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Less is More: Rules Changes to Baseball and Football in 2023

At a San Francisco Giants game this summer, my niece saw a shirt that read "Make Baseball Slower." We laughed. "Said no one ever," I replied. 

I won't apologize for this: I enjoy MLB games exponentially more now that the pitch clock is in place. And in case you haven't heard, college football has made some changes too. Thanks be to God. Here's why.

For the sake of clarity, the 2023 MLB rule changes: Pitch clock, end of shift and more notes the changes.

The new rule: Pitchers will have 15 seconds to throw a pitch with the bases empty and 20 seconds with a runner on base. Hitters will need to be in the batter's box with eight seconds on the pitch clock. 
What they're trying to change: The average time of a nine-inning major league game in 2022 was 3 hours, 4 minutes, which is actually a six-minute decline from 2021's all-time high -- but the time of game has been rising consistently since first crossing the three-hour mark in 2014.

On a philosophical level, I would like to engage in a conversation about what these newly imposed time constraints reveal about our society and me! Again, I don't want to undo this change. I feel relieved by the fact that the game keeps moving. I don't want to spend four hours at the yard. Is that a first world problem or what? 

But last Fall, I attended the Notre Dame vs. USC game at the Coliseum and began a blog posting I am only finishing now. The post was to be entitled "Threats to the Live Experience." In short, that game—the final one of the 2022 regular season—was so long, I wasn't sure I wanted to go back for another one. Here are the philosophical questions I raised last November. Fortunately, it seems that the powers that be made some changes.
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The holy season of Advent is upon us. It is a time of waiting and preparation for the birth of Jesus. The Incarnation. God become flesh and has dwelt among us. It made all the difference. I profess this truth with conviction and passion. Our showing up matters. God agrees.

The Incarnation prompts me to think of other ways when and where our personal presence matters. People travel long and far to attend the weddings of family or friends. The descriptor of "destination" is not required. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle goes so far as to say that true, authentic friendship requires seeing one another in person, on the regular! Many companies are requiring employees to return to the office, at minimum two days a week. Call it what you will—accountability or management—being physically present in the work place IS different.

My students are watching a film about a famous painting "Salvator Mundi" by the great Leonard DaVinci. "The Lost Leonardo" invited discussion on seeing art in person. Why is it necessary? Is it? I had to speak from experience. I was struck by the beauty and mastery of "The Mona Lisa," a painting I had seen in books, postcards, on television and in movies. And then, I went to the Louvre in Paris. To stand before it and gaze at that smile with my own eyes is unforgettable.

Art, friendship.ceremony and ritual, relationships and more are made palpable when we experience it for ourselves: in person. As a sports fan I want to wave this same flag long and strong, but attending the USC vs. Notre Dame game at the Los Angeles Coliseum has invited me to think otherwise.

Known as “The Greatest Stadium in the World”, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a living memorial to all who served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War I, has been a civic treasure for generations of Angelenos. The legacy of events and individuals hosted in nine-plus-decades reads like no other. It is the only athletic facility to host a World Series, two Super Bowls and in 2028 a total of three Olympic Games!

Every time I attend the USC vs. Notre Dame game in So Cal, my eyes feast on something I have not noticed before. From the disciplined agility of Traveler, the Trojan horse to the Man of Troy striking his sword into the field at the 50 yard line to commence the game, t
he pageantry around game day experience is remarkable. Much of it hasn't changed in the 80 years the Trojans have played in the Coliseum. Their tradition is strong.

But I would be remiss if I waxed poetic much longer. Why? My experience was compromised by the fact the game lasted over four hours. And it was a good game! However, the number of TV timeouts, the clock that stops after each first down and one that should for each injury on the field made the game much longer than it should be. 

The last minute of the third quarter and the first of the fourth took over 16 minutes to complete. I know because I timed it. It's one thing for fans on the field to handle the stop and start, touch and go. For the athletes on the field however, this reality affects the momentum, energy and arc of the game. I have to believe the lag impacts one's concentration, feel for the game and more. Tom Brady is known for saying "Let's Go!" This is not possible given the constraints of college football.

I write of this as a threat to the live experience because the game is different if one is watching at home. A viewer has several options. For example, my Dad intentionally starts watching a game about 25 minutes after it starts. This allows him to fast forward through the TV timeouts and commercial breaks. By the end of the first half he has caught up, only to start watching Q3 about 20 minutes after halftime ends. For those who prefer to DVR a game, so long as you can block the social media noise, the comfort of one's couch and the flat screen await. Inside a Sports Bar, there are no weather conditions. One can bond with other fans and heckle the rivals at bay. 

Earlier in the season, I noticed outside of Notre Dame Stadium, some parking lots charged $85. I sincerely hope no one paid that much. While most game tickets won't cost what it takes to see Taylor Swift, many are cost prohibitive, especially for families. In short, I get it. Attending sporting events in person are a privilege and a luxury. And it's worth considering: Is it worth it? 

I would argue that is a legitimate question sports fans should answer. I have my bias toward advocating FOR the live experience but I acknowledge the threats and challenges to it. Again, in spite of all the pageantry of the USC game, the opportunity to be in the historic Coliseum and share the game with a former coworker, I wasn't sure I would pay that money again.

HOWEVER, I write this post because the good news is, those running the shows recognize we are not passive consumers. People are paying attention to our attention spans, to what we are seeking and how the live experience can get better. Yes, the talent on the field is essential, the qualities of the facilities—sight and sound matter, but the flow of the game and the time it takes from the first bell until the last is important. From the officiating on the field to clock management, media involvement and much more, the live experience depends on many variables. And yes, we are an important one of many.

After Notre Dame's win over Navy last week, my Dad called to tell me that college football just got a lot better. While I was thinking of Sam Hartman as the Irish QB1, he told me about the rule changes that were implemented to shorten the game. I suppose to collapse of the Pac 12 dominated the narrative of the impending season...but, wow! what a welcome amendment. And how ironic that the photo on the webpage features that ND vs. USC game.

Our presence at games—in the stands, bleachers, on the field and sidelines matter. Weather, cost, other obligations all present their own challenges to being part of something that can be very special. I always want to live a life of gratitude; I don't want to take anything for granted. I write that because watching and attending a sports content is for the sake of entertainment.  Whether a game is two sets or makes it to three, extra innings, overtime or more than four hours shouldn't matter...but it does. 

Spending time with a friend or family at a game is a good way to make the most of time—a precious resource. But if we want the live experience to live on, let's engage wisely. With MLB and college football, like some other things in life—less is more. Here's to a great Fall... of fewer minutes on the field?!!!

Photo Credits
Salvator Mundi
Make Baseball Slower
ND vs. USC




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