Pete: Who’s on your team, America?


MEMORIAL DAY this year seems to highlight how divided the people of the United States of America are (Shutterstock).

We seem to be nearly as divided now as the country was in Civil War times, with little tolerance for The Other Guy in our vain insistence that “we” are the only ones who are right, and that “the other side” is totally wrong, and perhaps even “evil.”

In a metaphor from sports, this is the guy (or “gal”) for whom every penalty or foul against My Team is wrong and possibly purchased, and that any call that goes against the Other Team is correct, justified and altogether overdue.

It reminds one of Ring Lardner’s “Alibi Ike,” a baseball player who – in his own mind – never took a called third strike, was never fairly tagged out at second and who was robbed constantly of diamond justice by cheating opponents, blind umpires and the moronic field manager who made out the lineup card.

It’s been said that sports builds character, or reveals character. On this 25th of May, the national sense of fair play and brotherhood seems as empty as the playing fields.

Playing around with the playoffs

The major sports leagues aren’t the only athletic organizations tinkering around with post-season play. Some of it is prompted by the impact of the coronavirus, but some by the altogether human tendency to break it even it doesn’t need fixing.

In the National Hockey League, there’s a plan floating around to complete the unfinished 2019-2020 season with a two-phased tournament, with all games played in one of two “hub” cities, according to the Los Angeles Times.

That doesn’t seem to be a bad idea, except for the notion of who’s invited to the party. It seems that every team in the NHL with a record of .500 and over qualifies for the playoffs. That eliminates our locals, the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings, who don’t belong in the post-season anyway.

What grinds my gears a bit is the volume of teams that did make it in. Seventy-seven percent of the teams would qualify for this “championship” tournament, reducing the accomplishment of making the playoffs to the equivalent of a participation trophy.

It reminds one of the dark period of the NBA in the late 60s, when eight of 10 teams made the playoffs. The only criterion was “Not In Last Place.”

This, of course, is all about money. Nothing wrong with that, except that sometimes when you try to enrich yourself, you cheapen the product you’re selling.

A few notches down the sports totem pole is the new football playoff scheme approved by the CIF-SS for fall 2020, assuming there is a season in the fall.

The much-tweaked system of determining gridiron champions got another twist last week when the high school sports gods decided to arrange playoff decisions on the rankings from a system adopted from CalPreps.

IS THE NEW football playoff for CIF-SS this fall a touchdown or fumble? (Orange County Tribune photos by Dave Simpson).

The playoff divisions will be based on how you did this season, not a combination of this and recent seasons. You won’t know which division you’re in until the regular campaign is over.

There will be no CIF-SS football polls during the season, which in the past have built fan interest and gave coaches a hint as to who they might play next week. Scouting will require some degree of magic.

To me, this just increases the pressure to professionalize high school sports. Under the guise of “competitive equity,” long-time rivalries, local leagues and the concept of the neighborhood school are all crumbling. It’ll be like Mickey Rooney marriages: who are we with this week?

We seem on the edge of (publically) paying college athletes. What with nationally-televised games and “sports academies” masquerading as high schools, how much longer before we’ll see that filter down to the prep level … if it hasn’t already.

Pete Zarustica’s column is posted on Mondays.




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