Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Great Idea. Never Happen.

Slate's Josh Levin correctly identifies the Number 1 problem with this spring's otherwise scintillating NBA playoffs.

Too many timeouts.

This year's playoffs have featured a startling number of tight contests, overtime games and nail-biting seventh-games. Without fail, though, the games are in great measure ruined by their laborious stop-and-start finishes.
The last few minutes of a playoff game should burble with tension. Instead, we get an interminable, deflating cycle of sideline reports, inbound passes, and detergent commercials. There is a simple, elegant solution to this endgame insanity: Ban the timeout. ...

Let's say the NBA eradicated timeouts from the bench and replaced them with TV timeouts at the nine-, six-, and three-minute marks of each quarter. The networks could sell the same amount of ads, the coaches could talk strategy and make plenty of substitutions, and the players could rest. Most important, the endgame could be presented without commercial interruption. Maybe then the final act of a playoff game would be as exciting as the first quarter.
Great idea. Never Happen.

The fact is, the placing of timeouts in the interests of the game is exactly opposed to the placing of timeouts in the interests of television. Levin's idea would in fact improve the games immeasurably. As it is, all flow is lost, and the final minute is simply a series of set-pieces. Eventually the pressure of the moment comes to bear, but only after long minutes of lethargy.

The problem is that the placement of timeouts (and commercials) where they are is certainly in the interests of television. The preponderance of commercial spots are right where the greatest numbers of viewers are to be found -- at the end of the game.

And this is why exactly nothing will change about this.

TV coverage has little impact on most sports. Baseball, football, golf, tennis, none of these really have to change their action as a kow-tow to television. Soccer -- to the extent anyone is watching -- has forced TV to come up with new solutions in order to televise games without stopping for commercials.

Television kills basketball. All the pressure of a close game is dissipated by the endless waiting around, and taking 15 minutes to play the final minute -- only to have the game go into overtime and have the cycle start over again is just mind-numbing.

And it's not going to change anytime soon.


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