Column: Dead time of sports a tough reality for fans

The phrase “dog days of summer” is perhaps uniquely appropriate for sports fanatics.

We’re in that stretch of time where Major League Baseball is effectively the one major, traditionally followed spectator sport going on. (And yes … I hear all of you golf, UFC and World Cup fans, which is why I tossed in ‘traditional.’ You guys know what I mean.)

Hey, I follow baseball myself. There are precious few things more gripping than an intense, high-stakes baseball game, with ace pitchers on the mound and facing off against a lineup of powerful, experienced hitters. Matchup after matchup, pitch after pitch … they’re all battles that mean something and go on to spell victory or defeat, ultimately.

The problem with this time of year isn’t that baseball is the one high-profile option. It’s that, at this unopposed time of year, the baseball season is still in the middle stretch of a 162 game-per-team schedule, taking the teeth out of these matchups and giving all but the most hardcore of fans little reason to get invested until September.

Yes, every game matters. But when it comes down to it, we’re about two months away from playoff baseball and more than three from the conclusion of the World Series, which is set to begin Oct. 23.

Which means the large investment of time it takes to watch a full MLB game at this point yields some diminishing returns, to say the least. Can you really get that worked up if, say, your Yankees drop a Tuesday night game to the Rays, when they have almost 60 games left? And when they may have a couple more games against the Rays left to play that week!

This isn’t just an MLB problem, though — most sports suffer from this phenomenon to some degree. In college basketball, most high-major teams of decent quality are getting to the tournament. In the NBA, it’s an 82 game grind where, again, more than half the teams make the field (and only one has realistic designs on winning, but that’s another story we’ve touched on in this space and will surely weep over again).

I’ve long wished for league’s to shorten their schedules to give their product some punch, though I understand why that’s not likely to ever happen (spoiler: $$$). The NFL has been a bulldozer in our country for seemingly forever, and I maintain its greatest asset is scarcity. Most games are consolidated to one day and times where most are off of work and able to watch. Each team only has 16 games. If you don’t win about 2/3 of those, you’re probably out, and it’ll take more than that to play your biggest games at home. It’s also a sport where that last point matters a great deal, as climate matters– remember how the Saints went seemingly forever without winning a critical game in cold weather?

Ironically, the punishment the NFL players take creates the inability for owners to realistically push the number of games played anywhere near what’s expected in the other major sports, and it might be exactly what has kept the league on top.

Usually, though, all of this is mitigated because SOME league has some major stuff going on. The NFL is big time from start to finish. When the Super Bowl wraps up, people can shift gears to March Madness, catch up with the NBA stretch run and get excited for spring training and the start of baseball season (because the start of any season yields peak excitement and interest). That ride takes us through June and the NBA Finals …

… and right here to the dog days.

Honestly, what’s always confused me to no end is why we haven’t seen a sport truly try to leverage this time of year. What if baseball held the World Series in late July and early August, and didn’t have to compete at all with the NFL? What if the UFC or boxing world committed to rolling out its biggest fights in the summer, month after month, weekend after weekend?

And what about the NHL? That one is truly baffling. The NHL season shadows the NBA’s season, same with their playoffs and finals. Why go at the same time? Isn’t the NHL trying to grow their fanbase? Heck, I’ve tried and failed to get into hockey several times in my life … but what if you gave me semifinal and championship rounds NOW, when I’m thirsting for it and not distracted by the NBA?

A pipe dream, I guess.

But hey, Phillies/Reds gonna light us on fire tonight, y’all!

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