Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The All Star Game Whip

We have recently suffered the whip of the NFL Pro Bowl and the NBA and NHL All Star Games. Much controversy surrounds these games. Since we are in a lull in the sports calendar until March Madness begins, let's examine these sports festivities, both the good and the bad.

What is the purpose of an all star game? Your immediate response is likely to honor the players. But is it really? For the most part, and especially in the NFL and MLB, they don't really care, to the point of players ducking out of the game. Maybe the purpose is to give the fans a chance to watch player they might otherwise not see. This may have been true in the past, but in this day and age of the internet, TiVo and instant information, exposure is not an issue.

One of the main problems with all star games is deciding who gets in. Theoretically, fans deserve to have a voice, but their voting outcomes are often seriously flawed. (This also explains a lot about politics.) Yao Ming gets in because all of China votes for him. Shaq gets in despite playing only five games. Players are routinely voted in based on reputation rather than actual merit.

But then again, is that so bad? Is an all star the player who is the best at his position or is he the popular guy that fans want to see? How much, if any, of the vote should go to the fans, the players, the coaches and the media?


Another problem with all star games is the hoopla that fills out the all star weekend, or in the case of the NHL, Tuesday. Some events are fun while others have outlived their usefulness.

The good: rookie challenges and the home run derby. I went to the NBA rookie challenge in 2003 and had a great time. And home runs are always fun to watch.

The bad: the dunk competition. The league keeps trying to trick this up. This year's trick was guest judges. Please, it's all been done before. Just let it go.


Of course, the biggest issue is the quality of the actual all star game. MLB probably has the best game because other than quick pitching substitutions, it is basically played true to form. The NBA and NHL both suffer from a lack of defense and ridiculously high scores (2007: NBA 153-132, NHL 12-9). In addition, the NHL all star game also suffered an identity crisis a few years ago when they experimented with the North America vs the World format. But the NFL, the most popular game going, has by far the worst all star game, for a variety of reasons: it's post-season, players back out, and no one wants to get hurt, to name a few. Not a very good showcase for the league.


So much controversy. But that answers the question concerning the purpose of the all star games. Discussion, controversy, water cooler talk, attention, exposure. It doesn't matter if you are talking about fan voting, who was snubbed, who didn't show up, no defense, weak side events, or how ugly the uniforms are. At least you are talking about (fill in league here).

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