Even after a week’s worth of vacation to personally reset, I have to admit that it still feels weird even thinking about sports right now.
But I had an itch to watch some sports when I got home from the beach this weekend. So I popped on a little bit of The Basketball Tournament July 5. I had been made aware that one game would feature a number of area connections. The team “Sideline Cancer” included former Terps center Diamond Stone, former Towson guard Four McGlynn and Baltimore native Jamel Artis (Dunbar). That squad was taking on “Team Hines,” which included former Towson star Jerrelle Benimon.
The event itself has always been fun, typically occurring after NBA season and allowing fans to enjoy watching players they used to root for in college one more time. (The event’s finals were held in Baltimore in 2017 and 2018.) It would be like going to see the band Eve 6 (if we were allowed to go to concerts) in 2020. You’re not remotely thinking they’re about to have another hit song, you just can’t help but sing along to every word of “Inside Out.”
This is certainly a bit of a backhanded compliment, but The Basketball Tournament is the best thing to happen to sports since the country was shut down in March. The NFL and MLB Drafts were fun distractions, but they weren’t sporting events. And the other sports that are happening at the moment just simply don’t do anything for me. I didn’t need a pandemic to know that I’m not a massive golf or NASCAR fan. They’re fine sports! They’re just not for me. Neither are The Eagles, but I’m not personally offended that ESPN gave a night’s worth of programming to a concert from a band that is totally fine and very popular, just not my cup of tea. I’d honestly be more likely to watch Eve 6.
The Basketball Tournament is for me. It’s not the highest level of competition in the sport, but I watch a lot of college basketball — including typically making trips to every local college during the course of a season. I assure you that’s not the highest level of competition in the sport, either. But I love the game, I recognize the players and it interests me even if I’m not necessarily “rooting” for anyone. (For the record, I’m not rooting against anyone either. While Stone’s season at Maryland was disappointing, I hold no grudge toward him.)
But watching the Sideline Cancer-Team Hines game provided a reminder about why I most enjoy watching The Basketball Tournament. It’s an idea I absolutely despised until I actually saw it in action and now it’s making me second guess myself when it comes to another evolution coming to sports.
I’m of course taking about the incredible “Elam Ending” concept. You saw it in the NBA All-Star Game this year. Remember that? Instead of playing to a final buzzer, TBT teams play to a final “number,” set by taking the leading team’s score and adding eight at the final media timeout. It takes away no late drama (here’s how the Sideline Cancer-Team Hines battle finished) from close games but importantly it takes away all of the unwatchable minutiae from games that aren’t quite as competitive.
To be clearer, have you ever found yourself flipping over to Big Ten Network at 9 p.m. to see Maryland play Minnesota only to find Rutgers trying to extend a game they’re losing by 12 points to Illinois by committing 10 fouls in the final 90 seconds and making you miss the first eight minutes of the Maryland game? That doesn’t happen with an Elam Ending. Gone are free throw contests, replaced instead by … basketball. There are two teams competing in half-court situations until one of them wins the game. It is glorious.
Yet when I was first informed of The Elam Ending concept years ago, I laughed. I thought to myself, “They’re going to try to force some contrived, bizarre end of game gimmick to a sport that has been just fine for more than 100 years? That’s stupid.” Now I sincerely believe the rule needs to exist in every level of the sport.
And in that moment, you realized I was writing a baseball column.
Perhaps I’m not as loud as many of the sport’s purists, but I assure you that I have groaned a number of times while discussing the new extra-inning rule coming to baseball this season. And to be clear, we all know what’s happening here. While they’re using the guise of “safety” to implement the runner on second base gimmick, the truth is that the sport has wanted to add the rule for years and they’re using the crisis to force the issue. This is going to be a part of the game moving forward.
And the truth is that it’s not all that dissimilar to the creation of the Elam Ending. While we all have wistful memories of nights spent watching baseball until 5 a.m. because the Orioles were in a marathon game on the West Coast, those games are of zero benefit to the sport. Not only do they create roster issues for future games, the local cable networks can’t sell any extra advertising into the broadcasts, the teams can’t sell any more beer at the stadiums, hourly employees have to be paid more while salaried employees make no more money for spending more time away from their families and you can call me a pearl-clutcher all you want, it absolutely cannot be ideal for cities to have potentially thousands of sleepy drivers hopping into their vehicles at 1 a.m. after watching a 16-inning game that produced a grand total of one run during the previous eight innings.
I know it’s not a problem in the context of the ACTUAL problems we’ve been dealing with in our country of late, but this is a problem for baseball and they’re trying to fix it. And they’re trying to fix it in a way that isn’t nearly as gimmicky as a hockey shootout, soccer penalty kicks or silly ideas like home run derbies.
They’re playing baseball. Former Orioles closer Gregg Olson reminded me recently that he was extremely familiar with “no one out, runner on second base” situations. It’s a part of the game. It will require strategy. It will be fascinating to see how forward thinkers in the game who have called for the death of bunting will react to teams that use it to successfully manufacture what could be a game-winning run. It’s interesting. It helps to solve an actual problem, and I think we should probably be more receptive than we’ve been so far.
Until proven otherwise, I’m officially on board. Actually … I might even be talking myself into being excited about it. And being excited about something isn’t exactly easy for baseball fans in Baltimore going into this “season.”
Photo Credits: Ben Solomon