Some proposed rule changes intended to improve sports can be charitably dismissed as well-meaning, but misguided.
Periodically, for example, someone suggest raising the height of the basketball hoop to decrease the advantage enjoyed by taller players. Most recently, several other commenters on Charlie Pierce’s boston.com blog had to disabuse an otherwise intelligent fellow poster of that notion.
Never mind that for those of us who are vertically challenged the rim is already far enough away. But even Hall of Famer Bill Russell has pointed out that a higher basket will mean the ball will remain in the air longer on rebounds, thus making it harder for shorter players to box out taller players. Raising the hoop would have the opposite effect its proponents want.
Another crackpot suggestion I once read was to make foul balls strikes even when a batter already has a two-strike count, with the intent of speeding up the proceedings. I think a sports writer who wanted to get to a bar quicker after games came up with that one.
On the other hand, there are some rules that seriously need changing, starting with real penalties for “embellishment.”
Start with Oklahoma City Thunder’s James Harden. Harden took a dive pretending he was hit by an elbow by the Maverick’s Tyson Chandler, earning Chandler a technical foul.
In the Bruins-Canadiens NHL series, the only question about Les Habitants was whether they were entered in the three-meter or platform diving competition. The worst offender? P.K. Subban, the easiest six-foot, 206-pound defenseman to knock flying in the history of hockey.
And in this past summer’s World Cup untouched players were dropping to the ground and writhing like they were bitten by cobras or felled by sniper fire.
Simple solution? Post-game video review and one-game suspensions for first-time offenders, two games for second-time floppers, and escalate it from there. There’s no reason to tolerate this nonsense when the tool is there to stop it.
Secondly, all offsides rules must be put out to pasture, except for American football’s line of scrimmage.
Before readers say, wait a minute, that’s way too radical, consider this: Field hockey did just that, and the game got better.
Look, my best sport was soccer, my position was defense. For one thing, the way offsides is now called in that sport is confusing. An official can rule a player in an offsides position does not affect the play, and can put the whistle away.
But that’s too much judgment to give to an official, and I speak as someone who has officiated about 150 middle school and JV games. And what’s a defender supposed to do? Ignore the player in the offsides position and hope the call is made? Shade toward the player and give other opponents an advantage? The offsides player is affecting play one way or another, regardless of what the rules say. I’d rather have him offsides or not.
But the larger point is why not reward a player who can get open behind the defense? And why not insist the defense honor players who can do so? It’s like insisting an American football quarterback cannot throw a pass to a receiver unless there is a defender between the receiver and the goal line.
It’s time for offsides to go.
There are many other rules to change, but there’s one set of rules that are not only archaic, but also sexist. Yes, time to talk women’s and girls’ lacrosse.
The central problem seems to be that the rules assume the athletes need protection. In some cases, that makes sense. Penalizing players who take wild swings at other players who are carrying balls near their heads is a sound theory, even if it is inconsistently applied in practice. For one thing, players with a full head of steam, even when they are about to shoot, are forced to stop and restart when the other team fouls them, thus rewarding the offending team.
That’s the essential problem with the “shooting space” rule. A defensive player is not allowed to stand between an offensive player and the goal unless the defensive player is closely guarding the offensive player. The rules want to protect the defensive player from being struck by a shot.
It should be noted that no such rule exists in men’s or boys’ lacrosse, where to be fair, the athletes wear more padding. And, it should be noted, deeper stick pockets allow harder shots.
The effect of the rule is that whistles regularly blow while the shooter is beginning to shoot, and goals are waved off. The shooter is then awarded a lower-percentage “free position” opportunity. The defense is rewarded for its foul.
Two things could change here. One: Get rid of the rule and let the defenders take their chances. They are not delicate little flowers, they are athletes. Two: Hold the whistle, let the play continue until a shot is or is not taken. And then blow the whistle and award the free position if a goal is not scored. The penalty will be significantly increased, and the defense will be less likely to commit the foul.
One other rule is particularly ridiculous. Female lacrosse goalies wear helmets, chest pads and shin pads. Male lacrosse goalies wear helmets. Male lacrosse shots are harder, not only because of the different sticks, but also due to shooters’ typically greater upper body strength.
One of the two sports has a “dangerous shot” rule, which penalize athletes for accidentally shooting too hard at a goalie’s head.
Readers by now can probably guess which one, but just in case I’ll ID female lacrosse as the guilty party.
It’s time for those who run women’s and girls’ lacrosse to ask themselves this question: What rules would they put in place if the sport was gender-neutral?
Because the rules sure aren’t.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.