Ann Coulter doesn’t want to hear this but Americans can learn a lot from watching World Cup soccer, namely some of the changes that need to occur in the most popular sports in this country. It is first important to acknowledge that World Cup soccer is not perfect. There is still much too much flopping and the occasional lack of scoring, especially in the ongoing knockout rounds, is perplexing. But, on the whole, the 2014 World Cup has opened many Americans’ eyes to the beauty and efficiency of soccer.
Let’s start there, efficiency. Watching a World Cup soccer game is a modest investment in time especially when compared to the dedication and patience required to survive a MLB game or the final 2 minutes of a NBA playoff game. A typical World Cup match takes less than 2 hours and this includes limited interruptions for commercials. In the crunch time of a playoff basketball game it is impossible to keep track of all the stoppages in play and the continuity of the game is greatly disrupted.
Basketball should take its cues from soccer and limit, or eliminate, timeouts. Coaches won’t appreciate this idea because they’ll claim that this will affect their ability to strategize and make adjustments but isn’t that what practices and halftime are for? Networks like ESPN will object because this could impact advertising dollars but fewer commercials has not affected the ratings/revenue of the World Cup. Throw a few logos and endorsements on jerseys, a distinct possibility in the NBA, and corporations will still be getting their money’s worth.
Managing the clock, or lack thereof, in baseball is much more difficult but should be discussed because, and I know a lot of purists don’t want to hear this, our National Pastime no longer captivates the attention of young people across wide swaths of this country. This is a gross, irrational generalization because baseball is alive and well in certain regional pockets of the United States but as a 35 year old former college baseball player it’s very hard for me to sit through all 9 innings of a MLB baseball game.
If baseball wants to recapture the imagination of Americans as a whole then it needs to be more like World Cup soccer and come up with a few inventive ways to shorten the length of an average game. The obvious time saving measures are to put pitchers on pitch clocks and prevent hitters from stepping out of the batters box. But how about MLB really take a page from the World Cup and only allow teams to make 3 substitutions per game? Pitchers, especially relievers, would have to grow accustomed to throwing more pitches but just imagine all the time saved when you no longer have managers meandering out to the mound every other batter to make another late inning lineup adjustment.
We Americans consider ourselves leaders not followers but as this World Cup is proving, it’s time to learn from others and make changes to improve the entertainment value of our most popular sports.