Wild Pitch: Sports Leagues-The NFL and the Rest.

As I start to write my first of many weekly columns I can’t help but think of Slamball.  Slamball was a shortly lived sport that was basically basketball with trampolines.  And what genuinely amazes me is that such a bizarre and extreme sport didn’t survive in this great country of ours.  Was this really as ridiculous a sport as it seemed?  Hefty football players running into each other on trampolines turned the old peach basket sport we all love into a high scoring slam fest.  It was like adding wrestling to basketball.

This was a sport invented many times over by fifth grade boys with a trampoline and a basketball hoop.  It seemed like the perfect harmony.  A sport with both high scoring and a little blood shed.  Hell!  It’s like putting chocolate and peanut butter together.  It was a sport that should have thrived, but like the XFL and ABA before it it did not live up to it’s potential.  But that’s the way of the consumer.  We are easily excitable but cannot be held for too long.  Just look at the amount of reality shows that come and go each year.  This is a testament to the staying power of the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, NASCAR, and to a lesser extent the AFL and MLS.

The National Football League is a powerhouse of course.  Football is the American sport and holds that place firmly in American culture.  The Super Bowl is basically a holiday in this country.  I don’t think we can say that about any other sporting event of the year, at least not on the same scale.  The NFL makes apple pie look like a lead-contaminated toy.  The NFL is head and shoulders above any other sporting league in the U.S.  and popularity doesn’t seem to be waning.

Where does that leave the other sports?  The NFL is the head honcho of the leagues but this wasn’t always the case.  What happened to Major League Baseball?  Was it the steroid era that killed the American pastime?  Maybe.  Is it the fact that the “franchise player” is hard to come by since free agency?  Maybe.  Is it the fact that the game has just lost its excitement?  That’s the main reason.  Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing like going to a ballgame.  But it’s not an event or a spectacle.  Games go on for hours and when there are 162 games in a season, who can keep track?  The NFL’s schedule gives us an event every week for sixteen weeks.  It’s beautiful; the system lends itself very well to getting hard-core or casual fans.

The NBA intrigues me.  Where is the future?  The games can be terribly boring or exhilarating and exciting.  It depends who’s playing and it depends very heavily on the officiating.  It’s no secret that the NBA caters to its stars. (NBA drinking game:  every time Lebron, Kobe, or Durant travel, take a drink.  Pace yourself.)  This years playoffs have been the best I have seen in years.  The Lakers are definitely the top team in the league.  They have their superstar (guess who that is), a couple of big men, a hall of fame coach, and a stocked bench.  The Lakers are a team similar to well…….The Lakers.  They’ve built a team similar to the team Phil Jackson coached in the late-nineties early-two thousands.  The best teams come out of drafting and good management (The Spurs of the 2000’s, The Pistons of the 2000’s, The Bulls of the 1990’s.)  Most NBA teams have found themselves in a desperate “trade now!” policy and don’t worry about player development.  This is the reason why the league’s top star, King James has yet to win a championship.  And it’s not looking good this year………..

A league that is on the rise is the National Hockey League.  The NHL has found its stride as of late.  Now they need to find themselves a TV contract with ESPN.  A game here and there on “Versus” is not going to do it if this league wants to be considered one of America’s top four sports.  Crosby and Ovechkin have been to the NHL what Bird and Magic where to the NBA.  The young talent the NHL has acquired over the past few years (Patrick Kane, Stephen Stamkos, Nicklas Backstrom) has made the game a real fun game to watch for even the most casual fan.  Since the lock out season the NHL has been on an up swing.  We will have to watch over the next few seasons where the NHL will rank in popularity and hopefully for hockey fans the Commish and his boys are working with ESPN on this TV contract.

What does all this mean for sports?  How the hell do I know?!?

Well I that’s all for now.  I will be back next week for another installment of WILD PITCH.  Same bat-time, same bat-station.

-AJ

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