The Sports Section - Pros and Cons

No, this topic is not about professional athletes and their legal problems.  This is about some of the rule changes affecting MLB and the NFL this year that have stirred up a bit of controversy.
 
With the 2014 baseball season just underway, teams, announcers, umpires, and fans are trying to figure out the two major rules changes.
 
First up is the expansion of the use of instant replay.  All 30 clubs, plus the MLB Players Association and the World Umpires Association, gave their ok.  After a season of testing out the new rules, including the postseason, there will be a review and most likely some changes.
 
Much like the replay challenges in the NFL, baseball managers are limited in the number of challenges they can make per game and are penalized if they lose a challenge.  Plays that are now reviewable include home runs, ground rule doubles, fan interference, force plays (except touching second base on a double play), tag plays (including steals and pickoffs), fair/foul in the outfield only, trap plays in the outfield only, and a batter hit by a pitch.  Balls and strikes are not reviewable.
 
Also new this season is that the clubhouses and dugouts are equipped with video systems where staff will be watching replays in order to notify the manager if a challenge is in order.  The fans will also be allowed to see replays of all calls on the scoreboard.  Previously, controversial calls were not shown in the ballpark.
 
The strongest argument in favor of the system is that it will assist umpires in getting the call right, especially in potential game-changing situations.  Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer stated on Twitter that "Umps have an impossible job and this should better the game."
 
Among those against the expanded use of instant replay are the baseball purists who believe that bang-bang plays and close calls are historically part of the game and should be left as is.
 
Another concern, which will play itself out during the season, is the effect the instant replay challenge will have on the length and pace of the game.  Commissioner Selig has spoken repeatedly about the need to speed up the game's pace.  But the guidelines for a manager to make a challenge state that it must be done in a timely manner, whatever that is.
 
How has it gone so far?  There have already been some obviously blown calls that were not overturned, even though replay clearly showed the initial call to be incorrect.  Managers are also learning to play the challenge system - strolling on the field to talk to the crew chief while keeping an eye on the dugout to get the OK or no-go sign from the dugout.  They've already coined the term "Turning" which is when a manager goes out on the field and puts himself in a position so he can see into his dugout and the umpire has to turn to face the manager.
 
And what will this new use of instant replay do to the classic confrontations between manager and umpire?  Is it the end of arguments, finger-pointing, dirt-kicking, and hat-throwing?  I hope not!
 
The other major rule change in MLB concerns home plate collisions between the catcher and a base-runner.  In a one-year trial period, Experimental Rule 7.13 will be enforced.  The intention of the rule is to increase player safety at home base.  The goal was to come up with a rule that allows both the runner and catcher a fair and equal opportunity to either score or defend.  It should prevent the catcher from blocking the plate without the ball and the runner from going out of his way to make contact with the catcher.  Again, this rule will be reviewed at the end of the season.
 
The NFL is also initiating some changes for the upcoming season.  At the owners' meetings in late March a number of rule proposals were made.  The following were passed.
1.  Extend the height of the goalposts by 5 feet to 35 feet.
2.  Roll-up blocks on the sides of legs are illegal.
3.  Allow the referees to consult with members of the NFL officiating department during replay reviews.
4.  Recovery of a loose ball on the field is now reviewable.
5.  Allow the clock to run after a quarterback sack.
6.  Enforce defensive fouls behind the line of scrimmage from the previous spot, rather than from the end of the run or from the spot of the foul.
 
There will also be a two-week trial during pre-season of spotting the extra point kicks at the  20-yard line, making them the equivalent of a 38-yard field goal.  A number of other changes were tabled or simply failed to pass.
 
On the minds of all NFL fans right now is the upcoming draft, which begins May 8.  Browns fans, especially, feel there is so much at stake for their team.  Everyone has an opinion on who the Browns should pick first, and the fact that a whole new regime is in place, again, to make the picks adds to the uncertainty.  Have you done your mock draft yet in preparation for this football national holiday?
 
Coming up:
The NBA and NHL playoffs have begun - finals will be in June
Kentucky Derby - May 3
PGA Players' Championship, Sawgrass - May 8-11
Indy 500 - Sunday, May 25

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