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Future of Football

I've written before about employing technology in the NFL to show the first down line on the field of play for the referees, players, and fans to see.

  • The technology has been available for some time.
  • You could put a laser in the bottom of the chain that marks the first down spot. The person holding that end of the chain can click the laser beam on with his foot.
  • You could also put a laser in the line of scrimmage marker to shoot a different color beam.

But now I'm imagining a whole new futuristic way of doing it.

PUT A COMPUTER-CONTROLLED ELECTRONIC GRID IN THE FIELD.

  • Everything keys off a sensor in the tip of the football.
  • When the official places the ball down for first down, the computer-controlled grid lights the blades of "grass" in the artificial turf, changing the color of the blades from sideline to sideline to mark the line of scrimmage.
  • The computer also gives the order to light the blades of grass ten yards down the field to mark the first down line.
  • All this can be programmed now on a computer screen for video football games. The trick will be to imbed this technology in the gridiron.
  • Essentially what this system would do is take the computer system that marks the first down line on the TV broadcast and transfer it from a monitor to the field.
Baseball's New Speedup Rules

I'm happy with baseball's new speedup rules just as I was happy with the expansion of Instant Replay last year.

  • But I have to laugh at some of the comments from major leaguers. Such as White Sox OF Adam Eaton: I'm not a big fan (of the new rules). There's a lot of thinking involved. When a pitcher steps on the rubber, there's a lot going on. There's thinking in the dugout, the coaches, everyone. Why speed that up?
    Spoken like someone who's being paid to be at the park.
  • How long does it take to think about the next pitch? 30 seconds is more than enough. Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Aaron - you think any of them had to step out of the box after every freakin' pitch to "think"?
  • I'm reminded of something Yogi Berra said in his rookie season. The first citation seems to be in an Associated Press story dated August 1, 1947.

    They tell a story about Larry “Yogi” Berra, the New York Yankees’ new No. 1 catcher and his Manager Bucky Harris. Yogi is known as a bad ball hitter and Bucky decided to do something about it.
    “Think when you get up there,” he told Berra. “Make the pitcher come in with the ball. Don’t be too eager. Make him get it over. Think. Think.”
    Berra went to the plate and took 3 called strikes. He walked to the dugout and sat down.
    “How can anybody think and hit at the same time,” he mumbled.

  • I also recall Bob Gibson, the greatest Cardinal P ever. Bob liked to work fast. He didn't have to think very long about the next pitch. He also didn't like hitters stepping out to slow him down. Joe Morgan told this story in his autobiography.

Gibson was a notoriously fast worker as well as a ferocious competitor. If you so much as fiddled with the bill of your cap during an at-bat you were in for it. A fellow rookie on our team named Aaron Pointer once fouled a Gibson pitch off his foot. When Pointer stepped out, Gibson didn't make a mental note to relay word to him that in the future he better watch out. Even though the count then was 0-2, Gibson drilled him in the ribs with the next pitch.
Bob Aspromonte, another player on our team, broke Gibson's rhythm in one game by briefly stepping out on him. Gibson hit him in the back with the next pitch. It sounded like a cannon shot. Aspromonte was out for almost a month. Gibson games lasted less than two hours - and the main reason was that no one was ever willing to stand in against him one second longer than was absolutely necessary.

  • Too many hitters step out after every pitch to go through their personal ritual: relatching the batting gloves, adjusting the helmet, taking a practice swing. Some take their good time stepping back in as if it's the first time they've ever batted. Right foot at this exact spot, pause, left here. Dig, dig, dig to get good foothold. GIVE US A BREAK! Fine them for this nonsense.
The Scourge of Phil Jackson?

In his "The Numbers" article in the recent ESPN the Magazine, Peter Keating lays the current problems of two storied NBA franchises, the Lakers and the Knicks, at the feet of the same man, Phil Jackson.

  • Phil coached the Chicago Bulls from 1989-1998, winning six championships.
  • He took the Lakers to five more titles in his tenure in L.A. from 1999-2004 and 2005-2011.
  • He now is the GM of the Knicks in the first year of a five-year $60M contract.

His resumé is hard to beat. But therein lies the rub.

  • According to Keating, Jackson's philosophy for creating a team as a GM and molding it as a coach are stuck in the 1990s.
  • At the All-Star break this year, the Knicks wallowed at 10-43, good for last place in the Atlantic Division and the fewest wins in the league.
  • Part of the problem is the injury to star Carmelo Anthony, who is deciding whether to shut down his season because of an injured left knee. But it's much more than that.
  • Keating: The Knicks have found few easy baskets this season, ranking at or near the bottom in percentage of points on fast breaks, in the paint and from free throws. But that's not just because Jackson traded Tyson Chandler, the team's reliable low-post presence, or because the oft-injured, roster-churning Knicks don't pass well. It's because they rely so heavily on inefficient shots. The midrange jumper is the worst shot in basketball because it's far enough from the hoop to be difficult to make but not far enough to be worth an extra point.
  • The Knicks have taken the highest percentage of their attempts from 16' out to the 3-point arc in the league.
  • Keating: Now here's the shocker: That's by design! In an era when the NBA is setting a record for 3-point attempts every season, the Knicks are down 17 percent in 3-point shots per game under Jackson and his handpicked coach, Derek Fisher (a valuable player on Phil's Laker teams). And on defense, Fisher explicitly wants his team to focus on defending in transition and in the paint rather than on the perimeter.
  • The Knicks are good at what Fisher wants them to do. They've given up the second fewest points per fast-break possession in the NBA and have held opponents to the sixth-lowest FG% at the rim.
  • Unfortunately, they're losing 77% of their games because opponents are raining 3-pointers on them. In particular, opponents have hit an astonishing 43.8% of their corner 3s.

Think back to Jackson's outstanding teams in Chicago and L.A. and recall that he had at his disposal two of the greatest midrange jump shooters in history: Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.

  • Jackson's 1992 Bulls won an NBA title while hitting just 138 3-point shots, as many as some individuals make in today's basketball.
  • In October 2013, Phil tweeted his philosophy: "Nothing new about getting ball to open man. Basketball is played to strengths of individuals. 3pters are not always the key." But if your open men are shooting 2-pointers while the opponent's open men are making 3s, you're in trouble.
  • Byron Scott, coach of the team Phil left behind, the Lakers, wanted his team to take just 10-15 3s per game this season. I don't believe it wins championships, said Scott, who once led the NBA in 3-pt % as a member of a championship L.A. squad.
  • And how are his Lakers doing? 13-40 at the break, also good for last place in their division. To be that bad, poor personnel is an issue obviously, but even improving the talent level won't get you to the top if your philosophy is stuck in the 90s.
Parallels

The first season of the College Football Playoff resulted in the lone undefeated team not receiving the #1 seed from the Playoff Committee.

  • 13-0 Florida State finished #3 in the Committee's rankings because their schedule was not considered strong enough in a comparatively weak conference, the ACC.
  • Alabama, which had lost to Ole Miss in their fifth game and escaped in OT in Baton Rouge, took the #1 spot, which sent them to the Sugar Bowl to meet Ohio State, the #4 seed because of their "bad loss" to Virginia Tech in Week 2.

We could have a parallel situation in NCAA men's basketball this year.

  • Kentucky is off to the best start in the program's storied history: 25-0.
  • However, like the Seminoles last fall, the Wildcats have escaped with some tight wins in three conference games: OT wins over Ole Miss and Texas A&M and a two-point victory over LSU when a last second 3-pointer missed.
  • March Madness has always been controlled by an NCAA committee that chose the teams and seeded them.
  • It's entirely possible that the committee will not rank Kentucky as the overall #1 seed even if the Wildcats finish the regular season undefeated.
  • UK will probably earn one of the four regional #1 seeds even with a single defeat, but the committee might select Duke (22-3 but coming on strong) or Virginia (23-1) as the "national" #1 seed.
  • Gonzaga currently sits #3 in the AP poll and #2 in the USA Today Coaches Poll with a 26-1 record. But the Zags don't play in a "power" conference and probably won't be a #1 seed, which would parallel what happened to TCU in football.
  • Of course, in basketball not being a Top Four seed is no problem because you still make the tournament although the Bulldogs could be as low as a 3 or 4 seed. However, TCU didn't make football's Big Dance because only four teams qualify. (Don't read into what I just said that I favor expanding the football playoff beyond four teams because I don't. Regular season games count the most in college football of all the sports. Play a stronger non-conference schedule, TCU, and don't blow a 4th quarter lead at Baylor.)
Speeding Up Baseball

Here's some statistics from ESPN the Magazine to document the slowness of baseball games.

128 Average number of plays in NFL games in 2013
1.48 Average minutes per play in NFL games in 2013
148 Average number of plays in NCAA games in 2013
1.37 Average minutes per play in NCAA games in 2013
52 Balls in play in an average MLB game in 2014
3.5 Average minutes per play in MLB games in 2014
14 Additional minutes in average MLB game since 1998

So speeding up baseball games involves two initiatives.

  1. Reducing delays
  2. Getting more balls in play

One point that is frequently mentioned in regards to the length of baseball games is the increasing use of relief pitchers.

First of all, here's the statistics on starting pitchers across a 16-year period.

33.5 Percent of innings thrown by starters in MLB games in 2014
32.2 Percent of innings thrown by starters in MLB games in 1998
  • Essentially, starters go just as long today as they did in 1998.
  • So the problem is not that relief pitchers come in sooner. The problem is that managers are using more relief pitchers to pitch the same number of innings at the end of games.
14,400 Pitching changes in MLB in 2014
2500 Approximate increase in pitching changes since 1998
  • Of course, every pitching change, especially those during a half inning, slows down the game.

We've talked here before about the record number of strikeouts in today's baseball with a new record set in 2014 for the seventh year in a row.

  • Obviously, a batter who strikes out sees at least three pitches and usually many more, counting foul balls.
  • Also, strikeouts are boring. Every one of them results in no ball in play for that at-bat, reducing the amount of action during the game.

But the increased number of strikeouts is not just due to more pitchers throwing 95+ or batters swinging hard even with two strikes.

  • A study of the strike zone started in 2009 has shown that the bottom of the zone has expanded by 40 square inches since that time.
  • Also, with two strikes on the batter, deliveries take an average of more than three seconds longer. In 2014, more than half of all plate appearances reached two strikes.
  • It is no coincidence that, since the zone started expanding in 2009, 11 minutes have been added to the average length of games.

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About This Site
This site is devoted primarily but not exclusively to college and pro football. The unique feature of this site is the publication each fall of the author's rankings of all FBS college football teams and similar rankings for the NFL. I live in New Orleans and am a graduate of LSU and FSU. So I present a Southern and particularly an SEC point of view but one that is reasonably objective. I also publish a monthly Football Magazine with stories from the past and a monthly Baseball Magazine with a similar format. During the winter and spring, there's a monthly Basketball Magazine.

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