Experimenting with Pro Sports

Here's a very interesting article about the NHL's R&D program:

The truth is, such a mess would be improbable at best on Bettman’s watch. Under him, the NHL, sometimes under fierce criticism, has become perhaps the most research-friendly of the major professional team sports leagues in North America when it comes to the conduct and rules of the game. It wasn’t always so. In 1998, when the league had a Fox TV contract and arranged for a Las Vegas IHL game to be played in a four-quarter format, the experimentation was met with catcalls. The improvised research and development camp held toward the end of the 2004-’05 lockout was viewed as a desperation measure.

But the more carefully planned R & D camp held last month has mostly been welcomed and applauded. The scrimmages, held at the Maple Leafs’ practice facility on Aug. 18 and 19, featured some jarring, Martian-looking innovations. The players—who were, in an attention-getting wrinkle, mostly top junior stars eligible for the 2011 draft—road-tested everything from two-on-two overtime to shallower nets to having the second referee view the play from an elevated off-ice platform. On day two, viewers were confronted with the bizarre spectacle of the traditional five faceoff circles being replaced by three, running up the middle of the rink.

Such an exercise is unique among the staple North American sports. If major league baseball’s powers-that-be ever got a notion to play experimental games using five bases and four strikes, they would surely do so on a closely guarded Pacific atoll.

My roommate in college once stated that the NBA would be infinitely more interesting if they put circles on the floor at various places between the three point lines and were rewarded with higher points the farther away the circle was from the basket.  So if you hit a shot from beyond half court you'd get six points.  I laughed at first, but the more I thought about it the more I liked it.  Actually I thought that you could set up zones in between the three point lines (circles being a little to easy to guard). I really think it would bring about the rise of the "designated heaver" which might keep some old guys in the league much like the designated hitter does in baseball.

Oh, and don't get me started on baseball.  Anything they can do to keep me awake past the third inning would be welcome.

2 thoughts on “Experimenting with Pro Sports

  1. Pete

    It’s true Gary Bettman is a shyster. When he came to hockey he thought icing was something you put on a cake, the blue line a subway route. He has continued to convince owners to cheapen the game to make it more fan friendly, eliminate fighting and have higher scoring games. Now we have soccer style shoot outs points in the standings awarded for losing, less fighting and more cheap hits and scoring that remains about the same level. It’s no more fan friendly than when he took the helm. In the words of the immortal Flyers coach Fred Shero, “If it’s pretty skating they want, send ’em to the Ice Capades.” In fact the NHL lost it’s TV contract with a major cable network during his watch. Hockey is a great but little understood sport in the Greater US. It’s one based on lacrosse as played by ancient peoples who played for keeps i.e. to the death. So excuse the occasional fisticuffs. Bettman has done well in the financial areas of the game and should leave it at that. The fastest team game on two feet should be left to the those who play it best. The pros.

  2. Jon Lowder

    Thanks for the comment Pete. I miss some of the old hockey, but truth
    be told Im probably not the best judge one way or the other. Im a
    very casual fan and so I hesitate to offer much evaluation. I do like
    the idea of any sport or business testing new ideas in a skunk works
    atmosphere so that they can avoid disasters like Sterns basketball
    experiment in the NBA. I also think its important to preserve the
    integrity of a sport. So while Id find it hard to argue with the NHL
    requiring helmets even though I was a Rod Langway fan, Id squawk big
    time if they did something like changing the size of the puck.
    BTW I think hockeys one of those sports thats much better live than
    on TV. I was lucky enough to get glass side seats to see the Flyers at
    the old Spectrum and I was hooked!


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