Emmert's Awakening; Baseball's Decline; Giants' Power
As the heat turns up, the NCAA may be looking to get out of the kitchen.
Hapless and stunningly incompetent NCAA president Mark Emmert hinted at a new world order last week when speaking to a small group of reporters.
His organization has been under pressure from all sides—from athletes seeking a share of the billions they generate, from Congress to create an athlete bill of rights and national guidelines for NIL (name, image and likeness) compensation, from federal courts considering a host of potential anti-trust cases, and from member schools and conferences looking for leadership in establishing NIL standards, ensuring equality for women's sports and dealing with COVID.
So it came as a shock when last week, when Emmert acknowledged that the world has changed and suggested a smaller role for the NCAA, more decision-making power for conferences and individual schools, and a new structure where different sports were managed individually.
“For decades, 50 years or more, the tendency has been that anytime there's an issue or concern, it’s been moved up to a national rule,” Emmert said. "I’m confident we need to reconsider delegation of a lot of things that are now done at the national level…it should only be at that level if it's the only place it can get done, if that’s the only place it makes sense to have a rule developed and enforced.”
Emmert went on to admit that the NCAA's historical "everyone plays by the same rules" mantra may no longer be the right way to go. For decades, the organization has tried to force round pegs into square holes, basically trying to equate the needs of 1,200 members of different competition levels, sizes, and financial realities.
“We have had this tendency to be as homogenous as we can in treating every sport identically, and that doesn’t work,” he said. “We need to say field hockey is different from football and not get so hung up on having everything be the same.”
It remains to be seen how Emmert's awakening will translate into action.
And while it's somewhat mind-blowing that a man being paid over $2 million a year has just now realized that football must be treated differently than field hockey, all I can say is, 'better late than never.'
Baseball’s Decline: Columnist George Will, a man who reveres baseball, wrote a piece last week lamenting the decline of interest in our national pastime. He blamed it on"a slower pace of play, diminished action, fewer balls in play and more of them handled by radically repositioned infielders."
Will cited kinesiology that has increased pitchers' spin rates and velocity, and improved technology that has generated useful data about launch angles and batter tendencies, all of which have led to a game dominated by pitching, far fewer hits, and an obsession with home runs.
Will included some fascinating statistics. Five seasons ago, there were 3,294 more hits than strikeouts in major league baseball. Three seasons ago, strikeouts edged past hits…this season is on a pace for approximately 5,000 more strikeouts than hits.
Currently, some 24% of plate appearances end in strikeouts. Think about that, one out of every four at bats ends in a strikeout.
As of mid-June, the .238 collective major league batting average was 15 points below 2019. Much of that decline is due to repositioning players. In 2015, teams shifted infielders on 9.6% of all pitches, Will said. This season, teams are shifting on 32% (usually an infielder in shallow right field), which will erase hundreds of base hits.
I agree with Will's arguments, and add one other problem to the mix: too many relief pitchers. The number of pitchers per game (including both teams) has increased from five in 1980 to nine in 2019. That's a lot of time spent on guys jogging in from the bullpen and warming up before action resumes.
Go Figure: The San Francisco Giants, who own the best record in baseball, have suddenly become prolific home run hitters. So far this season, the local lads have hit 136 home runs. How does this compare, you might ask, with the Giants of past years?
It's quite astonishing actually. In only 92 games, the Giants have hit more home runs than in a full season of 162 games every year between 2011 and 2018, except 2015, when they had the same number The annual season totals: 2011 (121), 2012 (103), 2013 (107), 2014 (132), 2015 (136), 2016 (130), 2017 (128), 2018 (133).
It's clear the Giants, like so many other teams, have been swinging for the fences because it's getting more and more difficult to get hits with the over-shifted defenses.
One idea that would end this nonsense would be to require all teams to position two infielders on both sides of second base and to require that the infielders be stationed on infield dirt and not on outfield grass.
Fans everywhere would celebrate the change.