It’s easy to think that sports have been played the same way for decades, but the rules are actually modified all the time. They can be adjusted to account for technological innovations, refined for safety, or simply made to be more fun for the fans. Bottom line: sports evolve.
Let’s look at some ways sports changed in 2016:
MLB’s 2016 season brought the new “Chase Utley” slide rule. It came about to prevent the sort of injury that shortstop Ruben Tejada suffered during the 2015 NLDS. For a few weeks after this this new rule was enacted, some fans thought baseball was doomed and complained that the outcomes of games were unfairly decided with this new rule and that we couldn’t live with the change. But as the Guardian’s David Lengel noted, “a runner can still break up a double play, and do it in a ‘hard nosed baseball way’ - you just can’t mangle someone with a ridiculous wild aggressive slide.”
And that’s right. Sports are only as great the players — and if we can keep the players from getting injured unnecessarily, we should do it. The MLB is better for it now.
In terms of injuries, no sport has captured more of our attention than football — in particular, the danger of head injuries during games. We’ve kept a close eye on how the NFL has dealt with concussions. Soon after the season began, the NFL thankfully upgraded its concussion protocol to increase communications and prevent confusion on players’ statuses, like when Cam Newton returned to play after a concussion in the 2016 season opener.
In other efforts to protect players, the touchback was bumped up to the 25 yard line. While this rule’s been on a one-year trial, it seems like it may not last. Other trials have been successful, though — like moving the extra point back to the 15 yard line. After being on trial in 2015, NFL owners adopted it permanently this year.
Hockey saw a big change this year as well. The NHL finally took steps to protect its players with a desperately-needed upgrade to its concussion protocol. The league implemented a central spotter staff to identify injuries rather than keeping the coaches in charge.
Not all the changes this past year were as serious. Baseball fans enjoyed a huge spike in home runs, the second most in history, due to no reason in particular. And of course, no recap of this year would be complete without the epic World Series win by the Chicago Cubs — breaking the curse some never thought they could break.
What a year it’s been. Through league rule adjustments and policy changes to protect players — we’ve seen it all.
What were some ways you saw sports change — for better or for worse — in 2016? How do you think sports should change in the new year? Share with us on Facebook, Twitter, and in the comments below.