Sports Czar: Is it Time?



Some things in sports just don’t make sense. Why doesn’t the NHL have a contract with ESPN? Why doesn’t Gus Johnson announce March Madness games anymore? Why does the NFL Pro Bowl still exist? Why does EA Sports’ Madden video game get worse every year? Aside from soccer, why are women’s sports televised?[1] These are some of the underlying mysteries of sports that we may never find out. But there are some major issues too. College football is squandering without a playoff system. The NBA’s parity is in complete disarray. Roger Goodell’s power trip is making a mockery of the NFL. There must be a solution to these problems. In 2008, ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons wrote about the idea of a Sports Czar—an all-powerful, final-say, emperor of the sports world. The commissioner of commissioners. The Czar’s job would be simple: Every time there was any kind of issue he would step in and regulate it. With at least moderate controversy surrounding every major professional sport, now is as good of a time as ever to implement a Sports Czar. I would like to expand on Bill Simmons’ brilliant idea.

How could we possibly deem one single person to be qualified enough to be the Sports Czar? I say we treat it like a presidential election. There must be some sort of qualification to run for office. To eliminate bias, a candidate cannot have worked for or played for a professional sports team in the past.[2] Ideally, they would indirectly have worked in sports—a journalist or radio or TV personality would be optimal in a perfect world. How funny would it be when Rush Limbaugh becomes the Ralph Nader of Sports Czar elections? He would run every year and never win.

Since 1973, the most profound controversy in baseball has been the designated hitter rule. As it stands now, the American League, by having a designated hitter bat in place of their pitcher, has a completely unfair advantage over the National League. Hang with me here. When an AL team plays against an NL team, the AL team has a player under contract whose job it is to hit and only hit. The NL team doesn’t have that, so they are forced to use a bench player as their designated hitter. Those who favor the American League’s rules say “Peyton Manning doesn’t have to kick his own field goals” while those who favor the National League’s respond “Yes, but no one shoots free throws for Shaquille O’Neal.” Next year, with the Houston Astros moving to the American League, each league will have an odd number of teams. This means that there will always be interleague play and the AL could very well dominate the NL until the end of humanity. I say we divide the country into two parties: The American Party (favors the DH rule) and The National Party (opposes the DH rule). This way, when the Sports Czar is elected, we already have one controversy ended: If the American Party candidate wins, the entire MLB adopts the designated hitter rule for the remainder of his time in office. If the candidate representing the National Party wins, the designated hitter rule is dropped.

We can have primaries to find out which representative of each party is best. Then, once we have two leaders of each pack, we hold a Billy-Madison-style sports academic decathlon. A live televised debate on ESPN could possibly be the most watched cable program in history.[3] The debate would start out with speeches from each candidate. They would consist of campaign promises that would later be broken, “I promise to not be bought out by NBA commissioner David Stern and his lackeys…” And then the program would move on to scrutinizing questions asked by the media: “What are you going to do about ESPN’s horrible afternoon lineup?” “How can you ensure that the NBA Draft Lottery is no longer fixed so that the big market teams come away with top draft picks every year?” “What is your stance on cell phone use at baseball games?” “Do NBA players dominate at beer pong?” “How can we eliminate the WNBA from existence without backlash from feminist groups?”[4] That last one might be impossible, but if any candidate can come up with some kind of realistic policy, they would be a shoe-in.[5]

Meanwhile, prior to the debate and up to the election, HBO cameras will be following the candidates around and televising a Sports Czar 24/7 special.

Once elected, the Czar would live in a house that overlooks Madison Square Garden or Yankee Stadium or any historical sports venue of their choice. His kitchen will have hardwood flooring that looks like a basketball court. His living room floor will be made out of AstroTurf and have yard-markers painted on like a football field. And his hallways will be made out of dirt with an authentic chalk-line down the middle, resembling a base path on a baseball field. He would also be required to drive a Bullpen Buggy everywhere he goes. Despite all of this, we will still take him seriously. Any decision he makes will be final, effective immediately.

In Bill Simmons’ campaign to become the first Sports Czar, he came up with some good ideas: A full-length indoor basketball court in the White House, with all games involving Obama televised on NBA TV; no more seat licenses; no NHL ticket can cost more than $75; the NHL will disband eight teams, move a few more to Canada and form 11-team conferences in the United States and Canada; the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Hornets will switch nicknames[6]; NBC's "Football Night in America," will shift to a "Hollywood Squares" format; if you purchase a player's jersey and that player is traded within 12 months, you can return the jersey and buy a new one for half price. And then Simmons came up with some duds: A game of HORSE at the NBA All-Star break (they tried this and it turned into a complete snooze-fest); two rounds of the MLB Home Run Derby (the MLB is still trying to figure out how to make this exciting in the post-steroid era).

The Sports Czar position would hold the utmost responsibility. He would have to be on hand for every major sporting event. Last Friday’s Cardinals/Braves do-or-die wild card playoff game featured a massive amount of controversy. With two runners on base, a Braves batter blooped a fly ball to shallow left field. The Atlanta crowd roared and managed to distract the Cardinals fielder who was trying to catch the ball, which plopped to the ground. Everyone in the world thought it was a base hit until the television announcer broke the news that the umpires had wrongfully called the batter out on an infield fly rule.[7] The Braves’ manager came out to argue while Atlanta fans pelted the field with trash, causing a 20 minute delay in the game. The Braves ended up losing that game, effectively ending their season. Most fans blamed the loss on that specific miscall by the umpires. If there were a Sports Czar, the game would have gone differently. After a delay, the PA announcer would have alerted the crowd, “We have just received word from the Sports Czar (presented by Gieco). The play has been overturned. It is a base hit.” Everyone would be happy and the Braves would have a fair chance at winning. Just like that.

Imagine a world without league lockouts and labor disputes. The 2012-2013 NHL season would become a reality. This year’s NFL referee lockout would have never happened and the NFL wouldn’t have looked like an episode of The Wiggles for the first three weeks of the season. Every time a labor dispute would emerge on the horizon, the Sports Czar would meet with the representatives of the players union and the owners, give each an hour to make their case, and then he would decide which side wins.

The fabric of the Sports Czar isn’t perfected. There are a few outlying factors that need to be addressed. Do we need secret service to follow the Czar and protect him as he flies from stadium to stadium? Is he even assassinate-able? Do we give him any benefits after his term is up? Can he control the Olympics? Can he control sports movies? Imagine if a candidate had everything going his way until he announced at the Billy Madison Sports Academic Decathlon Sports Czar Debate Presented by Gieco[8] that he was pro-Caddyshack remake! The camera would zoom in on Lisa Leslie (or any of the countless C-list athletes sure to be in attendance[9]) burying her face in her hands, mouthing the words “Did he just say he wants a Caddyshack remake?” Talk about a campaign killer.

But most importantly, who pays the Sports Czar’s salary and how much should he get paid? Shouldn’t he be paid more than most if not all athletes? What if we agreed on a base salary of the average of the top 10 athletes’ salaries at the beginning of his term. This deal would have to include incentives: If, under his legislation, the average time it takes to play an MLB game decreases by 30 minutes, he gets an extra $50,000. Popularization of any professional sports league would have to be honored. At some point during his term, government officials would scatter across New York City, interviewing random pedestrians for a select amount of time. If any of the interviewees could name more than three Major League Soccer teams, the Czar would receive $10,000. Bonus points for saving an endangered sport like boxing (convincing Floyd Mayweather to fight Manny Pacquiao would be a hell of a start) or horse racing. Lowering ticket prices and decreasing advertisements for all sports would be expected, almost like the equivalent to a president lowering taxes.

How long would it take before we had a Sports Czar that abused his powers? “Hey, did you hear what happened to Stuart Scott? He compared LeBron to Michael Jordan on SportsCenter again and this time the Sports Czar sentenced him to watch the entire ’96 Bulls season on repeat for the next month.”

            Just about every guy in America has had the discussion with their friends about how to fix a certain sport. What would you do if you were the Sports Czar? “Make soccer full-contact,” one of my roommates suggested. “Island seating in the middle of center field at all baseball stadiums,” another roommate chimed in.[10] But what if there was a king who ruled over the sports world, made every final decision and ended every controversy? As Bill Simmons said, “How could it possibly hurt?”


[1] By the way, is it safe to say the United States women’s national soccer team is more recognizable than the men’s? After a quick Google search, “US Women’s Soccer Team” amounted to 4.38 million results barely edging out 4.36 million results for “US Men's Soccer Team”. That’s good enough for me.
[2] Sorry, Mark Cuban, you’re not buying your way into this
[3] If 13.1 million people watched Lebron’s “The Decision”, a Sports Czar debate would at least break the 20 million mark
[4] And before anyone gets defensive and says women deserve pro sports too, think about this: If you could sit in the first row of any event, would a WNBA game even crack your top 500 choices?
[5] Relax, I’m just kidding. And I’m done ripping the WNBA; I’ve met my quota.
[6] This makes too much sense. The Utah Jazz originated in New Orleans, where jazz is a focal point. They relocated to Utah and for some reason retained the nickname “Jazz” even though the genre has no connection at all to Salt Lake City
[7] Infield fly rule: If there are runners on base with less than two outs, any pop up to the infield is automatically an out. This avoids fielders purposely dropping the ball to turn a guaranteed double play. In this instance, the ball was hit well into the outfield and the call should have never been made by the umpire.
[8] We’re still working on a title
[9] Last one, I swear!
[10] Okay, so nobody actually suggested this to me, but how funny would that be?

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