Acting as Commissioner of a professional sports league cannot be an easy job. It requires business savvy, knowledge of the law, negotiating skills, and the ability to wade through piles of criticism while maintaining a tough, confident appearance. Most of the job responsibilities aren’t glamorous, and the hours are long. Commissioners are rarely praised and often vilified. For the most part, I think the four Commissioners, David Stern (NBA), Roger Goodell (NFL), Bud Selig (MLB), and Gary Bettman (NHL), do a pretty decent job. But every fan wonders what it would be like to be in charge. We’d all love to take the ownership reigns of our favorite team for a week, but how does one attempt to change an entire league? Well, like this for starters.
NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION
The first thing I’d address as NBA Commissioner is what I like to call the “redundancy factor.” The league’s biggest problem is that 75 percent of its teams are almost irrelevant. This is a league that revolves around seven or eight franchises at the most. The conversation, the media, and the telecasts, focus on these so-called elite teams like the Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, Mavericks, Heat, and Magic. The rest of the league is barely worth talking about and that has to change. The gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” has to close for the NBA to become an all-around better product, because when only a few teams have an actual shot to win a title before the season even starts, then why is the regular season interesting? Where’s the drama? Right now, we’re all just biding our time until the playoffs start. In my mind, the best way to solve this problem is contraction. I know it’s a dirty word, but it’s time. Too many small market teams (Milwaukee, Utah, Sacramento) acquire star players only to see them bolt in a couple years for one of the big cities. The teams that can hold onto stars are eventually forced to trade them away because the players have too much power (i.e. Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams). Getting rid of six teams would help bring the league back into a better competitive balance. Talent wouldn’t be spread so thin, and increased parity is the result. In other words, a more interesting, compelling NBA than what we have right now. It gives me no pleasure to do it, but I’m taking the ax to these teams:
New Orleans Hornets – This is an NFL town, obsessed with the Saints. It’s never been a great NBA market and the numbers prove it. This year the Hornets have the league’s eighth lowest attendance.
Sacramento Kings – Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins are young promising players, but the Kings have been awful for too long. They play in an ugly, outdated arena in the middle of nowhere and have become a complete afterthought in the minds of NBA fans.
Indiana Pacers – Sorry Larry Bird. I know Indiana is a basketball-loving state, but the high school and college game remain much more popular than the Pacers. I know there were some glory days in the 90’s with Reggie Miller, but now Indianapolis belongs to Peyton Manning and the Colts. Stick with supporting the Hoosiers, making the Indy 500 matter again, and forget about the Pacers.
Charlotte Bobcats – Sorry Michael Jordan. Even the greatest player of all-time can’t save this franchise. The Bobcats are just like the Pacers. In North Carolina, college hoops is king. If you live outside of Charlotte and can name more than three players on the Bobcats’ roster, you’re a dork. This team has yet to attract a player with any star power and there’s not much reason to expect one anytime soon.
Milwaukee Bucks – If you’re like me, you often have to remind yourself that there is in fact an NBA franchise in Milwaukee. The Bucks are that irrelevant. For the last nine seasons, the Bucks have either missed the playoffs or lost in the first round. Milwaukee is a Brewers town, I don’t think too many hearts would break over the departure of the Bucks.
Toronto Raptors – This one is simple…Canadians don’t care. Toronto already suffers with the Maple Leafs underachieving, does the city really need to be subjected to the Raptors too? Playing basketball in Canada should be part of the witness protection program. If you don’t want to be recognized or bothered in public, and you don’t want to make a lot of money, take your talents to Toronto. It’s the Siberia of the NBA.
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
It’s hard to mess with the greatest pro sports league in the world, but even the best can get better. I love some of things Roger Goodell has put in place since taking over for Paul Tagliabue. The league’s personal conduct policy should be adopted by all major sports. The policy holds players accountable for their actions and serves as a gentle reminder that their behavior reflects poorly on their team and the league as a whole. It’s tough, its firm, and it was long overdue.
I don’t like the recent wussification of the NFL. Football is a contact sport and a violent game. To change that by forcing tacklers to take it easy and think before they hit, is to fundamentally change the game. I’m all for fining and suspending players for intentional shots to the head. I understand the concern about concussions and life-altering injuries. No one wants to see a player paralyzed or killed, but these players all understand the risk involved with football. What I’m seeing now is fines for big hits with a shoulder into an opponent’s chest. What used to be considered hard, clean football is now viewed as dirty and malicious. I’d re-examine this policy, and look at each big hit on a case by case basis.
And now for some rule changes. First, overtime needs a complete overhaul. I’d scrap this first-team-to- score-wins garbage, and institute college overtime rules. Each team gets the ball at the opponent’s 25-yard line, there is no clock, and we play as many overtime periods as necessary to determine a winner. It’s simple, it’s fair, and it works. Second, pass interference will no longer be a spot foul. Too many games are dramatically changed by desperate heaves down the field which result in the receiver and defensive back getting tangled up. The DB is flagged and the other team gets the ball at the one-yard line. What other penalty in the game can cost you 60 yards and touchdown? It’s ridiculous the way this rule is slanted toward the offense. Again, college football gets this right. I’d make pass interference a 15-yard penalty with an automatic first down. This is still a stiff punishment to the defense, but not a penalty that can’t be overcome. Receivers get away with murder, and corners get flagged for heavy breathing. Not in my NFL.
If I could institute a rule to eliminate kickers, believe me, I would.
MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
I’ve railed against baseball before, but I want to see the sport improve so I’m taking this role as Commissioner very seriously. I’ll start with the most glaring problem. Baseball season is mind-numbingly long. 162 games? Tack on spring training and you’ve got a season that spans ten months! Does it really take that many games to figure out which teams are the best? Half the teams are out of playoff contention by June. My first act as Commissioner is to shorten the season to 120 games. Under my new format, each game means more and the regular season becomes more intriguing. Fewer games, means fewer injuries and fresher players in the postseason. A shorter season also means the World Series can wrap up in September. The entire regular season is played in good weather; now the most important games won’t be subjected to freezing temperatures.
I’m giving kudos to Bud Selig for trying to make the All-Star game matter. But Bud, the All-Star game doesn’t need to matter. It should be an exhibition only. To award home field advantage in the World Series to the winning League is asinine. The team with the best record in the regular season should get home field advantage. This is a no-brainer. Bud Selig is telling you to care about 162 games, when home field actually comes down to one game. The logic is skewed. As Commissioner, I’m making this change effective immediately.
I’m also making instant replay mandatory in every stadium. The technology exists; we’re just being stubborn if we don’t utilize it. I know baseball purists say human error is part of the game, but getting the call correct on the field is more important to me than the so-called sanctity of the sport. Balls and strikes can still be called the old-fashioned way, but everything else is subject to replay.
NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE
This is my favorite of all the professional sports leagues. It would be a dream come true to work for the NHL, let alone run the whole show. I love this sport, and I love the post-lockout rule changes that made the game better to watch. Speaking from a purely biased standpoint, hockey players are the most skilled athletes in the world. The last thing I want to do as Commissioner is screw up this beautiful game with its combination of power, speed, and finesse. Take one look at the standings this season, and you’ll see the NHL has fantastic parity. The Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in all of sports, and it’s extremely hard to predict what’s going to happen on any given night. That is the best sign of a healthy league. Do you hear me NBA??? I’m gushing here, I know. I just wish other sports fans would recognize the greatness of hockey.
To me, marketing is the single biggest failure of the NHL. Casual fans may know Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, but they can’t name any other stars. As Commissioner, I’d launch an aggressive marketing campaign in the United States centered on players from many teams with many backgrounds. If fans can see more of these players, and get to know more of these players, the game of hockey can experience growth in the American markets. I want our NHL stars to have more endorsement deals with corporate America. This is good for our players and gives us more saturation in the consumer market. I’d also work tirelessly to bring hockey telecasts back to a mainstream cable network like ESPN. Right now NBC shows one game per week, and most other national telecasts are on Versus, a cable channel only appearing in a small number of households. I would never expect America to become a hockey-crazed nation like Canada. I would expect TV ratings to go up and see an increase in attendance throughout the league.
I believe these are simple, realistic changes that can be made to every league. My job as Commissioner is done and its back to being a regular fan. With no power, comes no responsibility.