Friday, June 15, 2007

"You can't be *&#$*&@ serious!"

Wimbledon announced Thursday that starting with this summer's tournament it will begin using instant replay to verify controversial line calls. Some might argue that the move will take some of the fun out of bad-boy tennis behavior (see John McEnroe, Ilie Nastase, et. al.), but it's yet another sign of the impact of media technology on sports. The NFL, NHL and NCAA college basketball all have used video replay to help determine the outcome of games, and among the major sports only baseball seems unwilling to even consider the possibility. Although a couple of years ago MLB experimented with the QuesTec strike zone system, it was used only to monitor umpires and not to affect the outcome of games. It was universally panned by players and umpires and benched after a short time. Could replay improve major league umpiring and influence the outcome of games? Ask Tony Tarasco or Whitey Herzog.

No one is suggesting robot umpires call balls and strikes, but what about giving managers so many challenges a game as in the NFL? Media technology has been successfully used in other sports and there's no reason it couldn't work in baseball. A major drawback would be the possible lengthening of games, which already seem to stretch on for an eternity.

On a completely unrelated subject, thank goodness the almost unwatchable NBA Finals have ended. San Antonio put the Cavs (and most of the nation) out of our misery by winning Game Four and sweeping the series. Ugly would be a polite way to describe the play in the series, with both teams barely able to reach 75 points in each game.

Here's an unusual take--my theory is that superior athletes and television are actually making for inferior basketball. There's no doubt the NBA athletes of today are better than athletes of even a generation ago. Guys like Dwayne Wade and LeBron James can literally jump through the gym. To sell its product to TV audiences (it always comes back to sports media, doesn't it?) the NBA has become a star-oriented league. So what we get now is not basketball, but a dunk-and-jump shot league where four guys stand around while the one superstar plays one-on-one. (Consider the phenomenal success of Streetball, which is nothing but dunks and 3s.)

Sometimes this style works, like Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals in which James scored his team's final 25 points. More often, it doesn't; in Game 3 of the NBA Finals the Cavs went 3-of-19 from the three-point line and scored only 72 points. Congratulations to the Spurs, but don't tell me winning four titles in today's NBA qualifies them as an all-time dynasty. The Celtics of the 60s and the Knicks of the 70s would have handled them with ease.

Blame television for this mess. For some terrible NBA basketball and even our international/Olympic failures of the past few years. Why is it that Argentina and Brazil don't have near the athletic talent of the U.S., but seem to win the gold medal every time? Look no further than your television set.


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