Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Looking back at the best and worst of 2020’s pandemic-inspired rule changes in each sport

Who knows what the future holds for Marcell Ozuna, now a free agent, and other National League designated hitters?
Who knows what the future holds for Marcell Ozuna, now a free agent, and other National League designated hitters?
Photo: (Getty Images)

Sports have looked a little different this year, and that’s not entirely a bad thing. Across the board, sports have had to adapt to this pandemic-induced state of “normal” that we find ourselves in. Some leagues left their sport alone, while others took the opportunity to throw some spice into the recipe and see what happens. Not every innovative idea is a good idea, though. Let’s recap some of them and give a ruling on whether they should live or let die.

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NBA - Play-in series

I like it... kinda. The premise of a play-in brings a “win-or-go-home” excitement to the start of the playoffs, much like MLB’s Wild Card Game. I feel like the NBA tried to get a little too cute with their format. The play-in series is a best of three, sort of, between the eighth and ninth seed in each conference. The eight seed only needs to win once, while the ninth team is required to win twice to advance to the first round of the playoffs. It’s almost like they couldn’t decide between a single play-in game and a full on series, so they tried to do both.

It looks like they’re bringing it back, and even expanding it to have the 7-10 seeds compete for the final two spots in each conference, which is interesting.

 

It looks like this format is, temporarily, here to stay.

MLB - Universal DH, extra-inning runner starts on second base.

I don’t think there’s anything more divisive in baseball than the designated hitter. Old timey “baseball purists” point to the good ol’ days of pitchers striking out twice per game as somehow being enjoyable to watch. I know, I know — it leads to more strategery in the late innings, with selecting pinch hitters and all that - but the game needs more excitement. Runs being scored is exciting. Interestingly enough, the Universal DH didn’t lead to more runs per game, or home runs per game, being scored this year. Runs per game dropped from 4.83 in 2019 to 4.65 in 2020. Home runs per game dropped from 1.39 to 1.28. I’m not sure if the first season of the Universal DH worked, but damn, baseball has to try something - anything - to attract more viewers. Maybe they could start by allowing their players to be more expressive. Just a thought.

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The addition of the Universal DH was a one-year experiment, and there is no official decision on if it will be a part of the game going forward. The rule change would have to be collectively bargained. Whether or not the National League will continue with a DH will play a big role in offseason moves. Nelson Cruz, for one, is waiting to make a decision on next season until there is clarity.

 

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Speaking of trying things for the sake of trying things, the MLB added the rule that all extra innings would start with a runner on second base. I guess they don’t like the occasional 19-inning marathon game that takes six hours. After thinking about it further, I don’t hate this rule. It sure beats the NFL overtime rules where a touchdown on the first drive ends the game. Even though it makes it easier to score, at least the home team would then have the opportunity to answer with the same scenario of having a runner on second. Bring the rule back, why the hell not.

NWSL - Challenge Cup

In 2020, the NWSL returned to play with a 23-game tournament called the Challenge Cup. In 2021, they’re bringing it back and using it as a preseason tournament. I love it.

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Women’s soccer is incredibly competitive and full of amazing talent, and this league needs to be highlighted as frequently as possible. Per usual, women’s sports are drastically under-supported. Bringing a competitive tournament to the beginning of the schedule would be a great way for the league to build some hype and momentum, and maybe captivate some new viewers before the regular season kicks off.

Innovation is a good thing. Sports should be looking to grow and change their product and the way in which they interact with their audience, especially in this unique and difficult landscape we are all working to navigate.