I've heard a lot of theories on how to make sports faster in my life as a sports fan. What they all end up coming back to, for me, is to simply enforce the rules that are on the books now. So many things could be cosmetically altered without affecting the actual traditions of the game, and life would be joyous and happy because we wouldn't have to watch three hour marathons. I'm a big proponent of rules changes like that.
Or we could just blow the whole thing up! The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf, citing the advances that have been made in television viewing technology, thinks that we should perform some pretty radical changes to the rules. Here are some responses to his ideas from a fan who loves the general idea of speeding things up, but thinks Friedersdorf's changes are going a bit overboard.
What I'd like is for the referees to tally all the fouls for the first three quarters, and the opening minutes of the fourth quarter. During this time, teams would just get the ball out of bonds [sic] when fouled, and the referee wouldn't even have to touch the ball before it went back into play. Then with some number of minutes left in the game - maybe 8 minutes, maybe 5 minutes - the teams would compare tallies, cancel out one another's shots, and send the team that earned more shooting fouls to the line to take all their shots at once. (Alternatively, this could be done for the first half only, and the shots could be taken at halftime). Free throws were never meant to be as large a part of basketball as they've become.
Way too complicated of a change. Who shoots the free throws? Who would watch eight straight free throws? Why would you completely ruin certain players careers (like say, Kevin Martin) by making them much less valuable?
Better solutions: Enforce the 10-second rule on free throws that is rarely enforced now. Better yet, knock it down to five seconds. Nobody wants to see Dwight Howard gape into nothingness for 13 seconds before clanking his latest free throw. Secondly, get rid of timeouts in the last few minutes of the game. Every close NBA game has 40 minute fourth quarters solely because coaches hoard their timeouts.
Presumably I'll never persuade purists to eliminate a whole inning. So I'll offer my next best suggestion: allow managers one opportunity per game to borrow an out or two from a later inning. So it's the bottom of the third. There are two outs, with men on first and third. Your batter strikes out. And you can decide to borrow an out or two in order to try and drive in those runs... but it's going to cost you, because once the current inning ends the opposing manager gets to decide at his leisure when to charge you that out or two. Yes, this would make it harder to compare players from different eras. But let's be honest. Steroids and changing ballparks have already robbed us of that.
Better solutions: Enforce existing laws about how quickly a ball must be thrown. Perhaps even implement a pitch clock, though purists will loathe that too. Make sure pitchers, barring injury, have to pitch to three or more batters before leaving a game, thus ending Tony LaRussa's oppressive and obsessive one-out lefty fetish. Get rid of all sideline reporters. Actually, that goes for all sports, but it's especially bad in baseball.
It's really not that hard to speed games up if leagues wanted to. The problem Friedersdorf's ideas run into is that the exact reasons for livening up games conflict with the security of the leagues. As the last bastion of programming that is almost forced to be watched live, their advertising slots are worth so much more that they have no incentive to make the game more watchable. The more Budweiser First Pitches Joe Buck delivers to you, the less they need to care about alienating the fairweather fan. Will they lose some viewers along the way? Possibly. But they'll have a set market share for decades from now before they have to worry about that, because the hardcore fans will watch no matter how horrendous the marketing product is around it.