Still getting the kinks out of the new system. If you thought yesterday was a slow day for televised sports… and you loved it! You’re going to love today even more.

Tour de France: Today it starts at 7 a.m. and repeats later on in prime-time. There’s a little bit of danger here, because if your fan is liable to say something like “well, I don’t normally watch ____ but it’s the most important/exciting/dramatic day/game” then today would be the day.

Baseball: As the Marx Brothers would say, “Thursday was a double-header, nobody show up.” The game selection today is weaker than it was yesterday. No nationally televised games.

Bupkus: Not that it is the only sports network, but using ESPN as a bellwether is usually reasonable. ESPN and ESPN2 tonight in prime-time are showing the World Cup of Softball and a replay of this year’s Home Run Derby respectively.

If there is ever a night for the Muppets Take Manhattan, Spies Like Us, or Trading Spaces, this is it!

Even for mid-summer, this is a pretty low-key day in sports.

  • Tour de France: 8:00 a.m. with repeats on throughout the day. Stage 17 from Gap to Pinerolo is a pretty big one, but cycling is a pretty niche sport. You know if you’re in trouble, but you’re probably not.
  • Baseball: When the marquee match-up of the night, the one game on national television, is a game that I will be attending, you know the schedule is pretty weak. (Cardinals vs. Mets at 8:00) The only really interesting game of the night is the rematch of Red Sox vs. Orioles because the last game they played led to this wimpy brawl.
  • Soccer: The nationally televised game of the night is a “friendly” between Real Madrid and Guadalajara. This actually may be a big deal if your sports fan is of Spanish or Mexican descent.

Television Monopolization Index

Many of you will remember the humorously colored terror scale that was put into place shortly after September 11, 2001. It was called the Homeland Security Advisory System. Whether or not it was effective is a question for Dear Cranky Political Guy, but it was widely mocked. For example, a website called imao.com vamped back in 2003 on what the colors meant for various things:

I hear a noise at night.
*Green: That’s just the house settling; go back to sleep.
*Blue: Probably nothing, but you better check it out.
*Yellow: Grab your gun and call 911.
*Orange: No time for police; run through your house shooting anything that moves.
*Red: Initiate the house’s auto-destruct sequence; leap out window.
You see a hippy.
*Green: Punch him.
*Blue: Kick him.
*Yellow: Punch him then kick him.
*Orange: Punch him then kick him and then stomp on him.
*Red: Strangle him.

We here at Dear Sports Fan decided that now that the Department of Homeland Security is no longer using a color scale… we should! So without further ado, we give you the Television Monopolization Index. We hope it serves everyone who shares a television with a sports fan. We feel your pain.

Severe: Yeah, just give up on this one because not only are you not going to win but your protestations will not even be audible over the sound of rushing blood in your sports fan’s ears. You don’t have to understand it, you just have to know it’s true.
Examples: Super Bowl, World Series, March Madness, or any playoff game involving his or her favorite team.

High: It’s pretty bad. On the one hand, you will not get any reliable answers regarding anything of any import – on the other hand, this might be a great time to mention that you are planning to adopt a puppy and thank your sports fan for agreeing to walk it every morning. (Try to get something it writing.)
Examples: Any playoff game or final match in a tournament.

Elevated: You can cash in a chip here and make a stink – you may have a shot at eye contact, making out (if that’s what you and your sports fan are into) or even scrabble (again, are you into that? try it while making out…) This is a fantastic game to suggest watching in a bar where alcohol could really tip the tables in your favor.
Examples: A regular season game for a favorite team or a game that’s going to be water-cooler talk tomorrow.

Guarded: The romantic comedy might need a few guns (think Gross Pointe Blank) or some serious eye candy (Lost in Translation or The English Patient) but a compromise is entirely possible.
Examples: Any game in a sport that your fan likes and follows.

Low: The night is yours. Make some popcorn and turn on whatever you want.
Examples: Women’s dead-lifting, the first 25 miles of a televised marathon, the first six days of a cricket match.

Watch out for daily updates to the TMI, exclusively on DearSportsFan.com!

What is the Most Challenging Ball Sport? The Least?

Dear Sports Fan,

What do you consider the most physically challenging sport that involves a ball? The least?

Thanks,
Crystal

— — —

Okay, so bocce is not the most physically challenging... but is it a sport?

Hey Crystal,

I’m glad you said “physically challenging” rather than simply “challenging.” That makes this a much easier question for me to answer because it rules out baseball. Baseball (only nominally a sport as far as I’m concerned) is extremely technically challenging but virtually no one would say it is the most physically challenging sport. I’m glad you specified that the sport should involve a ball because that rules out hockey, ballet, and cycling. All three of those sports are incredibly physically grueling often to the point of seriously damaging the people who play them.

The most physically challenging ball sport has to be water polo. I know I’ve mentioned water polo before so attentive readers may be thinking that I just have a thing for water polo. But seriously — imagine swimming and treading water for 32 minutes.[1] That’s exhausting enough! Now add playing a sport which involves a lot of time treading water without your hands and arms and tons of times when you drive yourself up out of the water to catch, throw, and block the ball. To that add violence. Tons of violence. Here is an article from the Washington Post written during the 2004 olympics that describes this pretty well:

Water polo players launch themselves out of the water to shoot.

Through the murk of the water, you see elbows swung into guts, knees slammed into groins, hands yanking bathing suits into painful wedgies, guys simply swimming on top of an opponent and holding him under water until he fights his way, punching and kicking, to the surface. Technically, none of this stuff is legal, but the refs working the poolside allow a certain amount of leeway.

The least physically challenging sport is actually a harder question because being physically challenging is one of the elements that usually helps distinguish between a game and a sport. For instance, though many of you might think I was going to argue for golf as the least challenging sport, I would say that if you count golf as a sport, you should count bocce! And bocce is much less physically challenging than golf.[2] No need to limber up to hit a ball hundreds of feet in bocce. No “walking the course” for 72 holes over four days. Bocce consists of throwing not that heavy balls not that far towards an even smaller, lighter ball.

One of the best five baseball players in the world.
TIME FOR TEA!!!

If you exclude bocce, golf, pool, darts, and try to find a true sport sport which is pretty easy to play, then I think it’s probably got to be cricket. I don’t know that much about cricket but I do know that test cricket is played over up to five days. During each day “there are usually three two-hour sessions, with a forty minute break for ‘lunch’ and a twenty minute break for ‘tea’.” I am sure cricket takes an enormous amount of skill and it’s hard to argue that baseball (a sport where one of it’s best players looks like this) is more physically demanding… but…. well, what do you think?

Great question!
Ezra Fischer

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. There are four eight-minute quarters in water polo although because the clock stops on fouls and when the ball goes out of bounds, most quarters actually last around 12 minutes. Players will continue to tread water even when the clock has stopped. We hope.
  2. Excluding cross-country bocce, of course!

How is Cycling a Team Sport?

Dear Sports Fan,

How is cycling a team sport? I remember bicycling alone a lot as a kid and it never seemed to hurt me…

Thanks,
Paul


 

Dear Paul,

Bicycling is definitely something that you can do alone, but cycling — particularly races like the Tour de France — are absolutely team competitions. The Tour de France is the most prestigious and most televised cycling competition. It is three weeks long and usually begins in early July. The riders will cover more than 2,200 miles in daily races called stages. It’s insane! The race usually follows a basic pattern. The first week or so stays mostly in the flatlands and is (in my mind, at least) pretty boring. Then the race hits some serious mountains and it gets much more exciting. This is normally where the overall winner of the tour will emerge. It’s also much more interesting strategically and from a soap opera stand-point.

Teams compete for a number of different things. There is a stage winner every day and winning even just one stage is quite prestigious for the rider and his team. Within each stage there are a certain number of points assigned to each mountain and each sprint (somewhat arbitrary spots on flat areas.) Riders earn points for going over the top of a mountain or across the sprint spot first, second, or third, etc. The number of points and number of riders that earn points varies based on the severity of the mountain or the importance of the sprint. The leader of the sprint competition is indicated by a green jersey and the leader of the climbing competition (called the King of the Mountains) wears a white and red polka dotted jersey. The leader of the race as a whole, defined simply as the rider who has finished all the stages in the least combined time, wears the famed yellow jersey. All of these things are prestigious and financially rewarding for the riders and teams that win them.

As far as I can tell, strategy in cycling is based on a single scientific fact: it’s much, much easier to ride when you are drafting on (riding right behind) another rider. So there you go, it all comes down to that. What teams do is organize themselves around their strongest rider. To win a stage what they try to do is exhaust all the other teams by riding at the front faster than anyone else can. The riders on the team who are NOT their strongest rider take turns at the front, riding full out until they simply cannot do it anymore. These guys are called domestiques which is French for servants and if you see the look on their faces as they work at the front of the pack for their team leader, you’ll understand why. At some point it’s up to the team leader (who is supposed to be the strongest rider after all) to take advantage of the fact that he’s been coddled by his team all day and all tour and accelerate (usually up a mountain) faster than anyone else can. The whole three week tour is often won by less than five or ten minutes, so a single good run up a mountain can often win the whole thing.

The soap opera of the race comes from the fact that unlike most other sports, the winning team is usually defined not by skill or tactics but by the capacity to endure pain.[1] The Stanley Cup playoffs are a little bit like this, when players regularly suit up for games with injuries that would leave the rest of us in a hospital, but the Tour de France is a unique spectacle of endurance, strength, speed, and just a pinch of lunacy.

Thanks for your question,
Ezra Fischer

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Yes, or by who has the best drugs… but really, except for Lance Armstrong who must have had Stephen Hawking as his pharmacist, I tend to think the drugs even themselves out.

Getting Old in Sports

Here’s an article from Chris Ballard that was published on Sports Illustrated recently. It’s an exploration of how age works in an industry where 37 is “ancient.” I enjoyed it for his insight into professional sports, but more for how he connected his own experiences of aging while playing in recreational games with what professional athletes go through.

What is it about this age and sports? Thirty-seven is when Reggie Miller turned into a role player, when Joe Montana became human, when Muhammad Ali retired for the first—and what should have been the last—time. Thirty-seven is where expectations go to die. Fans don’t expect fortysomethings to be All-Stars; if a 41-year-old is even playing, we glorify him. Look at that lovable codger; he’s still going! But at 37 the athlete still carries a whiff of greatness. When he doesn’t perform, we are disappointed. He is not yet lovable. He is letting us down.

Why Do Soccer Players Dive So Much

Dear Sports Fan,

I hate to take your lofty discussions into the gutter, but I have to know: why do soccer players fake fouls so much?!

Sincerely,
Russ


 

Dear Russ,

Thanks for your question and your concern over the tone of our discussions here. Faking being fouled in Soccer is officially known as “simulation” but commonly referred to as diving. It’s rampant. Players dive in absolutely every sport where there are fouls[1] but you’re right that it seems most frequent and visible in soccer.

Diving is in the news right now because there was a very silly and very obvious dive in the fantastic Women’s World Cup Quarterfinal match between the United States and Brazil. The U.S. women were down a goal and down a man[2] with only a minute left in the overtime period. After almost 45 minutes of playing with one fewer player on the field, the U.S. team was still pressing the Brazilians. Some normal soccer stuff happened and then all of a sudden, like she had been shot by a sniper, number 13 on the Brazilian team, Erika, crumpled to the ground. She lay there for a while and was eventually taken off on a stretcher. As soon as her stretcher reached the sideline, she hopped off it and ran onto the field as soon as she could get the ref’s permission. The ref, offended by her chicanery gave her a yellow card.[3]

There are three things about soccer that contribute to it being the worlds diviest sport. First, the official time is kept only by the referee on his or her watch. The ref can stop the clock at his discretion for things like injuries, etc. but it is at his discretion… so, there’s a chance that you actually will kill some time by pretending to be injured unlike football or basketball where the clock is managed by sideline officials along strict rules and visible to everyone in the stadiums. One of the reasons (at least that I’ve always heard) for soccer working this way is that if the crowd knew exactly when the game was going to end then there would be riots.

As you might imagine from the way the time is managed, the soccer ref has an enormous amount of power over the game. And unlike many other sports, he or she is pretty much alone in that power. There are two refs in hockey, three in basketball, and lots in baseball and football but only one in soccer. With one ref policing 22 players, it’s much easier to fool him.

The last factor that I think encourages diving is the usually very low scores in a soccer game. Most soccer games are decided by a goal or two. This swings the risk/reward factors way in favor of deceit. The ref in the U.S. v. Brazil game, as bad as she was, was unusual and admirable for punishing that dive with a yellow card. The in-game consequences are usually limited to some whistles[4] from the crowd.

Hopefully this helps explain diving in soccer. For your enjoyment, here is a video of some absurd diving in soccer games:

The next game in the U.S. Women’s National team’s attempt to win the world cup is tomorrow, Wednesday July 13 at 11:30 on ESPN. Go USA!

Ezra Fischer

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Does this exclude competitive diving? If so, does the world turn in on itself and implode?
  2. I know what you’re thinking, but the women themselves repeatedly used that phrase in post-game interviews.
  3. Two yellow cards get you kicked out of the game.
  4. international for “boo”

Why do Sports Have Seasons?

Dear Sports Fan,

Why are sports played during certain seasons?

Thanks,
Jill


 

Dear Jill,

That’s an interesting question. Oddly enough I could find barely any answer for your question online. So… I’ll just have to make up an answer.

Sports seasons once made sense because the weather fit the sport. Football was played in the fall because it’s best played on cool, crisp autumn days. Playing football in the summer would be tortuous and dangerous for players running around in what basically amounted to heavy leather armor. Baseball cannot be played in the winter and because the season is so long and games have to be canceled on even the hint of rain, it’s important to get started as soon as spring begins to spring. Hockey is played on ice so… winter seems like a natural time for it especially in the days before super-powerful air-conditioners made it feasible to play hockey in South Florida and Texas. Since real Americans don’t play hockey, they needed something else to play in the winter. Enter Basketball, a sport that could be played in the summer but could be played in the winter!

Everything made some sort of intuitive sense until serious money got injected into sports leagues. With few exceptions, the more games a league scheduled, the longer the season, the more teams made the playoffs and the longer the playoffs were, the more money owners and players and television stations could make. This is where things started getting mushy. In 1960, when the NFL began it had a 12 game regular season. The next year they expanded to 14 games which lasted until 1978 when they added another 2 games. It’s been that way since then although they are now discussing moving to an 18 game season as part of the lockout negotiations. The first Super Bowl was held on Jan 15, 1967. This year’s Super Bowl was on February 6! Similar transformations have happened in the NBA and the NHL. The first NBA championship was on April 22, 1947. The Philadelphia Warriors beat the Chicago Stags. This year’s NBA championship ended on Sunday June 12! The NHL is not far behind. Actually it’s ahead. This year the NHL Finals ended on June 15. That’s not hockey weather!! The first NHL championship was back in 1893 and I can’t figure out the date, but the first modern championship ended on April 19. As for Baseball — the World Series has shifted from October 13 in 1903 to November 1.

Everything used to be better. Now nothing makes any sense. Or so says the grumpy old man…

Thanks for the question,
Ezra Fischer

 

Do Sports Fans Use Sports as a Reward?

Dear Sports Fan,

Do sports fans use watching sports as a reward for doing work? If not how do they ever get anything done?

Confused,
Bette


 

Dear Bette,

That’s a loaded question isn’t it? I don’t use watching sports as a reward for doing work but I’m not big on consciously rewarding myself for behavior. Also I don’t often bring work home with me. I’m sure some people use watching sports as a reward for cleaning a room, working out, or getting some work task done just the same way people use a hershey kiss or a half hour with a magazine or tv show. It’s probably a bit harder to do though because watching sports is one of the few television events that you still want to watch live. So it’s not like you can just watch the sporting event whenever you want once you’re done with a task. Instead, I think most sports fans plan their life around events that they really want to see. Certainly a swath of our culture plans itself around doing not much but watching football every Sunday during the fall. The Super Bowl (or the day after) should be a national holiday. I try to not take on too many after-work commitments during the spring because I know I will want to come home and watch the NBA and NHL playoffs on most days.

There are three other answers to your question some of which contradict each other:

  • We don’t get much done. Being a sports fan requires a lot of time and therefore is really only sustainable if you don’t have a lot to get done. Of course sports fans are sometimes productive members of society but they do seem to find ways to contribute that don’t take all day…
  • We can get stuff done while watching sports. As discussed in a previous post answering the question of why sports fans seem to pick even sports they don’t like over any other entertainment, watching sports doesn’t take your whole attention like watching other television does. Sports fans can usually grade papers, write memos, or (ahem) write blog posts while watching sports.
  • We don’t do anything else. You may think we spend a lot of time watching sports and you’d be right. But you don’t know that we don’t window shop online, garden, read, listen to the radio, clean our houses, cook, bathe regularly, or talk to our families. If the games are really good that day we might stop moving, blinking, eating, or breathing just to be sure we don’t miss anything.

Jokes aside, there is a lot of time floating around out there and I bet if you looked closely you’d be able to add up the time that you use for a few avocations and equal the amount a sports fan spends on sports.

Thanks for the question,
Ezra Fischer