The third time’s no charm, either

Just when you thought it was safe to re-enter the sports pages...
Getting a few things off my chest, assuming that didn’t include any of the remaining dark hairs on it, has proved cathartic over the past few weeks. Hopefully, the mention of them has helped relieve a little of your own athletics-induced frustration as well.
Of course, I realize that nothing is ever going to change. Sports in this country — especially when we’re talking about enterprises such as the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball and even the NCAA—are monolithic. So much money is being made off them by team owners, major universities and professional athletes that doing anything to rock the boat that’s sailing on a clear—green revenue stream would constitute fiscal insanity.

Killing the golden goose didn’t even make any sense in Aesop’s day.
But just to feel a bit better for a moment or so, I present the last installment, encompassing letters S-through-Z, of items I wouldn’t at all mind doing without in my sports-watching future. See if you agree.
• Sideline reporters, unless you’re talking about Tony Siragusa, are usually eye candy, which is the primary reason they acquired the gig in the first place. But other than providing visual appeal, the young women serving as sideline reporters don’t bring anything substantive to the table — and when their assignment is in Buffalo, Philadelphia or Green Bay in December, the assets they do have get hidden beneath layers of winter garments.
To be fair, the few men that fill the role of sideline reporter don’t inundate us with valuable information, either. How much insight is any coach going to give when he’s corralled while going to or coming from the halftime locker room? We’re going to hear coachspeak, nothing more, unless San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is being cornered, in which case we’ll be treated to one-and two-word answers that perfectly illustrate his discomfort — and my own — with the entire process.
By the way, I do give props to the various networks for having the wisdom to most often use women instead of men as sideline reporters. No man wants to appear boorish when a female is in the immediate area, so male coaches will at least attempt to answer her questions, no matter how trite, as opposed to simply sprinting past the reporter, which would happen in a mano -a-mano situation.
• TV timeouts are a pain in the posterior, although I admit it’s probably more of a personal grudge being expressed here. As someone who has attended live events as a print reporter and been forced to deal with tight deadlines, nothing boils the blood more than unnecessary pauses in the action to sell additional insurance, fast food or TV-phone-computer bundles to the viewing audience.
I understand that television brings in the money, but long before TV existed, newspapers and other print outlets were around to inform the public. Yet at these same events where electronic media get to essentially run the show, members of the print media are seen as virtual outcasts and deserving of little cooperation from on-site personnel. We’re all doing the same job, but not under anything close to the same conditions.
In short, we’re like pariahs. Now, I know how members of the Kardashian clan must feel.
• Unshaven faces on athletes are as much a part of today’s postseason scene as champagne spray in winning locker rooms and the piping in of “We Are The Champions” over stadium or arena PA systems. They’ve also become just as cliched.
Baseball players having fuzzy faces is at least somewhat understandable —— it gets pretty chilly in a lot of eastern and Midwestern cities by late October, so a little natural coverage for warmth’s sake makes sense. But hockey players doing the same thing while skating in humid arenas in June is downright silly.
I’m sure part of it stems from the belief that unkempt somehow translates into unpredictable, but come on — we’re not living in the old West, where bathing facilities were sparse. And even then, who did the unruly bad guys fear most? Clean-shaven types like Matt Dillon and Hoss Cartwright.
Oh, and one more thing: Can we at least enact a rule that says if a guy is determined to become hirsute that he possesses enough hair follicles to actually grow a full beard?
• Voting, as related to that done by fans, is problematic, too. I’m not referring to the political arena, although given the circus acts found in D.C. and Springfield, Ill., these days, that is plenty worthy of ridicule as well. In this instance, though, I’m talking about voting for all-star teams.
On the surface, this would seem fine —— after all, fans are the ones paying the freight through high ticket prices and the like. However, I sure wish more fans would exercise sound judgment when given the chance to select their favorite athletes for all—star contests.
And therein lies the real issue — in their quest to choose the biggest names, too many fans ignore stats, or other basic facts, such as player health. Case in point: Kobe Bryant, who has played all of six games for the Los Angeles Lakers this season, was picked as one of the Western Conference All-Star starters. But that’s not the dumbest decision ever perpetrated.
No, NHL fans have that distinction. Many years ago, enough of them were enamored of former Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Pelle Lindbergh to select him as the all-star starter in the nets. This was the same Lindbergh who had died in a car accident well before the voting ended.
• Wild cards are now an accepted part of team sports’ playoffs, but enough is enough. The most ridiculous is baseball’s recently expanded postseason, where one team in each league is eliminated after just a single contest. I’m sorry, but after enduring a 162-game regular season, that’s a crazy setup, especially when other series are of the best-of variety.
And, in both baseball and football, how many times have we seen a wild-card entrant evolve into a playoff juggernaut and climb all the way to the top? Yeah, it’s cool watching a so-alled underdog ultimately prevail, but there’s no longer an element of surprise when it occurs.
Regular seasons become a little more meaningless with each wild-card success, and their importance is also lessened by the advancing of so many teams into the NBA and NHL playoffs. Sixteen qualifiers per sport are way too many.
At this point, regular seasons should be written off completely. Make all teams eligible for the postseason and let the playoff begin right away. Hey, it’s really no worse than what we have going right now.
• (E)Xpectoration goes along with unshaven faces in that I don’t really care to see it. Luckily, most of the spitting is confined to the baseball diamond, but it’s still disgusting.
Unless a player inadvertently swallows a bug, he doesn’t need to spit. And for goodness sake, TV cameramen should refrain from showing it when it does happen.
(By the way, I know I cheated here with the letter “X,” but “X-rays” are a good thing, and I have no animosity toward Xavier University or former NBA forward Xavier McDaniel.)
• Yapping after plays needs to cease. The trash talking is never appealing, but it’s particularly aggravating when it comes at the end of a rather routine effort. If the action was truly impressive, no words should be necessary.
Besides, isn’t that what professional athletes are paid to do — make the necessary plays?
Like the dreaded end-zone dances, yapping didn’t exist once upon a time. There was undoubtedly conversation that went on between players, but it never became a public spectacle. Too bad we can’t go back in time.
• Zero-to-zero games are an impossibility, of course, but what I’m talking about here are the kind of low-coring contests that are much too scarce in these times. With the exception of basketball, defensive struggles in the other three major sports can be highly entertaining.
I know detractors will point to soccer as proof that a lack of offense is not the way to attract fans, but don’t use Americans’ general disinterest in the sport as a barometer. Instead, consider soccer’s status as the international world’s favorite sport. Can billions of people be wrong?
Well, maybe, but not because they’re accepting of low-coring matchups. Sports leagues have geared their products to showcase flashy offenses, but how much drama is really found in a 9-8 baseball game or 7-5 hockey game? It’s much more thrilling to watch a whoever-blinks-first-falls-to-defeat encounter, where ace pitchers and red-hot goaltenders control the action.
Now, aren’t you glad I’ve finally run out of letters?