Tate | Sensible fixes to save sports

Tate | Sensible fixes to save sports

Imagine all the things you'd like to change about sports.

Me too.

Like removing college football from the gender equity equation, and equalizing men and women scholarship numbers without Division I football's monstrous numbers (85).

It is imbalanced when, as one glaring example, 61 women's gymnastics Division I teams receive 12 scholarships per team while the dwindling lineup of 15 men's teams receive 6.3 scholarships. Illinois men's coach Justin Spring has done wonders with that limitation.

Or in tennis, coach Evan Clark has eight full head-count scholarships for his UI women, but Brad Dancer must split up 4.5 scholarships for his men. That means Clark has fully-funded women who seldom play, while stars on the men's team are on partials. Mike Turk oversees both track and field programs. Guess which gets 18 scholarships and which gets 12.6.

Football-playing universities everywhere have chopped deeply into men's sports to meet "fairness" requirements. Wisconsin dropped baseball, and presents two rowing programs for women, and a matching hockey team. Northwestern supports track and field for women, but not for men, and additionally has non-matching sports of field hockey and fencing for women.

Realize the undertaking

And how about eliminating college basketball's ridiculous one-and-done system, or expanding the football playoff from four teams to eight (it took 16 years to expand from two to four, so don't hold your breath). Logical, huh. Most of us would agree.

And there are other opinions that appeal to me — both policies and rules — but run counter to the mainstream.

Tops on my hit list is the idea, often perpetuated across the land, that an athletic director's job should swing on the success or failure of his football hires. We see some fans lining up against the UI's Josh Whitman because, in the Big Ten games that matter, Lovie Smith is 4-23 (is it piling on to mention that Whitman's two basketball hires are a combined 8-47?).

Face it. Upon Whitman's arrival, all three programs were leaking talent and damaged from a recruiting standpoint. After Whitman made a tactical choice in hiring Smith on March 7, 2016, the AD spent the next 299 days of that leap year, and the 365 days of the following year (1) raising money, (2) dealing with multiple sports, (3) making major facility upgrades, (4) putting an articulate and honest face on the program and (5) initiating a massive hockey undertaking.

While he was in full support of Smith's on-field efforts, football's W-L audit was out of Whitman's hands. Some now contend, if Smith's removal ultimately becomes necessary, that someone other than Whitman should name a successor. You'll find me strongly differing there. Whitman was the right choice in February 2016, and the UI should be thankful if he's still here in 2020 and 2030.

Let them play

The four-foul disqualification rule in college basketball was increased to five in 1945. The game has made enormous changes since then, and the five-foul rule is now the worst in all sports.

How many high school and college games are spoiled by coaches feeling forced to remove their star players with two early fouls? How many results swing on the ref whistling a perceived slap on the wrist, or an accidental bump?

There are two logical choices: (1) In a move that former Big Ten officiating supervisor Rich Falk has championed for years, allow a sixth foul before disqualification or (2) call each foul after the fifth a technical, thereby giving the coach a choice of whether the risk is worth it.

Or you might follow hockey's lead by placing excessive foulers in a "penalty box" for a prescribed number of minutes. But to continue with the five-foul limit is hurting the game.

A designated future?

Here's my favorite.

Say your name is Freddie Fastball, and you're a budding pitcher. A strong-armed starter.

You spend three or four seasons in college, four more in the minors and five with Baltimore in the American League. Then you're traded to the Cubs and, discounting a few interleague exceptions, you're forced to bat on a regular basis for the first time at age 30.

You didn't bat in college. You didn't bat in the minors. You had only a few infrequent at-bats in interleague play. And now you're facing 90-mph sliders on a regular basis.

My personal preference is for pitchers to bat. But it doesn't make sense for the National League to be the only college or professional league that does. As it stands, the AL has an advantage in keeping quality sluggers (who may be deficits in the field) in the game as designated hitters. NL leaders are now beginning to assess whether they should continue to hold out.

OK, launch your tomatoes, but these are my (common sense?) positions on gender equity, Whitman, five fouls and the DH. And I also think it is ludicrous for a Super Bowl playoff to hinge on a coin flip. If you were the commissioner of all sports, where would you stand?

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com

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