FSN Wisconsin Woes and Fixing the NHL

Boy, that was another exciting Brewers victory on Tuesday night, wasn’t it? Can you believe Gagne blew another save only to be bailed out yet again by the Brewers offense? (In response, Gagne said, “It’s a lot easier to go to sleep tonight. It’s going to make me go from not sleeping to sleeping.” Apparently steroids have a heretofore unknown effect: redundancy.) Wow. Thrilling stuff. Brewers as of this writing sit at 6-1 and are tied for the best record in baseball.


What? You didn’t see the game? You say you turned on FSN Wisconsin Tuesday night only to find the Bucks and Celtics? Well, I was right there with you my friend. I was so annoyed that I almost — note I said almost — turned on the NCAA Women’s Championship Game.


Now, working in television as I do I have some idea as to how FSN Wisconsin would be contracted to run last night’s Bucks game over last night’s Brewers game, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating to any self-respecting Wisconsin sports fan.


Last night’s Bucks game was completely meaningless, as Milwaukee — even playing in the wretched Eastern Conference — has been out of the playoff picture for months, and Boston, having sewn up home court throughout the NBA playoffs, was so disinterested in Tuesday’s game that they pulled their starters in the third quarter, allowing Milwaukee to overcome a 25-point deficit. (The bench of the Celtics eventually beat Milwaukee’s Best 107-104.)


Overtime, you say? A 25-point deficit erased in the second half, you say? Sounds exciting, you say. It wasn’t, I say. Thankfully, the misery that is Milwaukee Bucks basketball is soon to be over.


Switching sports, the NHL playoffs start tonight. Now anyone who regularly reads this blog knows that I don’t send a lot of love to the NHL. Truth be told, I haven’t been able fully support the NHL since the Minnesota North Stars moved to Dallas. Stupid I know, but there you have it.


Now the NHL playoffs can be exciting, there’s no doubt about that. But unfortunately they get overlooked by the bigger sporting events in April, namely baseball’s opening month and the NBA playoffs. The NHL will never overtake MLB or the NBA so general fan interest in the NHL playoffs will always be tepid at best and at worst will continue its ratings and popularity freefall.


So what can the NHL do? They admit defeat and change. Here’s what I propose. The NHL playoffs have to be moved to a less competitive time of the year. Ideally, the meat of them should land in the sports-barren landscape that is February and early March, before the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.


February simply begs for some big-time sports. Following the Super Bowl, which often falls in late January, there is nothing outside of regular-season basketball until baseball season. Placing the hockey playoffs there would be near-nirvana for the sports-starved. Think of it: You go from NFL playoffs to NHL playoffs to NCAA tournament without any break. I guarantee you put the Conference Finals and the Stanley Cup Finals into that void and interest would skyrocket.


So how do you do that? Well, you could play fewer games, limiting the regular season from early-October to mid-January. But that would never happen. No pro league will ever drastically cut the number of games played in its regular season unless Jesus himself returned to earth to order it so and even then I’m not so sure. Besides, this is a plan to help hockey and starting its regular season in October — with the NFL in full swing and the baseball playoffs — is another one of its problems.


So what you have to do is basically move the season up three months so the Stanley Cup Finals happen in early March as opposed to early June. That would mean beginning the season in July as opposed to October.


Sound crazy for the NHL to be playing in July? Is it any crazier than the NHL playing in June as it does now? Think of it: Not only does the NHL then get the benefit of having its most meaningful, attractive games in February-March, but they get the added benefit of starting in July-August, which are probably the second and third worst sports months of the year, with the only competition coming from baseball and (yawn) preseason football.


So if the NHL was smart, they would wind down this season and shut the league down for a year (it would give them much needed time to work on its marketing, which stinks), re-launching it with the new schedule starting in July 2009.


But the NHL is headed by people that are hardly wizards at scheduling — see the brilliant move to take the outdoor NHL Winter Classic and schedule it on New Year’s Day, which is only the biggest college football day of the year. Undoubtedly the dumbest scheduling move ever until CBS just overtook it by thinking that people would tune in on Tuesday nights to watch Danny Bonaduce ride a unicycle. I mean, I’d even rather watch the Bucks than that.



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