Looking ahead to 2009

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 3, 2009

By Jim Souhan
Minneapolis Star Tribune
The great thing about sports is that what is wrong with sports can be fixed by anyone with a TV, a brain and a backbone, which exempts college presidents, NFL commissioners among others.
So here are my 2009 New Year’s Sporting Revolutions:
It’s so simple even a college president can grasp it: Take the eight best teams in the country, slot them into seeded brackets and let them play each other.
It’s called a “playoff.” Who knows, it might even work in college basketball.
This radical system would employ the seven current best bowl sites in the country ó including, I’m sure, Detroit ó and propel college football past the NFL in terms of mass appeal.
This year, you’d have something like Texas Tech playing Florida, Utah against Oklahoma, Penn State against Texas and USC against Alabama. That puts to shame the mediocre matchups the NFL is offering this weekend, and could lead to such dramatic pairings as Florida-USC and Texas-Oklahoma. You’d have underdogs, superpowers, high profit margins, incredible ratings and a true champion. College presidents apparently would rather sort through Sartre.
Lesser programs (Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Notre Dame) may play in lesser bowl games, but may not celebrate if they win.
Also: Sneak a peek at the NFL, where Tony Dungy and Mike Tomlin coach the NFL’s two most dangerous teams ó and where Dungy and Lovie Smith faced each other in a Super Bowl ó and don’t be afraid to hire the occasional black head coach instead of another Gene Chizik.
It’s actually a pretty good league, as Minneapolis will find out if it can ever land an NBA franchise.
A couple of suggestions:
Each team can put no more than eight tattoos on court at one time. And from now on, any player taking more than five steps without dribbling should be called for traveling.
During the non-conference schedule, colleges bearing a state name (Minnesota, Texas Tech) may play only against other schools bearing a state name, the name of a large city, or a name that the average fan can locate on a map.
You want to play High Point? Call it a scrimmage and let the public watch for free. You want to play Louisville (which is, as any former Clem Haskins-era Minnesota student-athlete can tell you, a state)? You can charge full price.
Stop fining players for making hard hits and snow angels.
You want to act tough, Roger Goodell? Bust steroids, not diuretics. Bust players who lead with the crown of the helmet, not exemplary wide receivers that inject a little fun into a long, brutal season by making a snow angel in the end zone.
Eliminate the neutral zone trap and any other gimmick defenses that depress scoring.
When Marian Gaborik ó or even an active player, such as Alex Ovechkin ó tries to go end to end, he shouldn’t have to fight through the TSA, the Secret Service and the Vikings’ defensive line to score a goal.
If you’re the NHL commissioner, or even if you’re Gary Bettman, you should crave the kind of scoring and excitement that might win back the casual fans who can no longer find the game on TV without divining rod and bloodhound.
Also, any GM insisting on listing injuries as “upper body/lower body” will be subject to severe beatings about their upper and lower body.
Keep looking for ways to speed up games, like maybe letting Delmon Young bat every inning.
Let the players use their hands. And bats.
Anyone who screams during a youth game ó coach, parent, Dick Vitale ó will be fined the equivalent of the Twins’ payroll or Alex Rodriguez’s divorce settlement, whichever is larger.