blasted out of the park. We never lost sleep over which team won or lost the game before this rule was implemented. 

    Home-field advantage for a World Series should go to the club that has the better record. MLB finally realized that, per USA Today, as the league made that the new rule last fall. 

    It's about time. The original statute was, undisputedly, the worst rule in North American pro sports before it was squashed. 

NFL Catch Rules

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    Ron Jenkins / Associated Press
    Ron Jenkins / Associated PressAssociated Press

    What is or isn't a catch in the NFL? It's a question that seemingly pops up at least once every football Sunday. These debates often include discussions about whether or not the player in question completed a "football move" during the catch and also if the ball moved after any portion of it touched the surface of the playing field. 

    As Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com explained last July, the NFL "revised the rule's wording" regarding catches before the start of the 2016 season. That decision didn't help matters, as those of us who watch games via television were, far too often, left confused about the league's catch rules from September through January. 

    It shouldn't be this difficult. 

    You know what a catch is. I know what a catch is. This isn't rocket science or brain surgery. The NFL needs to find a way to figure this out for the benefit of clubs, coaches, players and fans. 


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