Sunday, August 25, 2013

Toweling off is mostly a habit for tennis players

The end of summer has a few indicators, some more scientific than others. There's the coffee shops that start peddling their pumpkin-flavored brews, the Minnesota State Fair starting more than a week prior to Labor Day (known as the unofficial end of summer to Minnesotans) and here's the sports one: Players hit the tennis courts in Flushing Meadows for the U.S. Open. The tournament begins Monday.

The U.S. Open is one of the fun grand slams to watch, partly because of the convenience of matches being held in a near-by time zone. In anticipation of the major tournament, ESPN Classic showed classic U.S. Open matches last week.

So far, I've come across a women's final in 1981, where the racquets most certainly looked different than today; a rival match between Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe from 1984, still before my time and a display of men's short-shorts; and a 2004 quarterfinal between Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati.

Time capsules
It's always fun to watch old sporting events. It's a fun little time capsule. The '04 match had some controversial line calls, which resulted in an outburst from Serena and had the commentators begging for video replays. Their wish was granted two years later.

The main thing I noticed however, was how quickly players went from one point to the next. And the absence of toweling off after each point. It was great.

Time to knock the habit
Maybe I've said it before, but I grow annoyed with the habit players have these days of using a beach towel to wipe their face, arms and racquet after points. I say habit because that's what it is. Force of habit.

If you watch your opponent double fault, do you really need to towel off? Or after the first point of the match? Or a short rally?

I'm not saying it isn't necessary sometimes, but the habit doesn't even seem to be about the need anymore. I also don't think players are abusing the privilege by taking too much time in between points. (I'm sure there are some kind of rules in place.) But I wouldn't be surprised if matches were shortened up a bit, time-wise, if players didn't gesture for a linesperson to hand them a towel after each point.

Bring back sweatbands
Whatever happened to wearing sweat bands on your wrists? One of the players in the '81 match rubbed her face on those a number of times. Maybe that's just not cool anymore, much like the shorts McEnroe and Connors once fashioned.

I'm really not trying to pick on tennis too much here as far as the speed of play goes. After all, they have time rules in place for things like changeovers and medical timeouts. I just wouldn't mind seeing it taken a step further and keep towel use at a minimum.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

MLB looks to expand instant replay with challenges

As I scanned some headlines today, I saw the Major League Baseball plans to expand the instant replay feature in 2014.  It's an effort to help with the number of blown calls by umpires.

Baseball owners will vote on the move in November, needing 75 percent approval, and the players' association and umpires would also need to approve any changes. The replay expansion would give managers one challenge over the first six innings of play, and then two from the seventh inning through the remainder of the game.

If a manager sees a call he thinks is incorrect, he can challenge the call with the home plate umpire or crew chief. A MLB crew headquartered in New York will replay the challenge and have the final say. If a play is non-reviewable, and therefore can't be challenged, managers can still argue the call. So, if you like seeing Twins manager Ron Gardenhire get red in the face and throw his hat around, you might still be in luck.

Don't slow it down
A concern throughout baseball, for some, is the pace of the game and how much slower it's gotten over the years. Doing anything to slow down baseball games probably wouldn't be a good idea. But these new replay changes will reportedly have a ruling back within 1 minute and 15 seconds. Current replays for home runs (which will be grandfathered into the new rules) take a little more than three minutes.

So that makes it seem alright. However, managers who win a challenge get to keep it (or lose it if you lose the challenge or don't use it at all). That creates a potential to have multiple challenges per game if both managers use them and win one or two. Then again, there really shouldn't be the need for that many challenges because there shouldn't be that many bad calls during one game.

If you're keeping track, MLB is the last of the four major sports to use a video replay system. It started back in August 2008.

Let's give it a try
I'd welcome the new instant replay rules for baseball. While I don't want to see the games slowed down, to me it's more important to have correct calls than whether a game can get done in under three hours. Being a sport without a clock, baseball games have lots of variables where they can range from two hours to four hours. That's just the way it goes.

This actually made me think of a project in my journalism ethics class from nearly five years ago when we had to present an Ethics Issue of the Day. I, of course, chose something sports related: Instant replay. I still even had my notes on my computer, because I can be an electronic pack rat.

Ethics Issue of the Day
I talked about what sports have instant replay or challenges: The National Football League, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, MLB and United States Tennis Association, but mostly I focused on baseball.

Every sport is different, but I really like the replays in tennis, which started in 2006. All a player has to do is indicate if he or she wants to challenge the last call, and then there's an immediate graphic on the video board, displaying where the ball landed. Sometimes it's just a hair on the line, but it still counts as in. The replay takes just a few seconds and then play resumes.

I also went over the defensible and indefensible ethical issues with instant replay. Things like video replay not fitting with the "spirit" of the sport and even with video review there may not be enough evidence to reverse the call.

Video replay can be a slippery slope because you can always expand it. Then it becomes a question of, where do we stop? I think it's reasonable right now for baseball to try the challenge and review process to try and eliminate some of those bad calls out there.