Friday, April 1, 2011

The Suggestion Box

With NFL owners and players already embroiled in heated negotiations over a new CBA, and the NBA headed in the same direction as soon as the season ends, a terrifying thought looms on the horizon: What will we do with ourselves if neither sport has a season next year, or if those seasons are significantly delayed while everybody hashes it all out? Of the two leagues, I'm a lot less worried about the NFL. Football has replaced baseball as "America's Game", at least from the standpoint of television ratings and revenue, and I don't think anyone involved is crazy enough to kill the golden goose by actually allowing the lockout to continue past the projected start of the season. Nothing incites acrimony between fans and a sport like people who make more in a year than most of us will in a lifetime squabbling over how to divide a multi-billion dollar pie. The NBA is a different story. With salaries, contract lengths and the like on the table, there's a good possibility that The Association might not resume play until after the new year, if at all. But what if both sports actually DO wind up absent from our televisions in the coming seasons? How are we to spend our time after the World Series ends? (And how will the TV and radio networks fill theirs?) Borrowing the "High Fidelity" premise, here are my Top 5 (mostly sports-related) ideas to ponder in the event of a void, in no particular order:

1. Pick another sport to follow. If you're feeling uncreative, you could simply ratchet down one level and become an expert on college football and/or basketball. Believe me, there's more than enough there to keep you busy, and at least one college football conference is discussing the possibility of rescheduling some games to air on Sundays to fill the NFL gap. (And in terms of hoops, you'd be much better prepared to fill out a bracket next year, right?) Barring those options, you could choose to immerse yourself in the NHL, if you're not doing that already. But simply following the college analogues to the pro sports you'll be missing seems like an out for the unadventurous. May I suggest that you become an expert on some wacky, less-heralded sport instead? Strong cases can be made for cricket, curling, rugby (the closest you'll get to a football fix), or EPL soccer. Heck, why not go all the way off the map and get really into water polo or volleyball or something? Just saying, you have many, many options to shift your focus towards if the worst should happen.

2. Take the unwelcome free time and turn it into a positive by reading every relevant sports book ever written. Seriously, if you've never read "The Breaks Of The Game", "Ball Four", or any of the great biographies available on Vince Lombardi, what better way to satisfy your sporting jones than catching up on the literary offerings of athletics? Or distance yourself from your despair completely and tackle some true classics. Trust me, your brain won't even be capable of lamenting the loss of an NFL or NBA season if you occupy it by trying to process Nabokov or James Joyce.

3. Get a new hobby. If you need it to be sports-related, take up a game you've never played before. (I was talking about this with my buddy Paul yesterday, and we decided we were going to start going curling, which apparently you can do recreationally in Boston, if we have nothing else to do next fall. We might do that anyway, lockouts or no.) You could join a rec-league hoops team, or take up ultimate frisbee. (Yes, it's a real sport. No, it's not just for hippies. I'm writing a huge article/rant on this soon.) You could become the best darts or pool player in your local bar, or spend more time spoiling good walks on a golf course. Or get really, really good at bowling. You don't have to be in shape, you can drink beer while you're doing it, what more do you want?

4. Road Trip! Map out a convenient route/itinerary, and go visit the Hall(s) of Fame for every sport. Seriously, the economies of Canton, OH and Springfield, MA could use your help. I recommend you start with the furthest north (the NHL Hall Of Fame in Toronto) and move southwards to avoid meteorological unpleasantness as fall turns to winter, but that's up to you. While you're at it, you could maintain the essential sports/beer connection on two stops, visiting the Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown (Ty Cobb would be proud if you showed up to the HOF hammered), and the Sam Adams brewery in Boston (only a few hours from Springfield). You could even diversify your trip by hitting the Rock'N'Roll Hall Of Fame in Cleveland, which is just over an hour from Canton by car. (Don't ask me why the Rock'N'Roll Hall Of Fame is in Cleveland. As someone who has spent a lifetime immersed in playing and studying music, I personally think it should be in Memphis. Don't get me started on this.) Anyway, visiting the HOF's would be a great distraction from the fact that you can't actually watch any sports.

5. Do something entirely different. Backpack across Europe, take up fly fishing, learn to speak Hindi, whatever. There's no substitute for expanding your horizons, and no better time than when your usual obsessions are on hiatus. Better yet, make a positive impact by volunteering at a soup kitchen or something along those lines. (That came out far more preachy than I intended, but you get the idea.)

And there you go. Five perfectly serviceable ways to spend your time if the NFL, the NBA, or both, are locked out next year. Let's just hope you never need to use them.

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