Now that the extremely dull 2014 Super Bowl has cleared the sports airways, we can get down to the business of reforming the games we love. (By the way, my vote for MVP -- Most Valuable Pipes -- goes to Renee Fleming, who performed better than the entire Broncos team.) Commissioner Goodell has jumped on the Bill Belichick bandwagon and suggests that the NFL abolish the point-after touchdown as we know it. He proposes that a club would receive seven points for a touchdown and then have the opportunity to add a point to that total with a running or passing play, which, if it fails, would cost the team a point. The current point-after conversion is basically automatic and as exciting as the 2014 Super Bowl. Goodell has not made his reputation as a boat rocker, so his idea may have merit -- only because it is such a rare bird flying from NFL central in New York City.
There is nothing inherently wrong with abolishing the point-after conversion, but if the NFL is going to make changes to its product, it should worry more about abolishing perfectly legal plays that enhance the risk of player concussions. The NFL is willing to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars to those injured warriors who sacrificed their mental stability on the fields of play for our entertainment and for the profit of a few wealthy owners. Might it not be better to focus more on ways to diminish that risk? I am sure the NFL is working hard on that issue right now, but abolishing very short, automatic field goals accomplishes very little.
Now that the NFL seems to recognize that their Sunday, Monday and Thursday offerings have something to do with the suffering of its retirees, they likely know which head-jarring contacts exacerbate the risks of this dangerous game. Would abolishing the three-point stance be helpful so linemen can more easily see (and avoid) head-to-head contact with an opposing player? (This too was something Goodell has raised.) Maybe even abolish kick-off returns as they did during the Pro Bowl? Safety has to be the motivating factor for any change. Prevent head and brain injuries rather than pay for them later.
While we are at it, what changes ought to be made in our three other major team sports? Basketball has worked diligently to diminish the impact on the game of their very tallest players by adopting the three-point line and widening the lane. They should now raise the height of the basketball rim to diminish the ubiquity of the dunk which was spectacular and novel when accomplished by Dr. J, but not by every six-foot guard. How about eleven feet?
Our Canadian friends delivered hockey to us decades ago, but seemed to have mixed it up with the martial arts. However, when the game was played at its best by the great Montreal Canadiens of the 1960s and 1970s, they engaged in comparatively few fisticuffs. Fighting should be removed from professional hockey as it has from the amateur and collegiate game. The doggerel about how a good fight is necessary as a "relief" is total hogwash. If every fight results in a game penalty and a second game penalty results in a five-game suspension, etc., fighting will suddenly disappear, and the patrons can refocus their attention on the serious business of drinking beer.
And finally, how about the game that used to be called the National Pastime? There the improvement is so obvious and so necessary that the next commissioner will be able to make his or her reputation by once again having all baseball clubs play the game under the same rules. While I am partial to the designated hitter rule since I have the opportunity to watch David Ortiz display his talents all season long at Fenway Park, the fact that he must take a seat (or share playing first base) when visiting a National League hometown is patently absurd. Let all the games be played with or without the designated hitter -- but let it be played under a uniform set of rules.
We are creatures of habit when it comes to our sports, but those who provide the entertainment know when it is time to make a change. Otherwise, we would still have to stop the basketball game after each shot goes into the peach basket and bring out the ladder to retrieve the leathered spheroid. Otherwise, we would watch hockey players beat each other over the head with their sticks unhindered by helmets. Otherwise, pitchers would toss the ball underhanded to the batter who could select the kind of pitch he wanted. Otherwise, the flying wedge would cause so many deaths in football that the president of the United States would call college presidents to the White House and threaten to abolish their game if it was not made safer. Change is good. I won't even miss the point-after conversion, but I would miss Renee Fleming.