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A little logic would go a long way in rewriting sports rules

Photo: /AP

Balks are one of baseball's arcane rules nobody seems to truly understand.

Among the rules changes that NFL owners are considering this week are abolishing the tuck rule, which makes perfect sense, and making it a penalty for a ballcarrier to lower his head to make helmet-to-helmet contact with a tackler, which makes very little sense at all. The only thing the tuck rule ever did was allow a crucial Tom Brady fumble to be ruled an incomplete pass in a 2002 AFC playoff game, and let's be honest, Brady has enough going for him that he doesn't need arcane rules to make his life even better.

As for penalizing ballcarriers for initiating contact with the crown of their helmets, the effort to further limit head injuries is admirable, but in this case, the method is nonsensical. Runners instinctively lower their heads both for protection and to get every last yard out of a run. It's hard to legislate instinct out of the game. With all the restrictions on how and where hits can occur, the league might soon have to start using laser pointers to designate the tiny areas on the body where actual contact is legal.

But any effort to tweak the rules to improve a sport should be applauded. In fact, as long as we're talking about amending the rule books, here are a few other changes that ought to be considered:

? No timeouts in the final minute of a basketball game. With the NCAA tournament upon us, it's all but certain that at some point you will be frustrated by a thrilling, close game having all the adrenaline drained from it at the end by control-freak coaches calling timeouts to orchestrate the action. Drilling a team in how to execute at crunch time is what practice is for. The endgame should be both a test of how well prepared they are and the most entertaining part of the game. The problem is even worse in the NBA, where coaches call timeouts to set up the last play, which is rarely a play at all. They just put the ball in the hands of their best player and let him go one-on-one. We need a timeout for that?

The football corollary to the timeout rule: At least 10 plays have to be run between commercials in NFL games. This would get rid of the most boring five minutes in sports -- the stretch that starts with the extra point kick, followed by about a half dozen commercials, followed by the kickoff, followed by a half dozen more commercials. By the time the action starts in earnest again, you've forgotten who's playing.

? Clarify the balk rule. Be honest. When balks are called, 99 percent of the time you have no idea what just happened, do you? The pitcher is standing on the mound when one of the umpires throws up his hands and stops play, looking and pointing toward the mound as if he's accusing the pitcher of emitting some foul-smelling odor. The ump has actually spotted some nearly imperceptible movement that for some reason absolutely cannot be allowed, even though he's the only person in the stadium that has noticed it. From now on, balks should be called only if the pitcher does something clearly noticeable, like pump faking his throw to first, or going Gangnam Style on the mound.

? No more automatic NBA suspensions for leaving the bench during a fight. For years, the league has refused to admit that this rule is too rigidly drawn, allowing for no common sense discretion. Players can and have been suspended for barely stepping onto the court during altercations, even though they had no involvement in the brawl at all. Both the 1997 Knicks and 2007 Suns lost playoff series they might have won because of suspensions to key players who had taken just a few harmless steps onto to court. The league should amend the rule -- suspension only if a player leaves the bench and makes contact with an opponent? -- before anyone else gets unnecessarily punished.

The baseball corollary to the leaving-the-bench rule: When a hitter charges the mound to take on the pitcher, make it an automatic suspension for any other player to get involved. This would be interesting if only to see how many hitters and pitchers would go after each other if they knew that no teammates were on their way to give them cover. The guess here is that there would be less mound-charging and more angry yelling from a safe 60 feet, 6 inch distance.

? Simplify the rules about what constitutes a reception. The requirements for a legal reception in the NFL are more complicated than the tax code. Every time there's a disputed catch we hear about being able to make a "football move" after the catch and maintaining possession through the process of going to the ground. And even with all the criteria, it's still not clear half the time. We've seen receivers hold on to the ball almost until their post-game shower and have the pass called incomplete upon review. At this point, having fans vote by phone, American Idol style, would be a better way to make the call.

? No more free throw dap. Eliminate all palm slaps, fist bumps and fanny pats after a free throw. It's bad enough after a made free throw. After a miss it looks even more ridiculous. Maybe at one time it was a sign of team unity, but it has become the equivalent of air kisses at a fancy party -- such an obligatory gesture that it's been robbed of all sincerity. The shooter would be better served to stop looking around to make sure he's touched up with every teammate and start concentrating on making the next shot.

Doesn't that make sense? The application of a little logic is all it would take to improve the laws of our games a bit. And there's no rule against that.

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