Interpreting Change Within Sports

Like just about everything in life, sports are an ever-changing entity. Today’s games, while similar to their original forms, are quite different than they were some time ago. Hockey and basketball are no exceptions to these changes. For example, hockey very recently incorporated new penalties into the game, and basketball was once so different that the games was once played without a three-point line. Also, these sports are continually changing now – evidenced by the NHL’s ongoing debate about the role of fighting within the sport.

I was recently able to get a glimpse at today’s versions of hockey and basketball when I attended games of the Michigan hockey and basketball teams, respectively. While the games are quite similar to how they were when they first originated, obviously there are some differences in the way that they are played now. This idea of changing sports is a central idea in Marc Tracy’s article “NFL Rules Changes: When Is Football No Longer Football?” In his article, Tracy comments on how current rule changes and proposed rule changes are taking away from the game that football once was. He ponders at what point football is no longer football. Is the elimination of kickoff returns all it takes to completely change the game? The elimination of tackling?

The NFL has already eliminated kickoffs from its Pro Bowl, and some are worried that eliminating kickoffs entirely would take away a great aspect from the sport.

The NFL has already eliminated kickoffs from its Pro Bowl, and some are worried that eliminating kickoffs entirely would take away a great aspect from the sport

These questions about football and its rule changes are very similar to questions that are being asked about hockey and basketball. Basketball has had some questions recently, particularly with the rules designed to allow for more scoring in college basketball. It could be seen in Michigan’s game against Hillsdale that these rule changes that took effect last year were quite prevalent in the way that defenders played. While that aspect might not qualify as enough to take away from what basketball is at its very core, the main controversy in hockey right now is whether or not fighting should remain a part of the game, and that could most definitely change what was once hockey for many people. In the Michigan hockey game I attended, the team faced off against New Hampshire, and in the game no fights occurred. To me, what I watched was still a hockey game. While there is not fighting in every hockey game, it is the possibility of fighting that can create excitement and add to the strategy of the game. To some, taking fighting out of the game would make the sport basically unrecognizable – a sport that they might no longer consider to be hockey.


When looking at rule changes, obviously people are going to have contradicting opinions on what is best. Traditionalists will oppose drastic new rule changes (i.e. no fighting in hockey), wanting to avoid change and keep things very static. I believe that this category of people can be compared to the classical conservative. Many of the opinions of traditionalists are shared by conservative Edmund Burke in his work Reflections on the Revolution in France. The largest of these opinions is the one regarding a disdain towards change. Both Burke and today’s traditionalists argue against radical change, for they believe that things tend to work better when they are left as is. This position is one with many positive aspects to it, but one that I see as being a tad too restrictive. With changing times should come changes in other aspects, and while they do not all need to be radical changes, they are inevitable and, in most cases, proper.

Burke would most likely side with those arguing against change in sports based off of his classically conservative views regarding the French Revolution

Burke would most likely side with those arguing against change in sports based off of his classically conservative views regarding the French Revolution

So, in conclusion, what does change do to sports? In most cases, such as the addition of a few penalties to hockey or additional foul calls in basketball, not much. However, there are some drastic changes, such as adding a three-point line in basketball, which can radically transform a sport. At that point it comes down to whether or not the sport has changed so much as to become unrecognizable from its true self. Looking back at Tracy’s article, for me, taking away kickoffs does not change football. However, taking away tackling does. At that point it would need to be defined as something else, such as “touch football.” Sports are continually changing, and usually for the better. Times change and peoples’ viewpoints change. Because of this, sports must evolve as well as to appeal to the masses. There is a fine line, though, as to how much sports can and should change, and that leaves us in the predicament we are in today. There will always be people who fit the classically conservative bill, while there will always be those looking for things to continually revolutionize. I personally stand somewhere in the middle of those two groups, believing that while some change is necessary, too much change can be a bad thing. Change is inevitable, but it is really all about finding the right middle ground.

3 thoughts on “Interpreting Change Within Sports

  1. This is a very interesting post, and I agree that the new rules in hockey and basketball are surely changing these games, but not necessarily making them different sports. The NHL has had stricter rules limiting fighting for the last two seasons, and as a big fan of the sport I haven’t seen any negative effects. Fighting is (and has been for some time) completely against the rules of college hockey, and I agree with you that it is still fully hockey. In a way, it allows players and fans to focus more on the game at hand while making the sport safer overall. This is a rule changing the game for the better.


  2. I enjoyed reading your post and agree, too, with the the connection between Tracey and the fine line of changing a sport and tweaking the sport. Lacrosse and Rugby can be used as an example. Native Americans played a harshly violent sport with much less rules, which is a completely different sport today than it was then. Rugby centuries ago had less rules, but was still roughly the same sport.


  3. I enjoyed reading your blog and found your comparison between different changes in different sports interesting. I would agree that sports should change with the times. Your post also made me think that maybe sometimes big changes in sports, like the 3 point line, can be good for the sport and make it better. I think I also stand somewhere between being conservative and revolutionary when it comes to changes in sports.


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