If Augusta National can reconfigure its golf course every year to
make it longer and more narrow, surely we can reconfigure
everything else in sports--including my 5'4" editor, Dick
Friedman, who would also like to be made longer and more narrow.
"So I can dunk," he says, "and get 20 more yards on my drive."
Fair enough. But the point is to modify sports in a way that
makes them more difficult, not less. Advances in equipment,
biology and biochemistry are rendering our most beloved games,
and their timeless dimensions, obsolete or insufficient. The time
has come to make all sports more challenging. Adapt or adieu.
So let's eliminate NASCAR pit crews. Make drivers on pit road
prepay for gas while waiting in line behind six people buying
Kools and Kit Kats from a cashier in a booth--built of
bulletproof Lucite--that resembles, right down to the slotted
window, Hannibal Lecter's holding pen. Now that's real driving.
Any fool can straddle a pommel horse. But gymnastics won't be
fraught with excitement--and those hilarious groin injuries, set
to circus music, that enliven the end of 11 o'clock sports
shows--until we introduce the pommel camel, with its perilous
April 18, 2004
If Augusta can Tiger-proof its fairways, shouldn't the Staples
Center Shaq-proof its lanes--not by widening them, mind you, but
by requiring the Lakers' center to wear size-60 clown shoes, so
that he can't set foot within 15 yards of the basket without
being whistled for a three-second violation? (Sure, Shaq will be
shooting free throws from the three-point line and three-pointers
from half-court, but his percentages in those categories will
hardly, can hardly, be made worse.)
Bonds-proof the rightfield wall at SBC Park by putting it on
pontoons in McCovey Cove, 700 feet from home plate. Require Red
Wings goalie Manny Legace to defend a soccer goal at Joe Louis
Arena--and D.C. United's Freddy Adu to shoot at a hockey goal in
Serena-proof Centre Court at Wimbledon by placing it on the
world's largest lazy Susan, so that even when she switches sides
Williams will forever be serving into the sun. For fans, this
will create a happy optical illusion: Though stationary, they
will feel as if they're watching each match from the revolving
restaurant on the roof of the Tampa Airport Marriott.
If sports are to survive, they have to do more than revolve. They
have to evolve: Three-point lines, two-point conversions after
touchdowns, 36 new pine trees on number 11 at the Masters. Maybe
Augusta's membership isn't made up of fossilized flat-earthers
after all--or not merely that. Maybe Augusta is in the
Heaven knows someone needs to raise the bar. Literally. We should
winch up the crossbar and cinch in the uprights for unerring
Colts placekicker Mike Vanderjagt. Conversely, we should widen
the goalposts--and shorten the field--at Nebraska's Memorial
Stadium, encouraging Arena Football-like pyrotechnics and making
infinitely more difficult the Cornhuskers' annual quest to bore
Americans into catatonia.
Rather than introducing new sports, like synchronized shvitzing,
the Olympics should stick with the old ones but increase their
degree of difficulty: Uphill skiing, for instance, or the javelin
catch. Let's devote our Olympic-sized swimming pools to Marco
Polo, which is even more rigorous than water polo.
Beach volleyball should be played on real beaches and not on soft
white sand groomed into baby powder. Why shouldn't the pros have
to do what I do when trying to settle under a ball--sidestep car
keys, dead jellyfish, sandcastle ruins, Danielle Steel novels,
jagged seashells, rusted pull tabs, flyaway Frisbees and,
inevitably, a Speedoed Swede shellacked in sunblock?
When perfection becomes routine, a sport is in trouble. What's
impossible in the NBA--flawlessness--is commonplace in the PBA,
in which bowlers regularly roll 300 games. Here's an idea: Let's
oil the lanes and the bowlers and make the latter dive, Pete
Rose-style, down the alley and into the pins. This has a
stylistic forebear in the Naked Beer Slide, in which Marquette
University students would dive, while glazed in Pabst Blue
Ribbon, across the linoleum floor of the Avalanche Bar.
Boxing will be revived only when the Marquess of Queensberry
rules are replaced by something more civilized, like the Barney
of Mayberry rules, under which combatants idly threaten one
another with violence before noisily retreating to their
It's time to level the playing field, and we don't just mean this
metaphorically. We really do need to raze the pitcher's mound at
Minute Maid Park and make the Astros' staff throw from plate
level. (Or better yet, make them throw from the kind of trench
that taller actors must stand in when starring opposite Tom
Let's remove one of Billy Packer's vocal cords and give it to a
golf announcer--any golf announcer--to disrupt the library
silence that Davis Love III demands when tapping in for bogey.
Think of Reconfiguration as a kind of Robin Hood, taking from
sports' rich and giving to the slightly less rich.
In Reconfigured America every athlete with an overwhelming
competitive advantage will get his or her comeuppance. If you
dominate, you're going down.
Unless you're a skier. In which case you're going up.
It's time to level the playing field: Raze the mound, raise the
crossbar, Serena-proof Centre Court.