Commentary

I wish ... money was no object

Originally Published: June 26, 2009
By Patrick Hruby | Page 2

While watching devilish Liz Hurley grant dopey Brendan Fraser a series of increasingly booby-trapped wishes in the 2000 movie "Bedazzled" -- hey, I was bored, it was on cable, no one had to know -- I learned three things:

a) Hurley looks totally awesome as a French maid.

b) She looks even better in a bikini.

c) Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

Here's the thing with wish stories and fables: They're never about getting what you want and living happily ever after. Uh-uh. They're about getting what you want and being miserable. Or at least perplexed and shaken, stuck sorting through a mess of unintended consequences and unexpected results.

Both of which I happen to love. At least when it comes to sports. After all, isn't unpredictability the whole reason we play our games? And the main reason we watch?

With that in mind, my two wishes are meant to increase fluidity in the sports world, replacing the staidness of same ol', same ol' with the excitement of what next?

Wish No. 1: Bring European soccer-style player transfers to American pro sports.

Free agency. Trades. Drafts. All entertaining. But also a limiting morass of rules and restrictions. It takes too long to build a team, too much dumb luck to change rosters for the better. Oh, and if your favorite squad ends up with a Matt Millen calling the shots, they're exiled to Loserville (pop. Isiah Thomas) for at least a decade.

Enter the player transfer. The athletic answer to Cash-4-Gold.

Suppose the Washington Redskins are unenthused about Jason Campbell and really want Jay Cutler. (Remember: This scenario is purely hypothetical.) Suppose they don't have the pro quo assets to make a deal happen. Right now, they're stuck; right now, they have to make nice with a ticked-off quarterback.

With transfers, everything changes.

With transfers, the money-laden Redskins simply buy Cutler's rights. Meanwhile, the seller pockets a sweet chunk of change, applicable to future purchases. For his part, Campbell finds a new job, perhaps netting the Skins a transfer fee in the process.

Everyone wins. As I said, Cash-4-Gold.

Imagine the potential intrigue of a transfer system -- the wheeling, the dealing, blockbuster moves, endless rumors. Everybody angling, all the time. A transfer system wouldn't just make the sports world better; it would make the sports page more interesting. (Not to mention fantasy leagues.)

[+] EnlargeElizabeth Hurley
Getty ImagesWhile wishes may look tantalizing, be careful what you ask for.

The Orlando Magic love Dwight Howard. Would they still love him if the Philadelphia Sixers offered $120 million for his rights? How much lucre would Albert Pujols fetch the St. Louis Cardinals? Could the Phoenix Coyotes auction away enough talent to avoid bankruptcy court? Would the Cincinnati Bengals be better off pawning Carson Palmer, then using the resulting windfall to overhaul their forever-sorry defense?

Spanish soccer power Real Madrid recently dropped $223 million in transfer fees to acquire two players; I want to see what the New York Knicks would be willing to cough up for a single LeBron James. (Also, I wonder whether the Federal Reserve would intervene.)

The potential downside of a transfer system? Rich clubs taking advantage of poorer ones. Big boys hoarding all the toys. Then again, that already happens all the time. The Florida Marlins develop a young pitcher. The New York Yankees sign said pitcher to a free-agent megadeal. The cash-strapped Marlins get zilch.

With transfer, by contrast, teams like Florida would be rewarded for spotting and nurturing talent. Better still, they'd be rewarded at actual market value -- poor clubs getting over on the rich -- and able to use that money to improve their rosters. Or upgrade their stadiums. Or lower ticket prices. How much latitude would a Zack Greinke-to-Boston fee give Kansas City?

Heck, even if the money went straight to an owner's pocket, that wouldn't be all bad. The Blake Griffins of the world would no longer be trapped toiling for uncompetitive franchises. Astute fans would know exactly what an owner's priorities are (e.g., procure talent, win championships, throw "hostess" parties in luxury suites, treat ballclub like personal debit card).

Oh, and transfers also mean player loans, which would just be -- and there's really no dignified way to say this -- flat-out cool. Picture the Oklahoma City Thunder loaning Kevin Durant to the San Antonio Spurs for a playoff run. Or the Los Angeles Dodgers borrowing Joe Mauer while Manny Ramirez serves his drug suspension. You know how Best Buy has a 14-day return policy? What if the Cavs could rent Shaquille O'Neal from Phoenix, see how he handles Howard … and if things don't work out, ship him back to the Suns like a jumbo HDTV with broken pixels?

Indeed, transfers and loans wouldn't just encourage more player movement, they would lead to better fits between athletes and teams. Which brings me to my other wish.

No. 2: Allow pro-style player trades in college sports.

Quick hypothetical: Suppose that for the next four years, everyone in America had to work for their current employer, unless their employer allowed them to switch jobs, in which case they would have to take a whole year off before starting somewhere else. Think that would help individuals succeed? Efficiently distribute talent? Be good for the economy as a whole?

Probably not. And college sports are no different.

Up-tempo gunners stuck in grind-it-out offenses. Capable backups trapped behind All-America starters. Some squads loaded with quality linebackers; other teams desperate for just one. The system as is makes little sense. Trades make plenty.

Say Memphis needs a deadeye shooter to make a Final Four push, while Davidson needs size. Why not allow the Tigers to swap a couple of young big men for the likes of Steph Curry? Or suppose Big State's lousy academic performance threatens to cost the team scholarships, per NCAA rules. Solution? Ship a few benchwarmers to an Ivy League school -- where they can earn degrees that mean something -- and receive some straight-A brainiacs in return, scholar-athletes who will be thrilled to make a BCS-level football roster.

Again, everyone wins.

Of course, college trades would require player approval -- lest control-freak coaches such as Nick Saban become even more unappetizingly powerful -- and some sort of student-friendly academic protection (for example, ensuring that USC ballroom-dancing credits are accepted following a swap to Duke). And yes, trades undoubtedly would shake up every aspect of college sports, from coaching to recruiting to the big conference-small conference balance of power. That's the whole point. Like player transfers, college trades offer the uncalculated, the unforeseen, the sudden, out-of-the-blue new.

Why wish for something you already have?

Patrick Hruby is a columnist for Page 2.