WE ALL MAKE decisions every day. Some, like ignoring the snooze button or avoiding dessert, are hard but necessary. Other ideas aren’t so good: the folks who invented New Coke or thought “Cats” would make a good movie are probably still regretting those choices.
You learn pretty quickly that you’ll never please everyone, even with the best of intentions. Which brings us to three ideas that have surfaced in recent weeks in the sports world in recent weeks.
Virginia Tech football coach Justin Fuente recently announced that any of his players who venture into the NCAA’s transfer portal won’t be welcomed back. Meanwhile, the NFL is pushing for a 17th regular-season game and Major League Baseball is mulling a major overhaul of its postseason format.
Let’s start with the Hokies.
Fuente, like most coaches, would prefer his players (at least, his most productive ones) not leave early. But the Hokies saw a slew of players exit the program after the 2018 season, while current starting quarterback Hendon Hooker and top rusher Deshawn McClease returned after exploring other options.
Since Thanksgiving, six Hokies have entered the portal, including key receivers Damon Hazelton and Hezekiah Grimsley and safety Khalil Ladler. Fuente insists they will not be welcomed back.
“You always take things one case at a time,” Fuente told reporters last month. “There’s always exceptions, unforeseen circumstances, but we aren’t going back down that road right now.”
That’s certainly his prerogative, but the optics look really bad after Fuente discussed Baylor’s head-coaching opening before deciding to stay in Blacksburg.
Let’s be clear about a couple of things. Baylor contacted Fuente, not vice versa, and the matter was resolved quickly. He didn’t hold the school hostage in a bid for a raise.
And players at all schools transfer for many reasons, including playing time and family issues, and the trend is growing. Still, the fact that multiple Hokies have sought greener pastures should prompt Fuente (as well as athletic director Whit Babcock) to evaluate his program’s recruiting and retention methods rather than burning bridges.
As for the pros, the NFL’s bid for a 17th game is clearly a money grab by already filthy rich owners. The injury rate among players in a 16-game season is already astronomical, and adding another game would only raise that. Unless the players can win big financial incentives in the new collective bargaining agreement, it should be a non-starter.
Baseball, on the other hand, is considering shortening its interminable regular season by several games to allow four more teams into the playoffs. A shorter season is not a bad idea; neither is giving the best team in each league a first-round bye. And keeping more teams in the playoff hunt should help attendance and discourage teams from tanking.
The issues start arising, though, with the proposal of having the No. 2 and 3 seeds in each league choose their first-round playoff opponents. That seems like a recipe for disaster and a chance to give the underdogs a huge motivational advantage—even if all three games of the first-round series will be played in the higher-seeded team’s park.
Still, we saw how much home-field meant last fall, when the Washington Nationals beat the now-notorious Houston Astros in a World Series that saw the visitors win every game.
Contrary to popular belief, more is not better. It’s fun when wild-card teams like the 2019 Nats get hot in October and win it all. But do we really want teams that barely break .500 in a super-sized postseason? The NBA and NHL already send teams with losing records into the playoffs, and the results are usually obvious.
Give baseball credit for thinking outside the (batter’s) box after an offseason that turned into a public-relations nightmare. Perhaps, with a bit more tweaking, it can come up with a viable option. Otherwise, its playoffs are already long (and big) enough.