Crisis begats change, and the coronavirus pandemic certainly qualifies as a crisis. We’re all affected to one extent or another, but sports are really taking it in the shorts, as we used to say in our own vulgar but accurate analogy.
Athletics have been wiped off the fall calendar for most California State University schools, and spring prep sports were stopped in mid-season like a photographic freeze-frame. The NFL is pressing on for what might end up being a fan-free season and Major League Baseball is fussing with a variety of jury-rigged partial season possibilities.
What’s interesting to me is not the cobbled-together versions under discussion now, but how all this might transform next year and next season. There’s been some discussion bubbling under the surface to re-align the league structure for both the NFL and MLB.
Under the present mess, temporary regroupings are aimed at reducing traffic (especially air travel) and offering simpler logistics. Cracks are already starting to show in the national consensus about “stay-at-home” measures, and no one knows how this will all play out once a vaccine is developed.
(Side note: A vaccine is not a cure, and there’s no guarantee how effective it might be, or when it will be mass-produced or available).
The National Football League and Major League Baseball are each the marriage of two once-separate organizations. The original NFL’s conglomeration survives – mostly – as the National Football Conference, and the American Football League’s successor is the American Football Conference.
And, of course, the American League and the National League in baseball were once rivals and interacted only for a week in October for the World Series.
All those traditions are now fading into distant memory. Who can remember the New York Titans or the St. Louis Browns? Who can recall a time before the DH, helmet microphones or wild card teams?
So, is it time to rethink the way teams are aligned? Shouldn’t the Angels and the Dodgers be in the same division? Shouldn’t the Giants and Jets battle for the same title? How about the (baseball) Cardinals and Kansas City Royals?
Interleague play has scratched some of that itch in baseball. Another factor is attendance. Fans want to see the top teams and top players, and a radical change extinguishing the old alliances would work against that.
There are, however remedies for such. The public craving for pro football seems to know no limits, so let’s lengthen the season to 18 games and expand the rosters to allow for the more injuries likely to result from the longer campaign.
In baseball, it’s ridiculous for the AL to have the designated hitter (along with nearly every hardball group on the planet), while the NL does not. Also, why does the big league hierarchy move so slowly (cue metaphor of molasses going uphill in the summer) about speeding up the game and bringing it into the 21st century?
Pete is not necessarily advocating for any of these changes next week. But sometimes it takes an earthquake to loosen up the foundations of institutions that could use a little push into a brighter future.
Pete Zarustica’s “Centerfield” column is posted on Mondays and – frankly – he can’t wait for there to be actual sports to write about.