New Year's Resolution: Cut Back Sports

By Tim Joyce

You can't go home again. Well, maybe you can.

LeBron James made more unwelcome news last week when he implied that contraction of teams would be a good idea for the NBA. Whether or not one deems James' declarations newsworthy, the notion that contraction might be healthy should not be ignored. In fact, contraction or reduction or cutting back - whatever one wants to call it - in the sports world may be the one thing that is needed in 2011.

The cliché that more is not necessarily better is an absolute truth in sports. We have greatly overloaded the sports landscape, and it is about time that bold action is taken to preserve the integrity and validity of sports before oversaturation morphs into irrelevance.

With the New Year upon us, there's no better time for the powers that be to make a resolution to mimic the supposed urgent intentions of contemporary politicians who want to slash unnecessary expenditures. In sports, the parallel would be to halt expansion and return to a simpler time.

One of the guiding principles of this country has been an unerring embrace of the future, technologically or otherwise. But the downside of this aggressive view is a sudden and stubborn adherence to new ways of doing things. And this can have negative consequences.

The idea of returning to the way things were years or even decades ago is often treated as anathema. The purist or traditionalist is considered nothing more than an amusing, nostalgic-obsessed Luddite.

Yet other areas of entertainment and recreation can serve as object lessons for sports.

Consider music. Digital is thought to be the easiest and most effective way to compress and distribute the art form. But as it turns out, the vinyl LP from the past - actually, only a couple of decades past - that was so roundly criticized as being a dinosaur is far more lush and easier to listen to and is gaining greater appreciation again.

Another point of comparison is the beverage most associated with sports, beer. Over the last 20 years, the number of craft and microbreweries in this country has exploded, creating a renaissance in the way one thinks of beer. Though still a fractional portion of the market share, microbrewed beer is now an entrenched segment of the industry, and people can enjoy the way beer is supposed to taste. Past is prologue, right?

The overall trend of returning to the organic, most manifested in environmental circles, is indeed part of the mainstream.

So maybe it's time for sports to gradually find solace in the not-too-distant past.

Nowhere is there a greater, more immediate cry to return to simpler times than with college football. RealClearSports colleagues Art Spander and Sam Chi have adeptly articulated this viewpoint on the BCS. It is clear to everyone, even non-college football experts like myself, that the current college football postseason system has robbed the fan of the anticipation, excitement and relevance of the way the bowl season used to be. How can a young fan sustain interest in the college game with such a plethora of late December and January games?

When universality is tossed out of the equation, meaning and relevance follow. Think of a young fan trying to follow the college game. How is one supposed to attach significance to any one game? When there were just four major bowl games - the Rose, Sugar, Orange and Cotton - there was a clear distinction.

Nearly every sport needs a makeover, and some sports have actually accomplished this to some degree. Baseball rid itself of the abomination of artificial turf. But there remains the issue of the designated hitter and the specter of an expanded postseason. With tennis, traditionalists have forever bemoaned the invasion of larger rackets. And even golf, where the guardians of the game have a stricter hand in maintaining standards, discussion has been intense regarding the artificial power and accuracy built into equipment.

Is it impossible to expect leagues to decrease the number of teams eligible for the posetseason? Or for there to be fewer teams participating in bowl games? Yes. But it can't hurt to try.

Award-winning columnist Tim Joyce provides regular commentary for RealClearSports. His work has also appeared in Yahoo.com, MSNBC.com, and Tennis Week. Email: joyce.timothy@gmail.com

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