Since mid baseball season when the Atlantic League started implementing some speed up rules in their games coming up with ways to increase the pace of games…and by extension…the length of games has been tossed around.
The Arizona Fall League is continuing the experimentation even going so far as mounting a clock on the scoreboard to keep things moving.
Baseball which used to be played routinely in two hours or less– 100 years ago!–is at the forefront of considering changes, but all three of our professional sports have the same problem.
In both football and basketball mandatory time outs for television and radio have added to the length of games. In baseball the broadcast partners have had a role, but not as much as one might think. Teams change from offense to defense after every half inning which gives a built in break. It is true for post season games the networks require the time be lengthened, but for regular season games the break is limited to one minute, forty seconds. The problem is that is never is that short. The players are rarely ready for the first pitch that soon. Time can be saved there as well as requiring pitcher’s to deliver more quickly. That isn’t a real problem. Many already do. I recall doing play by play for an Astros game a few years back in which Roy Oswalt was working for Houston. We had all the normal mid inning breaks, but the game lasted only one hour, fifty minutes. It can be done.
While baseball is getting all the attention with some very good, but ridiculously long games in the post season don’t think both football and basketball don’t have pace issues. Anyone who actually attends an NFL game, for example, is hit immediately with the amount of “dead-time” on the field. While folks watching on TV may be heading to the kitchen for another snack or flipping to another game during the commercials, fans in the stands are watching a bunch of players stand around. No one is even warming up.
This problem is directly attributed to the need for excessive television commercials to pay the excessive fees the NFL has been able to negotiate. An NFL can’t last less than three hours. And teams that pass more slow things down even more.
Some of the teams have helped make things more interesting with short or no-huddle offenses which result in more plays being run. That means less time regrouping after every two yard struggle for yardage. But there are still plenty of times when the pace drags.
Soccer brags of continuous action. That is correct if action is defined as players moving around. For non soccer fans what is going on during the majority of play is not the sort of “action” they crave. But he games rarely run longer than two hours even when that mystery of when the clock is supposed to actually reach 0:00 is discovered. So pace–in the sense we are talking about it here is not a problem with soccer.
NBA basketball is experimenting with taking a minute off each quarter to shorten the game from 48 to 44 minutes. As much as anything this is to keep the star players on the court for a greater percentage of the game’s time. The real problem in the NBA–and college basketball as well is the mandatory television time outs AND the fact that coaches hoard their own time outs for the closing minutes of the game.
That makes the final two minutes of a typically close NBA game to last fifteen minutes or more. That needs to change.
Also needing to change is the strategy that was first noted during Wilt Chamberlain’s career and later became famous during the run of Shaquille O’Neill that became known as “Hack-a-Shaq.” Fouling the worst free throw shooter on the team in the closing minutes became the way to go. Rules were put in place to help curb the strategy, but it remains. And it slows down the end of games greatly–fouling to have a chance to get the ball back to either shoot a three point field goal or gain an advantage from the anticipated misses from the weak free throw shooter who was intentionally (or disguised intentionally) fouled.
There is an answer to that strategy to foul a poor shooter or a team with many of them and it goes back to when the game was invented. The designated foul shooter used to be in the basketball rules. In fact, it wasn’t until 1924 when the man fouled was required to shoot his own shots. I advocate not a designated foul shooter for the whole game or even whole team. What I suggest is the right for a coach to designate up to a certain number of foul shots during a game that a sub shooter could be used. If a team decided one way to get back into a game was to foul their opponents, the fouled team would have a specialist ready to go to the line. The game would also speed up if a team could take the ball instead of shooting foul shots if they preferred.
Baseball needs to work on pace, but I am afraid the most significant reason things have slowed may be hard to change. The game is not played the same as it was. More pitchers are used. Fewer swings result in balls in play. More pitches are thrown and counts are longer. All of that takes time. But if the way the game is played cannot be changed by rule at least making the pitchers throw more pitches in less time and keeping hitters in the box are a start.