TFM's views come directly from his Western Pennsylvania roots: Every game in every sport is fixed - unless his team wins of course.
If you ever travel in the South and you get a little sadistic pleasure out of getting someone riled up, find a local and start a conversation about sports. Declare all sports are fixed and make sure your make this statement, " At the bottom there's the WWF but at least they admit they are putting on a show. Next it's the NBA". The reaction you get will tickle you. A couple years back during the last minute of a playoff game Patrick Ewing mauled an opponent driving to the basket, no call. Ten seconds later Ewing drives. His opponent who may or may not have been within five feet of him but certainly wasn't within arms distance picks up a foul. Ewing makes the foul shots the Knicks win. Ok, so I'm glad we won. But, I just can't watch basketball any longer. Love to play the game but whenever it's on the tube these thoughts keep reverberating. Most games are decided by 5 points or less. A team scores every other time down the court. Every game the officials make at least 40 calls. Therefore, just six bad calls a game changes the outcome.
Until recently, an argument could be made that the NHL tries to conduct a league where the outcomes of games are fairly decided. It simply amazed many football fans that officials could look at replays and make objective calls. Unfortunately, they lost most of that goodwill by starting the 1999/00 season before the 1998/99 Stanley Cup finals were completed. Yes, making a decision that protected the integrity of the sport demanded a person with wisdom. The situation was complicated by the fact that the officials were so incompetent the mistake went unnoticed until after one of the teams started drinking. It's hard to ask tipsy players to came back out and perform. But the ultimate decision to lie and claim the goal was fairly scored wasn't made because the players were drunk. This ruling had to be made because the bets were already being paid off. The sad part about the NHL not having an intelligent decision-maker was the great opportunity lost to endear the sport in the hearts of the American public. What if the NHL reviewed the tape and made an appropriate call. Multiple choices existed to resolve the dilemma. Even a "we blew it but tough luck" attitude offers an improvement over the goofy explanation given. Better yet think of the interest and TV ratings of a game held two nights after a triple overtime play-off game whose original outcome was overturned by a strong league in the interest of fairness. What if this game didn't decide the series? Game Seven of the 1998/99 Stanley Cup finals would have been the most watched sporting event in North America during the twentieth century.
Pro football causes an addiction. What a great entertainment device! Still it annoys me like crazy to hear Bills fans talk about the Washington Super Bowl as if Washington dominated the game. Look at the tape! It is obvious the officials went into the skin's locker room prior to the game and told them "we're not calling pass interference today, use this to your advantage". Sure the officials called it the same for both teams and the Bills finally caught on in the second half but by then Washington already had six more offensive possessions than the Bills. Of course, they were going to score more. Now it was stated like fact the officials let the Skins know and that may not be true. There is the possibility not calling pass interference is a trend during the Super Bowl and the Skins coaching staff realized this due to their superior coaching ability. I'll concede this as a possibility, but I prefer to think of the Bills, including the coaching staff was the superior team.
Continuing with pro football. If not for making games more difficult to fix, why doesn't pro football develop an instant replay system capable of producing a more fairly played game? It must seem apparent to other fans the reasons generally given against instant replay are manufactured to hide the real reasons. During the last try with instant replay, certain broadcast companies continually pushed the editorial that fans disliked the interruption of the game. This continued until they convinced enough fans to make this true. This round begins with the networks trying to highlight this same problem. Why, did they and why do they still insist on staying with coverage until the review is made. This time around they have a new more powerful device to cause the fan to become disenchanted. They've started showing a clock with elapsed time. Sure, I might be annoyed by the wait if I wasn't aware that every time a score occurs an official stands in the end zone with his hand in the air for 150 seconds while these same broadcasters show commercials. Besides scoring time outs, each game contains scheduled TV time outs and if there haven't been enough normal stoppages more are artificially added. Yet you never hear an announcer bemoan the fact game attendees endure the elements so the networks can make money. Much of the concern generated by the length of time a review takes could be tempered if the networks would just trade a scheduled TV commercial break for a review commercial break. Advertiser would love this! Currently, after a score happens everyone gets up and gets a beer. This works for the audience because the predictability ensures viewing of all the action. And it works for beer advertisers (I can't believe it just dawned on me how ingenious it is to show beer products to someone ordering at a bar). For the other advertisers, this proves a waste of money. They benefit if the audience stays in front of the TV. The unpredictability of review time outs provides this means. A viewer's interest in the call makes travel during these commercials unlikely. Besides a commercial break for a review call may last only 15 or 30 seconds. By the time the network plays all the instant replays once and then the best views once or twice again the time until a decision announcement only allows for one or two commercials. Who is going to get up and try to conduct business in this amount of time?
Of course, the time it took to make a call never was the real reason instant replay didn't work. It didn't work because at the end of the process terrible calls continued to exist. I guess they hire sensitive men as officials and the mere hint someone disagrees with them causes severe mental strain to the point they can't function. So in order to prevent mass suicide the pro football league developed an instant replay system that requires the official who messed up in the first place to agree they messed up. Combine this with the time limit of 90 seconds and its obvious bad calls will continue to abound.
If J.Q. public wanted games fairly contested they would demand an opposite system. In this system, an official sits isolated in the review room with no feedback about the game. When a challenge occurs, the official sees the replays without the benefit of knowing the call of the officials on the field. This official first judges each replay as helpful in determining the call. If he judges every angle as flawed he'll return a "play stands as called" decision. Otherwise, he makes a decision on the outcome of the play.
Now that the NFL season is over nothing about the results changed the original opinion express in this article written just after the pre-season. Of course the lateral was only two feet in front of where it originated. You can't expect anyone to overturn a call unless it was a least ten yards wrong! Can you? The entire season proves the last statement
Imagine the outcome of the season if the NFL made even a modicum effort to promote a fair replay system. The Colts would beat the Dolphins in the first meeting. Then the Bills / Colts game means something to the Colts. Flutie plays the first playoff game and the Bills make it to the second round. Actually, that call screwed up the season even more than that scenerio suggest. What really would have happen? The colts win their first six games get over confident and end up ten and six. The Bills end up with a first round bye and host the Titans in the second round. AFC Championship here we come! Oh well, it's hard to create a web site if you waste too much time watching football.
Changing the rules to facilitate more scoring is one misguided trend going on in nearly every professional sport. Who really wants to see the normal score of a baseball game become 12 to 11 with 7 homeruns. The powers in charge mistakenly examine their games pick out what, at the time, causes the most excitement and change the rules to allow more of that activity to take place during the game. What they didn't understand was the reason for the excitement was the infrequency of the occurrence. Before it mattered if your shortstop could field and throw the ball. Now you veg out during a good defensive play waiting for the next homerun so you can see the scoreboard change from the current to the next numeral. You would think all the other sports would learn from pro basketball. Who do you know that ever turns on a NBA game until the last two minutes? Then half an hour later before the game even ends your bored. The cause - too much instant gratification. Pro football continually attempts to promote the passing game. This really works out fine for me. Other seasons, my addiction was so bad I not only watch the Sunday games but the games on every other day also. Now I can take my son over to Mike's Sports bar order a Sunday and watch the Bills play the third and fourth quarters. By the time we're done eating the games over and we haven't felt we've missed anything. Football and baseball should work to make the game more exciting by making scoring more difficult. Baseball could get heavier and mushier balls. This not only would keep the ball in play more but also get the ball on the ground faster making the defense perform. The ball would be more difficult to throw making plays on the runner more exciting. Football needs to allow defensive backs to contact the receivers up until the ball begins decent. In order to allow the offense to still function they might give the offensive linemen more freedom to grasp the defense. This nulls the cheapening effect the passing game suffers from the current rules and restores the meaning and excitement of running plays. Of course, the drive to emphasis the passing game may be more of a function of what produces more commercial breaks for the networks. When the game depends on passing either you score quickly (which produces a commercial break), you don't complete the passes and need to punt (another opportunity for commercial), or you try to run and don't pick up the first down (another commercial). If the game consisted of seven to ten minute running drives commercials would occur every thirty minutes and the game would last two and a half hours. You can't run a network on that.
In this day and age you can't write an essay on sports without addressing sportsmanship. Sportsmanship still exists today and most people prefer fairly contested games. If the backers and fans of the major sports don't begin to realize this and promote good sportsmanship they risk no longer being a major sport. What we're talking about is a pretty loose definition of sportsmanship. Some people package the elimination of showmanship into what they consider sportsmanship. The truth is both sportsmanship and showmanship add to the entertainment value of a game. Mohammed Ali electrified boxing with his pre-fight showboating. Pro wrestling is 100% showmanship and it grabs the audience. Even in a sport that is not a sport you need sportsmanship. Because pro wrestlers are such sportsmen you rarely have a career ending injury. Players don't have to be nice to the other players in order to be good sportsman. A football player can't be concerned the hit he's about to deliver might knock his opponent senseless. Sportsmanship encompasses the desire to win. Now the player that jumps up afterward pointing and mocking acts un-sportsman like. How do I know? Because whenever I see this I can't help but hope that on the next play someone on the other team will fall against that player's knee causing a career ending injury. Maliciousness or behavior that causes maliciousness is not sportsman like. The behavior of the pro athlete only indirectly causes the demise of the pro sport.
The biggest threat to the popular pro sports comes from how the pro athlete's life influences the parents of the future pro athlete. The desire many parents hold for their children to become pro athletes and the perception of what it takes to get them there ensures the decline of the current popular sports. Because parents fantasize about the pro athletes life style they start fights at little league games, encourage their children to "bend" the rules, and secure steroids for their kids (you probably have your own favorite horror story). This drives the parents not obsessed with the fantasy to seek other entertainment for their children. This makes the fruitcake parents happy because with even less competition their kids look better. They will realize once their children become adults, those children that went to mountain biking and roller blading as kids don't care about football and baseball as adults. So what if their kids are the stars of a league with no audience.
Most people forget that ESPN only recently went predominately mainstream. This cable only station gained its' popularity showing volleyball, ice skating, mountain biking and golf events. All sports with about the same amount of popularity ten years ago as the current sports now showing on ESPN2 and the other five semi-continental all sports channels. The big guys consider the sports shown on Sports South small time and it's likely some of the executives at the smaller stations envy the guys with pro-football coverage. The smarter executives know if they do a good job with the programs they can afford today, when that sport takes off they will already be on the inside and their network will prosper like ESPN. People watch these lesser know sports because they perceive them as being more fairly competed. How many people believe sky divers use enhanced performance drugs? How many people believe pro-football players got to where they are without using enhanced performance drugs?
Whether to write or not write this paragraph weighs heavily on my conscience. But I'd like to know if professional football players father more disabled children than the general public. Normal logical thought leads a person to think since football players as a group run faster, lift heavier weights and generally are the most fit individuals they should father equally gifted children. It seems however, a disproportionate number of the physical elite father disabled children. The actual numbers may show they do not and the perception may just be caused by the fact The NFL works so closely with The United Way these families are just highlighted. That's why this could be a very cruel paragraph. However, my current perception leads me to believe football players' father more disabled children. Combine this with the known cause and effects of using steroids and subsequent birth defects and there appears to be a link. Without the specific father coming forth and admitting they may indirectly have caused the suffering of the child the public should always treat each individual as if they are blameless. However, what the public needs to do is treat those individuals willing to step forth and disclose a link as martyrs. With full disclosure by a good representation of parents we have the chance of convincing many current parents of 13 and 14-year-old kids not to push them into taking performance-enhancing drugs.
You might have noticed the lack of discussion on golf issues. Well so have a lot of others. The most frequent comment being "you have to talk about Tiger Woods". Ok, I do requests. Like most of my friends and almost every serious golfer, I've had periods where I really looked forward to seeing Tiger compete in tournaments. No doubt Tiger Woods will remain the top player for years to come. More than likely his accomplishments will equal those of Jack, Arnold, Ben, and that guy who won all those tournaments while everyone else was out fighting a war. Sadly, most of that excitement wained under feelings of disappointment and betrayal. Yes it will be great for many people to look back and say they saw one of the greatest ever to play professional golf. But personally there was the realistic hope of witnessing the ultimate underdog story in all of sports; That of an amatuer winning a major tournament. The fact that he won the Masters so soon after turning pro only strengthens the disappointment. Add to that the personal belief that the lull in wins he had shortly after the Masters win probably had more to do with the obligations of becoming a pro than with actual playing ability.
You can see why I believe if he would have stayed an amatuer we might have seen multiple majors that year and instead of comparing him with Byron Nelson we might consider comparing him with Bobby Jones. That can never happen now. What a wasted opportunity. On a day to day basis yea, I route for Tiger but come major time I'm 100% behind Matt.