Thursday, June 15, 2006

Sports Glut Routs Sports Glutton

Something had to give. Telecasts of world-class sports events began yesterday at 9 a.m. and ran well towards midnight. They begin again today at 9 and will also last until midnight.
The World Cup. The Stanley Cup. The NBA Finals. The US Open. The Phillies (my team) vs. the Mets on ESPN Wednesday night. And of course, nighty Red Sox games.
How is the devout fan and ex-professional supposed to catch all the aforementioned action in a 39 hour period while making spare time for such non-essentials as dropping off the dry cleaning, looking for work, walking the dog, eating, sleeping, etc? Short answer, he can't. Triage is necessary.
One event had to be abandoned as a lost cause when the fan's eyes began blurring at approximately 10 p.m. EDT last evening. Care to guess which? Come on, it's easy. Multiply me by 250 million other US citizens. We're Gary Bettman's nightmare.
OF COURSE I clicked off the set in the tied period of Edmonton's stirring overtime win against the Carolina Hurrican to force the Stanley Cup Finals to Game Six. When in doubt, the American sports fan drops the NHL. The NHL dropped itself for a whole year last season, and the effect on my rooting life was minimal, no, to be honest, non-existent.
Too bad. Hockey is a wonderful sport to watch, fast, violent, melodramatic. Everyone associated with the game is stone crazy, too, a definite plus from my viewpoint. But the World Cup is only once every four years, and I can watch a game over breakfast, and so the NHL becomes a victim of an overcrowded calendar. It's a matter of priorities. Also weather. In mid-June, it's hard to bond with a sport played on ice. I got my annual high-stakes hockey fix watching the Olympics in February. Much more satisfactory from a set and setting standpoint.
What the NHL SHOULD do is shorten its interminable regular season and playoff schedule so it's playing its showcase event at a time when there are fewer big events taking place-like before Memorial Day. Given a choice between a Cup Final and a second or third-round NBA playoff game, I and many other would opt to follow hockey on the "higher stakes mean higher interest" principle.
Sports leagues, of course, NEVER shorten their seasons. It means committing the original sin of leaving money on the table. Knowing that, here's another suggestion for commissioner Bettman and his forlorn stepchild of a sports league
For the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals, the NHL should embed hundreds of little lime slices in the ice.


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