The regular season of AtD is winding down, and our final regular season matchup features an amateur correspondent taking on two seasoned veterans in Managing Editor Bobby Olivier and Sports Editor Garrett Rasko-Martinis. Correspondent Mike McLoughlin asks our contestants about instant replay in baseball, how to revitalize the NHL’s popularity and which undefeated NFL teams are the most and least equipped for the postseason.
1. It is no secret that the officiating in this year’s MLB playoffs has been, at times, terrible. That being said, do you favor any expansion on MLB’s instant replay policies? If so, what would you make reviewable?
RY: If the purpose of implementing the replay is to get the call right, it should be accessible in all situations in which there is a questionable call. I am completely in favor of the MLB expanding the instant replay policies. If it’s a foul ball called fair, a muffed catch called an out, homeruns called foul, etc. it should be reviewable. People will say that it elongates the game, but for the cost of two minutes in a sport that doesn’t even have a time limit, what’s there to lose to get a call right? Specifically, I would like to see replay implemented for base running, foul balls called fair, and anything dealing with fan interference. If the game “slowing down” is an issue , give each manager two flags per game to challenge a play with.
BO: There is absolutely no question that instant replay needs to become a bigger part of Major League Baseball, as several potentially game-changing missed or incorrect calls have shaped this postseason. 2009 will be remembered for these blown calls, and it’s obvious that more instant replay is needed. Everything except for balls and strikes should be reviewable, but it has to be controlled as to not slow down the game even more than it already is. The MLB could possibly adopt the NFL’s rule that managers get one or two challenges each per game, instead of arguing with umpires and getting tossed from games, which ultimately takes as much, if not more, time than a quick review from an umpire looking at all possible camera angles. The MLB cannot keep screwing up, so something needs to happen soon.
GRM: There is a problem and it needs to be fixed. It’s one thing if the umpires are making mistakes on close plays, but the frequency and the severity of the umpires’ mistakes in the postseason have been disturbing. The two that jump out at me are the foul ball call in Game 2 of the ALDS and the blown double play call in Game 4 of the ALCS. I honestly have no clue how the left field umpire thought that the ball Joe Mauer hit was in foul ground when every replay showed it was clearly not even close to being a foul ball. But with the play in the ALCS, it’s almost excusable because it appears Tim McClellan’s vision was blocked by the players. However, as crew chief he’s got to be smart enough to check with the other umpires. If they had replay for plays such as those, and they limited the times a manager could use it, like in tennis or football, then there’s no reason why instant replay shouldn’t be implemented.
MM: Ryan and Bobby’s answers are very similar, however the edge and 3 points goes to Bobby for saying that it should be used for everything except balls and strikes. Garrett had a similar argument as well, but did not answer the second part of the question so he gets 1 point. Two for Ryan.
2. The NHL’s popularity was dealt a serious blow with the lockout several years ago, and it has not recovered. While the rule changes made the games more high scoring, this has not restored the NHL’s fanbase to pre-lockout levels. What do you think is the key to hockey becoming more marketable in the United States?
RY: I argue against the question because the NHL drew in a record number of television viewers last year. The NHL used marketing techniques from the NFL to promote its sport and has increased its ratings and viewings each year since the lockout. However, there are two simple things that must happen. First, it must continue to place its two most valuable players out on full display — Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. Hockey was at its greatest when Wayne Gretzky, who is considered the greatest hockey player ever, played the game. The NHL is seizing on that now with Ovechkin, the greatest goal scorer in the NHL, and Crosby, “The Next One.” The NHL essentially has its Kobe/LeBron in these guys for the next 10 plus years. It should run a Crosby versus Ovechkin debate, much like what Vitamin Water did with Kobe and LeBron. Second, it needs to land on major networks, primarily ESPN. Commissioner Gary Bettman should be ashamed of himself for letting the NHL suffer on such a small network like Versus when it has to compete with the NBA the entire season and the NFL until February. The scheduling for the playoffs were equally atrocious because half of the games weren’t on NBC. The NHL must at least make a push to get back with ESPN if it wants to reach the next level — in America, that is.
BO: This question has been debated for years, even before the whole lockout fiasco. The league is definitely on the rise with Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby running the show, but regular season and postseason hockey that does not involve either of these players does not get ratings. The NHL has tried pretty much everything, eliminating ties and widening the goals, but hockey just isn’t as much fun to watch on television as it is when at a game. My only suggestion would be to add different camera angles that somehow make the puck easier to follow. Other than that, everyone loves a good hockey fight, so maybe include an intermission on-ice brawl between bench players to spice things up. Good luck hockey: You’re going to need it.
GRM: This one has had me scratching my head for a while. While I haven’t been a hockey fan for a long time, I thought the addition of the shoot-out was exciting and actually slightly renewed my interest in hockey. One thing I can think of is after the baseball strike I noticed that players and ball boys now almost always throw balls into the stands. It’s a bit harder in hockey because there’s no hockey equivalent for a foul ball, but if someone could figure out some way to get hockey souvenirs to the fans with some regularity, I think that would be just a small something that could be done. One other thing I’ve thought of is how the NHL doesn’t really have a face. In football, you have Peyton Manning or Adrian Peterson. In baseball there is Albert Pujols, and in basketball there is LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. These are the types of players who when they come to a town, it brings people out to watch the games, even if that team is terrible. I know the NHL has Ovechkin and Crosby, but they’re just not as big of public figures as James or Pujols. If the NHL could do more public relations work in that regard you’d see more people coming out for games.
MM: While Ryan had well articulated points, he questioned the infallibility of the judge, which is a no-no. Three points go to Garrett for touching on the importance of Crosby and Ovechkin. Two to Ryan for the point on the network deals. One to Bobby for funny, but impractical points.
3. As of week six, the Vikings, Saints, Broncos, and Colts remained the only undefeated teams left in the NFL. Which of these teams has the best shot at winning the Super Bowl? Which of these teams is least equipped to go far in the playoffs?
RY: The undefeated team who looks to have the best shot is Denver. In the playoffs, when the game matters most, the team that wins is the team that adjusts and executes in the second half. No other team has done that better than the Denver Broncos. When they head into the tunnel at halftime, that defense comes out and adjusts the game plan and shuts down the opposing team. This all begins with defensive MVP Elvis Dumervil, who has just been dominant in every single game for the Broncos. Kyle Orton, since that Bengals game, has exceeded everything Broncos fans have expected. Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal are finally being properly utilized and Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter look great. The least equipped team is Minnesota. The Vikings aren’t as good as their record speaks and the miracle plays say it all. A missed field goal by Steven Hauschka of the Ravens keeps Joe Flacco from being the hero of the game and instead adds to the legend of Brett Favre. If Brett Favre doesn’t throw a miracle pass to Greg Lewis, the Vikings don’t win. They’re close to the bottom of the league in pass defense and if they don’t step it up, they’re going to continue to be exploited there. You can’t be lucky forever, but I guess almost only counts in horseshoes.
BO: I’m sure most people are going to talk about the Saints, so I’ll take the guys that have done it before — the Indianapolis Colts — to make it to the Super Bowl and win. No one is talking about the 2007 champs, mainly because the other teams have been so surprising and they play in the horrible AFC South. But Peyton Manning and the Colts are a well-rounded team with the experience to go deep into the playoffs. Indianapolis is second in the NFL in points allowed and total defense, and they lead the league in passing and are in the top five in total points scored, and Manning is having another MVP-type season. The team least equipped is the Minnesota Vikings. Brett Favre has been good, but usually sputters late in the season and is always good for one costly error in the playoffs. Besides the Baltimore Ravens, the Vikings have played no one and are not going to last.
GRM: I’d be surprised if any of these teams finish the season undefeated, but the Saints probably have the best chance to do it. The Colts have a great offense, but with an oft-injured Bob Sanders and already-injured Dwight Freeney on defense I don’t like their chances. I still don’t know how the Broncos are undefeated but they have to come down to earth eventually. The Vikings seem solid everywhere right now, but I expect Brett Favre to break down later in the season and the Vikings to limp into the playoffs. If you look at the Saints last year, the biggest issue was no consistent running game or defense. If you look at the team this year, its bread and butter is still the passing game. Brees is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and he’s got an array of talented receivers with different skill sets. Whether it’s Marques Colston, Lance Moore or Jeremy Shockey, Brees will have no trouble putting up points against anyone. However, this year the Saints have three healthy runningbacks that really feed off the passing game. The Saints’ defense under new defensive coordinator Greg Williams looks much better also. It’s not a great defense by any means, but all that unit needs to do is not give up as many points as Brees puts up — and for the first time the Saints have a defense that can do that.
MM: For the second time in three questions Garrett only answered one part, so he gets the 1. Bobby gets the edge over Ryan for saying Colts as opposed to the Broncos. While Ryan’s point regarding the Vikings’ luck is sound, it contradicts his stance on the Broncos. If it was not for a last second miracle, they would have lost their first game. Three goes to Bobby for his stats and swagger.
Bobby finally wins AtD, 7 – 6 – 5