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

 

How Does the NBA Draft Work and Why Should I Care?

Dear Sports Fan,

The NBA Draft – How does it work? Why do I care? Are players (like Carmelo Anthony and What’s-His-Name James) that go right from high school involved in draft?

Thanks,
49 Round Pick


 

Dear 49 Round Pick,

Drafts in all sports are an opportunity to level the playing field – the worst teams generally get the higher picks and first dibs on the best young players. In the case of the NBA, the 14 worst teams are in the “lottery,” meaning they get the top 14 picks in the draft – only the order those 14 teams pick in is decided based on an old-school, ping-pong ball lottery.  So while the worst team has the best odds of getting the first pick(they get more ping-pong balls in the bingo cage-thing), it isn’t guaranteed.

Not a big deal, you think – after all, what’s the difference between picking number one or number two or three?  Well, if you’re a team from a smaller market who has a hard time attracting the best players, the draft is a very rare opportunity to get a franchise-altering talent at a price you can afford.  In particularly mediocre draft years, the difference between the best player and the second best player in the draft is barely noticeable – other times, the difference is between a game changer like Spurs power forward Tim Duncan (think Chris Rock) and a wildly overrated underperformer like the forgettable Keith Van Horn (think Dane Cook).

Talking about comedians, if you decide to try to pull the Sports Fan in your life away from watching the NBA draft tonight, you could do worse than start with this clip of Dave Chappelle’s Racial Draft sketch.

Chappelles Show
The Racial Draft
www.comedycentral.com
Buy Chappelle’s Show DVDs Black Comedy True Hollywood Story

How great is the Tiger Woods bit in hind-sight? Back to the NBA draft… High school players used to be allowed in the draft – now, in a nod to the fact that you learn everything you need to know in college your freshman year, you have to be 19 years old, at least one year out of high school and own one suit with at least 4 buttons to be eligible.

There’s also an unofficial rule that there has to be at least one successful white college player in each draft who gets picked in the first round even though pretty much everyone agrees he will not be successful in the NBA due to his lack of “athleticism.”

Back to the draft itself: it’s divided up into rounds, and generally each team has a pick in each round, unless they don’t have picks – for example, if they’ve traded their draft pick (essentially the right to a future player) to another team in return for a tangible, current player. Teams have a limited amount of time to make each pick, which is why team staff do ridiculous amounts of research and know more about the players than they do about their own children. There is real drama in some drafts – last second trades, surprise picks,[1] great rags to riches stories – but for the most part, you have to be a pretty die-hard fan to watch. So don’t feel bad if you can’t get into it.

One side note: immediately following the draft you’ll see the infuriating “Draft report cards” issued by sportswriters, most of whom feel compelled to note how ridiculous it is to judge a team’s draft class before they’ve even played a single game in the league – right before they judge every team’s draft class before they’ve played a single game in the league.

Thanks for the question,
Dean Russell Bell

The NBA Draft – How does it work? Why do I care? Are players (like Carmelo Anthony and Whats-His-Name James) that go right from high school involved in draft?
Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. These usually fall into two categories: GMs who are stupid and pick a mediocre player way too high, or enormously talented players who teams refuse to draft for one reason or another. The latter usually involves marijuana. It’s unclear what drug some of the GMs are on.

Now that I'm a Dad Should I Try to Like Sports for my Son?

Dear Sports Fan,

I’ve never been a big sports fan, but this is my first Father’s Day and I’ve been feeling like I will be depriving my son if I don’t raise him with sports in his life. What can I do to introduce a little sports to his life?

Thanks,
Kurt


 

Dear Kurt,

Happy Father’s Day and congratulations on being a new father!!

I don’t think you should feel like you have to feign sports fandom for your son. He’s going to have lots of influences during his life and it’s far more important that they be honest than contain sports. That said, there are a few things that you might want to think about doing.

You might want to encourage your child to play sports. Oddly you don’t really have to be a sports fan to enjoy playing sports. So buy some balls and frisbees and sticks and even if your kid is too small to really use them, you can kind of swing him at them. If he seems to take to any of it, encourage him! Participating in team sports from a young age is a wonderful way to build confidence, make friends, and get stronger. It’s also a big lesson on how to deal with success and failure. Your son will definitely learn how to win and how to lose from his parents even if the winning and losing for them is not sports related. Be a good winner and a better loser.

The other piece of sports that a child often picks up from his or her parents is who to root for. If you don’t have any sports allegiances, hopefully you live in a one team region. My parents weren’t fans of any sports teams (except the ones my brother and I were on) when I was growing up and partially as a result[1] of that, I root for a hockey team a thousand miles from where I live, a basketball team from my home state, and don’t have a favorite baseball or football team. If there is a local team in your area, why don’t you buy your kid a hat. If he ends up liking sports than he will have the credibility of a true fan — baby pictures in his team’s uniform!

Hope you have a great day,
Ezra Fischer

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. But mostly because I grew up in Central New Jersey where the allegiances are as twisted as a clover-leaf highway entrance.

What is Being Offside?

Dear Sports Fan,

What is being offside and why does it cause so much screaming in the bar next-door?

Thanks,
Max


 

Dear Max

Offside rules are about time and space. They are about a line, an event and an order. Although they are probably the most misunderstood, most shouted about, most infuriating rules in sports, they are deceptively simple. Offside rules exist in most of the most-watched sports in the world. Offside is the rule in soccer; it has caused more bloodshed than many major border conflicts or minor religions. It is an important part of hockey, can mean the difference between winning and losing in football, and although it is disguised in basketball, it still has major implications. If you understand the role being offside plays in all of these sports, you will understand a lot about the nature of each game.

In every sport, being offside means that a player is in a position he or she shouldn’t be in when a particular event happens. I’ll repeat it: being offside means that a player is in a position he or she shouldn’t be in when a particular event happens. That’s it. That’s the whole thing. You’ve got it! Now all we need to do is fill in the where and the when.

Hockey
Where: If the player is in the offensive zone; the area between the blue line closest to the goal his team is trying to score on and the boards…
When: The puck is moved from outside this area into this area…
HE IS OFFSIDE!

Soccer
Where: If the player is closer to the goal she is trying to score on than fewer than two players of the opposing team…
When: The ball leaves the foot of a player on her team who intends to pass her the ball…
SHE IS OFFSIDE!

Football
Where: If a player on defense[1] moves across the line of scrimmage (an imaginary line across the field of play where the ball is placed before a play starts…)
When: Before the ball is snapped to start the play…
HE IS OFFSIDE (If the player touches another player on the other team, this is called “encroachment” which is much more fun to say than offside.)

Basketball
Where: If a player is on the side of the court that she is trying to defend…
When: When she has the ball for more than eight seconds after her team initially gains possession of it…
SHE IS OFFSIDE (This is called the “eight-second rule.”)

Where: If a player dribbles the ball on the side of the court that he is trying to defend…
When: After his team has had the ball on the side of the court that they are trying to score on…
HE IS OFFSIDE (This is called a “back-court violation.”)

Notice how the way the offside rule is written seems to suggest something about the game? The soccer rule favors the defense in a big way — if a player can’t pass to one of his teammates unless he has at least two defenders between his teammate and the goal, why are we surprised that there isn’t more scoring? The hockey rule also favors the defense, just a little less. Note how the rule makes it so that if a defender can clear the puck from his third of the ice into the middle third, the other team’s offense needs to totally reset by leaving the offensive zone. Basketball, on the other hand, seems to require offense. If a player cannot stay on her side for more than eight seconds, she’s going to be forced to get her team in a position to score, isn’t she?

See how simple the offside rules can be? What other questions do you have?

Thanks,
Ezra Fischer

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Before a play starts, only one offensive player is allowed to move at once. If any of the big guys in a row even flinch, they are called for a “false start” which is more or less an offside rule.

Are Basketball Fouls Really Arbitrary?

Dear Sports Fan,

Can you explain basketball fouls? They seem totally arbitrary to me.

Thanks,
Otto


Dear Otto,

If we were more cynical on this website, we would say that NBA foul calls aren’t arbitrary, they only seem arbitrary because we don’t know which team the refs have gambled on!

In all sincerity and seriousness though, you are not alone. Basketball fouls are extremely difficult to read. They happen very quickly and there is often very little difference between a foul on one player or the other. Here are probably the three most common fouls to look for.

What is a Reach-in Foul?

A reach-in foul is somewhat self-explanatory. When a player tries to steal the ball from another player, he’s got to be pretty careful. If he touches almost anything other than the ball — an arm, a chest, a face, etc. — it’s a reach-in foul. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be your hand that’s reaching in — it could be any part of your arm (or all of it like in the photo to the left.

The one exception to this rule is that when someone has the ball and their hand is actually on it. When this is the case, like when dribbling or shooting the ball, the player’s hand is considered part of the ball and can be struck or slapped without penalty.

What are Charging and Blocking Fouls?

Charging and blocking are two fouls that can be called in situations that look almost identical. When you see two players collide and a whistle blows, it’s usually either of these two fouls. A charging call is always against the offensive player and a blocking foul always against the defensive player.

Charging and blocking are like the cheese plate at a party or an intersection with a four-way stop sign — it’s all about who gets there first. When two players collide the player who has the foul called on him and the one that gets the call in his favor depends basically on who got there first. If the defender got to the place where the collision was and established himself there (this part is a bit hazy; usually it means that the defenders feet aren’t moving anymore but it could also be that his torso is static even if his feet are still moving a little) before the attacking player arrived then it is a charge and the foul goes against the offensive player. If the defensive player is still moving when the collision happens then it is a block, and the foul goes against the defender.

Trying to guess where an attacking player is going and establishing yourself there so that they run into you is a pretty common defensive strategy. A player doing this is said to be “trying to take a charge.” Sometimes this strategy backfires if the defender guesses wrong or is not quick enough. Sometimes you will see what looks like a defender sliding sideways into a collision. This is a sure sign that the foul will be called a block and go against the defender… except, of course, if the ref has some money riding on the defensive team… Just kidding!

Sincerely,
Ezra Fischer