Ask the Sportswriters

Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times  editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr and former Times intern Logan Marxhausen. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.

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•Question:  Major League Baseball  has expanded its playoff format from eight teams to 10, adding one more wild card entry in each league. The format creates a new one-game, wild card round in both leagues between teams with the best records who are not a division winner. The change has been talked about since last summer. What do you think?

-Dorr: It’s a terrible idea. It’s not so much that they’re adding two more teams, although I could do without that. It’s that there will be a one-game playoff. A team might play 162 games, perhaps rallying late in the season to earn the playoff spot, and then possibly see it go down the drain if the other team scores seven runs in the first or second inning of that one game. Pitching depth will have nothing to do with who wins a game like that. Maybe it will even be the ace of a staff that gets pounded in an early inning. Having a good No. 2 pitcher won’t make a bit of difference in a scenario like that. I’d just as soon they skipped adding the one-game playoff. Of course, fans and players will like it if they are associated with the extra team in each league.

-Marxhausen:  I am not a big fan of the new playoff format that commissioner Bud Selig has been promoting to make a change as soon as next season. After the end of the season, the top two teams, without winning the division, will have a one-game playoff matchup to take the last playoff spot. A whole 162-game season would be tarnished just because of one game. The baseball season is extensive and quite exhausting for players and for the reward of a playoff berth to be taken away as soon as the season is over would wipe out that hard work. This also poses the possibility that a third-place team in its division could win the World Series. I am not against a new playoff format for baseball, but this format does not suit my taste.

-Larson:  The American League East Division (think Yankees and Red Sox) will likely benefit most from the change – until one or the other is bumped out of the playoffs because of one bad game. That “play-in” game should have great TV ratings and that’s likely part of the reason it was added. I don’t like a team being added to the playoffs or that it is a one-game playoff. The opening playoff should be at least a best-of-three, not a roll of the dice, winner take all.

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•Question:  The National Football League is about to come down on the New Orleans Saints because the team had a “bounty” system that rewarded players for injuring and knocking opposing players out of games. How hard should the NFL penalize the Saints?

-Dorr: Remember how hard the Timberwolves were treated when they signed Joe Smith to an illegal contract? I think they lost five draft choices, or something like that. And that was nothing compared to what allegedly happened in New Orleans. The assistant coach and the coach there should get long suspensions. And the team should be fined heavily and possibly lose some draft choices. StarTribune columnist Sid Hartman, a friend of New Orleans owner Tom Benson, seems to think that just because everyone likes Benson, the NFL will go easy on the team. But, to save face, the league will have to come down hard on New Orleans. Then again, what do I or anyone else outside the league know about what will happen?

-Marxhausen: The NFL is talking about suspending Saints’ head coach Sean Payton, Saints’ general manager Mickey Loomis and newly Rams’ defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. The Saints’ owner has backed his head coach and general manager and supports them no matter what repercussions occur. The allegations are against the coaching staff and that is the huge matter that peaks my interest. All the other reports of players offering money for whatever incentive does not bother me because as a part of the system, they can do whatever they choose with their money. To offer money from an outside source or from the organization causes conflictions through contract agreements and NFL rules. If the NFL can prove that it was the organization or coaches in charge of a “bounty” program, then I will not argue against the consequences as long as they are in the realm of plausibility.

-Larson:  We football fans love seeing those big hits. Often we cheer louder for a crunching tackle than we do for a thrilling touchdown run or a great pass reception. NFL highlight reels feature the most bone-jarring tackles. College and high school players receive decals to put on their helmets after they’ve mad a big play, which is sometimes a big hit or tackle. That’s part of football and almost always these hard tackles aren’t planned for, they just happen.

Putting a “bounty” which offers a reward for putting a player out of the game is different. It’s unsavory but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s determined that teams other than the Saints are doing or have done it. The NFL wants its star players on the field, not being carried off of it on a stretcher, so look for the Saints to be dealt heavy penalties. The best way to send a message is to take away draft picks, as Luther points out happened to the Timberwolves. The team never really did recover from that blow.

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•Question:  The University of Minnesota has instituted a policy for basketball season-ticket holders that adds a “donation” charge to the price of the ticket. The “donation” charge ranges from $100 to $400 per ticket, depending on how close the seat is to the court. Quality season tickets this year cost $650 each, meaning to renew the ticket will cost $1,050. What do you think?

-Dorr: I think it’s ridiculous, especially considering the state of the program. If the Gophers were good every year, such as is the case at Wisconsin, Ohio State or Michigan State, the idea would be more palatable to ticket holders. My guess is that some fans aren’t going to renew and that it might end up being more than “some.” Of course, it’s done all over the country and the U is trying to find ways to get extra revenue. If I had been a season ticket holder for decades, as many of the season ticket holders have been, I’d probably let the tickets go unless I had unlimited resources. Maybe that’s what they’re hoping for down there – to get seats for some big hitters who don’t have seats now. It’ll be interesting to see how it works out. Maybe there’s more money out there than we suspect.

-Marxhausen: This strategy by the University will open up new season ticket holder spots and bring in some additional income to the program. There are die-hard fans out there who will pay the substantial increase because they want to keep their spots for a variety of reasons such as tradition, good seats, good price, etc., or alumni who don’t want to let go of their alma mater. This will also open up season-ticket holder spots for those people who don’t want to pay the “donation.” The die-hard fans who don’t have season-ticket spots will fill those seats. Even though the Gophers have not done the best in recent times, the demand to see the Gophers play is still there. I like this strategy on behalf of the University, but on behalf of the fans, this is an atrocity. The fans are dedicated enough to be season-ticket holders and support the program already.

-Larson:  What will the University think of next?  Apparently, attendance is slipping fast and projected to continue, so the school needs to soak those who are still buying season tickets. The way the team has performed the past few seasons, maybe the University should be lowering ticket prices rather than holding out a cup for donations.

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Do you have an opinion on any of this week’s questions? Do you agree or disagree with the sportswriters? Let us know by sending an e-mail to editor.millelacscotimes@ecm-inc.com or a note to Mille Lacs County Times, 225 S.W. 2nd St. Milaca, MN 56353. Or comment online.

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