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Monday, July 25, 2005
Updated: July 26, 12:32 PM ET
The dumbest rules in sports

By Patrick Hruby
Page 2

Overturned British tea taxes. The end of unequal suffrage. Prohibition replaced by the beer helmet. The great thing about America is that you can always change the rules. And all it takes is political will, money, popular support and money.

Did we mention money?

Barry Bonds
If you think there's no way to get this guy out then we think the AAA club would love to have you.
The athletic world is no different. When stall tactics and stagnant scores threatened pro basketball's very existence, the NBA adopted the shot clock; when viewers became blasť at the prospect of bikini-clad competitors, Olympic beach volleyball added bikini-clad cheerleaders. Brilliant. Time and again, sports have adapted to contemporary challenges, tweaking and tinkering to produce a better product.

Which is where Page 2 comes in.

Every sport has silly rules, official commandments and unwritten customs that are annoying, unnecessary and just plain dumb. To wit: Why can't the ground cause a fumble? Why is the college 3-point line so darn close? What follows are some of Page 2's athletic pet peeves, along with suggestions to make things better.

Is this the last word on lame sports rules? Of course not. There's always room to revise. After all, that's the beauty of America. Sports, too.

Besides, we had to save a few items for the next slow news day, so here's a handful of them:

Offsides in Soccer
Soccer has never caught on in the United States. Why is that? Could it be the almost complete lack of, um … scoring? Forget offsides; everything short of pantsing the defender should be allowed on the way to the net.

In fact, pantsing should be allowed, too.

Intentional Walks in Baseball
Let's see: Spend $60 on a ticket to watch someone not pitch to David Ortiz? No thanks. Better to grant each team a single intentional walk per game, the way the NFL doles out limited coaches' challenges. And when the pitcher decides to chicken out? Give the batter two free bases.

Vote: Change or Not To Change?
You've heard the pitch. Are some rule changes in order?
Vote: Page 2's Dumbest Rules

Really, why should a meatball artist get a near-mulligan because he can't get the likes of Barry Bonds out?

Boxing Scoring
Besides a healthy respect for sequined apparel, what do boxing and figure skating have in common?

Try subjective scoring. Outrageous judging. Unsatisfying decisions.

While there's no way to fix figure skating -- short of making it a full-contact affair -- there's an easy solution for boxing: have every fight end with either a knockout or one fighter quitting. If it takes 22 rounds, so be it. Settle things like men.

NBA Late-Game Timeouts
In the NBA, each team can call two full timeouts in the final two minutes -- and call 'em they do, turning free-flowing basketball into an excruciating adult version of freeze tag.

Look, these guys know the plays. More important, they know how to play. So let them. In the last two minutes, allow a single timeout per team.

One more complaint: Why do 20-second timeouts last a minute or more?

Amateurism in College Sports
We live in a free society. We believe in free markets. Should we subject some of our best and brightest athletes to an outdated, bunkum philosophy that runs contrary to both?

Amateurism began as a myth, concocted by snooty English aristocrats who didn't want to dirty their hands -- let alone get their keisters kicked -- by competing against working-class opponents. It persists as a way to keep athletic departments rich while student-athletes rely on under-the-table booster handouts -- handouts that would be legal in any other context.

Since when is it a crime to accept a bill-stuffed envelope from someone dumb enough to give it to you?

Law students intern at local firms. Accounting majors work at banks. Physical education students appear in Playboy's "Girls of the Pac-10" issue. Athletes get the shaft. In a 1995 book, former NCAA executive director Walter Byers wrote that amateurism in college sports amounted to "economic tyranny." We couldn't agree more.

The NBA's 10-Foot Rim and 94-Foot Floor
The court never changes. It's the same size we played on as YBA punks, baggy socks flapping about our ankles. Heck, it's the same size played on by James Naismith's kids.

This makes no sense.

The game has evolved. Like the Six Million Dollar Man, players are bigger, stronger, faster … and worth a heck of a lot more than $6 million. So expand the surface, raise the rim, restore flow to a game stuck in the mud. Make a dunk something special again.

Second Serves in Tennis
"Oops, sorry. I fully intended to put that one over the net and into the box. How about a do-over?"

NBA … Everything
Five more dumb NBA rules that need fixing:

• Being able to call a timeout while airborne and going out of bounds. How can you have possession when you're not touching anything? Shouldn't you be required to have one foot on the ground?

• Being able to call a timeout right after a timeout. How is this fan-friendly? Would the producers of "24" decide to triple the amount of commercials right before the climactic scene of every show? Seriously, how long does a coach need to talk to his players, half of whom are thinking about things like, "Where are we going after the game?" and "Is that girl in the third row checking me out?"

• Players being required to keep their jerseys tucked in during games. Call off the fashion police. You can learn a lot about players' motivation and character by whether they tuck in their shirt or not. Take Eddy Curry -- he definitely would keep his jersey hanging out if he had the choice. Same with Jerome James.

• Technical fouls not counting as personal fouls. Why not? They should. If players could foul out on technicals, they wouldn't complain to the referees as much. Well, except Rasheed Wallace.

• The nearest offensive player getting credit when a defender tips in a shot. Uh-uh. Basketball should track own goals, like soccer. What fan wouldn't want to know who leads the league in own goals at the end of each season? Over the last eight years, for instance, we have a sneaking suspicion it would have been Shawn Bradley. But there's only one way to make sure.

The Ground Can't Cause a Fumble in Football
Bull! Did the guy hold onto the ball or not?

No Protesting a Called Strike in Baseball
If a batter can step away from the batter's box to chew, scratch or spit, why can't he step away from the batter's box, look the other away and express his deepest feelings about an umpire's genealogy? Instead, the rule states that you can't protest balls and strikes … again, this is bull!

Golf's Stroke-And-Distance Rule
Among the most punitive in sports. Hit it out of bounds? Can't find your ball off the tee? No worries. Just return to the tee, hit another drive and suffer a 1-stroke-plus-the-distance penalty. A more charitable game might allow you to drop a ball approximately where your shot crossed the out-of-bounds line or entered the woods -- then again, since when has golf been charitable?

The Chris Webber Rule
Twenty seconds left. Michigan down by one. Chris Webber signals for a timeout the Wolverines don't have -- and the rest is North Carolina history.

Getting hit with a technical foul because you lose track of how many timeouts are left? Absurd. Referees simply ought to turn their heads, tilt their noses and give players the look -- the same snide glare given at dance clubs everywhere, by girls who don't want to boogie. At least not with you.

Chris Webber
After his "timeout" Webber took a big salary cut when he headed to the NBA.
A technical can cost you a national title. But rejection stings.

Drug Testing for Athletes Only
Who's worse for business -- a stoned sixth man, or a guy in the league office with red eyes and Cheetos stains on his lapel? Sample cups for all! Make it so.

Interference in Hockey
Be it the actual rules or their lax enforcement, the main problem with hockey is that you're all but allowed to tackle the man with the puck.

Allow the same shenanigans in basketball, and scores would dip into the teens. If knocking players off the puck resulted in trips to the penalty box, perhaps hockey scores would rise into the teens … and maybe, just maybe, America would start watching a sport that could really use an audience.

Baseball Dugout Warnings
Warning both dugouts means somebody gets the last word in brushbacks. That ain't fair. If a pitcher knows the next brushback will produce a warning, he has little choice but to throw one -- because if he doesn't, the other team's hurler will. And as soon as someone does, the other guy can't. Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah.

As for umpires interpreting and defining the intent of a pitch? Yeah, right. Umps have a hard enough time calling a consistent strike zone. Now they're supposed to read minds?

Beanball wars might amount to frontier justice. But at least they're just.

No Official Game Clock Posted In Soccer
Really, why is it such a big secret how much time is really left in the game? Let's be honest: Futbol's supposed greatness already qualifies as a secret to most Americans. The least soccer refs can do is let fans know when a match will end. Doesn't the Bible call for mercy?

No In-Match Coaching in Tennis
Boxers have corner trainers reminding them to avoid the other guy's right cross; golfers rely on caddies to scope out the course, give them the right clubs and occasionally toss offending spectators' cameras into water hazards. Why should tennis be any different? Why are players limited to furtive glances toward the friends' box? Why can't they talk to their coaches, the people who know their games -- and the game itself -- better than anyone?

Just because Roger Federer won two Grand Slams without a coach last year doesn't mean the rest of the sport should follow suit.

Golf crowds being quiet
Right now, you're sitting at your desk, cube, whatever. Is there some dude a few feet away holding a sign that says "Quiet Please" while you prepare to type up your latest e-mail? Um, no. So why should we have to shut up when Tiger tees it up?

What about other sports? When A-Rod is in Fenway, do the ushers turn to face the crowd and whisper "Shh! Alex is trying to hit … please show him some respect."

Uh, no again … and they shouldn't. Say what you want, but without the fans, all Tiger would be is the coolest club pro in Windermere, Fla. So next time you see him, snap all the pictures you want and yell, "You da man!" before he hits it.

You've earned it, and he deserves it.

Baseball's On-Deck Circle
Use it or lose it.

Traveling/Palming in the NBA
Fifty states in 50 days? Even that isn't called "traveling" in the step-happy world of the NBA. And the next time Allen Iverson pulls off his renowned crossover dribble without flipping the ball like an omelet will be the first.

So scrap both rules. Stop paying lip service to the fuddy-duddy hoops of yore. Embrace the And 1 generation. At this point, keeping traveling and palming on the books is akin to abiding by 19th-century city ordinances governing buggy traffic. The game has moved on. Three steps and one ball carry at a time.

Baseball Managers Wearing Uniforms
An unwritten rule, to be sure -- but no less unforgivable. Imagine Stan Van Gundy in a jersey and shorts, Bill Belichick in shoulder pads and a helmet, Scotty Bowman in a sweater and skates. Silly, right? So how is Jack McKeon in a uniform any different?

Overtime Stat Keeping in College Football Four years ago, Eli Manning threw for six touchdown passes in a single college game. Five of those touchdowns came over the course of seven overtimes -- and all of them counted equally in the record book.

That's officially ridiculous.

Composed of alternating possessions that start in the red zone, college football's extra periods resemble parlor games; as such, lumping regulation and overtime statistics together is absurd. Should FIFA count penalty kick shootout goals toward individual totals? Should the NCAA tally yards gained on two-point conversions?

Face it: the current college system makes as much sense as counting points scored in layup lines.

Sudden-Death Overtime in the NFL
As bad as it is for the regular season, a team getting bounced out of the playoffs without ever touching the ball is criminal. Apologies to "Pacman" Jones.

No Contact on the Basepaths in Baseball
Forget the home run. The most exciting play in baseball is a full-on collision at home plate. Why not allow big hits at every other base, and all parts in between?


Just think: Alex Rodriguez's first-base purse slap would have been legal. Better yet, Bronson Arroyo could have slapped him back. Or worse. Everyone wins!

College Basketball's 3-Point Line
Too short, too easy. Even Rick Pitino says so -- and his Louisville team advanced to this year's Final Four by shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc while jackin' up 20-plus 3s per game. Solution? Push the 19-foot, 9-inch shot back to the international distance of 20 feet, 6 inches. At the very least, the J.J. Redicks of the world will have to work for it.

End Zone/Sideline Pass Interference in Football
The object on defense is to hit the guy with the ball … only you can't stick a receiver making a leaping catch on the sidelines. Why not? Receivers should have to come down in bounds for a legal catch. Period.

No Hitting Below the Belt in Boxing
If this is a sport built on defining manhood, what better way to test someone's manhood than by seeing how well he can take a closed fist to the epididymis? Look, the object in boxing is to see who can beat someone's butt the best, right? All's fair, right? Manhood, right? Intestinal fortitude, testicular fortitude … same thing.

Besides, legal low blows might give over-the-hill boxers pause when they consider un-retiring for the 513th time.

The NFL's Quarterback Helmet Earpiece
What, is Tom Brady also protecting the President? Is Andy Reid whispering state secrets from behind his play card? This is football, not a Tom Clancy novel. Hand signals are more than sufficient.

Alternating Possession in College Basketball
We've said it before and we'll say it again: Jump it. Every time. Are we not men?

The One-Day Contract
Last week, Derrick Alexander signed a one-day contract to retire as a Kansas City Chief. There are so many things wrong with that sentence, we don't even know where to start. First, why sign a "contract" in which no money changes hands, the salary cap is unaffected, the team roster and depth charts are unaffected, and the only ones who even notice are the two parties signing it?

And even if you'd like to extend this sentimental gesture to greats of the game, such as Jerry Rice (wait, doesn't Jerry sign a similar deal every summer?), do we really need to do this with guys such as Alexander, who hasn't played since 2002? Or Brian Mitchell, or Mo Lewis, or Marvin Jones -- all of whom signed similar deals this offseason? Stop the insanity.

Signing your scorecard in golf
You've just shot a 62. You're going to change out of your FootJoys with the lead in the Masters, and you can't wait for Jim Nantz to talk to you. Wait, you didn't sign your scorecard. You're disqualified.

Um, what?

That's right, you're done. Go home. You didn't use the rough on 14 as a portapotty. You didn't knock back a six pack of beer at the turn. You didn't chant "Miss it, Noonan! Miss!" when your playing partner was putting. All you did was take a piece of paper with your score and forget to sign it.

It's the age of live Internet scoring, scrolling results on TV and a leaderboard the size of Montana near the 18th hole, and someone is still wondering what you shot?

Leave the scorecards for mini golf and your hole-in-one glory on the talking whale, and if the guys in the tourney office still want an autograph, all they have to do is ask.

Skip Bayless, DJ Gallo, Alan Grant, Kevin Jackson, Scoop Jackson, Larry Johnson, Bomani Jones, Michael Knisley, Paul Lukas, Jeff Merron, Eric Neel, Mike Philbrick, David Schoenfield, Bill Simmons and Kurt Snibbe contributed to this article.

Patrick Hruby is a Page 2 columnist.