New year, new rules: Rule No. 20

Updated: December 15, 2010, 10:56 AM ET
ESPN The Magazine

Rule No. 20: Up the Olympic ante

Trivia time: Which country won the most medals at the 2008 Summer Games? Answer: Who knows? We'd also accept: Who cares?

Thing is, as sports fans we should know and care. Short of global thermonuclear war, overall medal count is the surest test of a nation's might. We don't know or care because nothing is at stake. Imagine if the NFL awarded Cadillacs to the players who produced the best Super Bowl stats but gave the winning team a $5 coupon to Bennigan's. That's what we're dealing with here, minus the sizzling fajitas.

It's nothing a few pandas can't solve. Here's our not-at-all-impractical proposal to make medal counts matter: Before each Olympics, competing countries put up a national treasure for stake. Russia, for example, could offer a Faberge egg. China, a pair of those cute bears. The U.S.? Wrangler jeans. Or the Liberty Bell. You get the idea. Anyhow, the country that wins the most medals gets to display all the loot until the next Olympics.

And now, some FUQs (frequently unasked questions).

Q: Don't the same set of overpopulated countries dominate every Olympics? What fun would this be for Poland and Belarus?
A: No fun at all. So here's a first amendment to our plan: There will be seven pods of countries, with the mightiest in Pod A, the unmightiest in Pod G and everyone else falling somewhere in between. Winner of each pod takes the treasures put up by the other countries in that pod.

Q: And how will you create these pods?
A: That would be Amendment 2. Each country declares exactly how many medals it thinks it can win, and pods are formed around those bids. Say Pod A is for countries that bid between 80 and 110 medals, Pod G for countries that bid between one and three. As a check against lowballers, any country that wins more medals than it bid is disqualified from winning its pod. Also, if you don't win a medal but said you weren't going to, you get your stuff back.

Q: Okay, smart guy, how do you ensure each country puts up a treasure that's actually worth something, or for that matter, that it will actually deliver the merchandise?
A: We've got a plan for that, too. We have to work out some details, but it involves Jimmy Carter and Blackwater ops.

Q: You know what? This is kind of genius.
A: It is. It surely is.

NEXT: Hold the World Cup every three years