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Here in the U.S. (in 2016), sports fans largely ignored the Copa America and tuned in to the NBA finals to see LeBron James rematch against his hometown rival Steph Curry and lead his hometown team to its first pro sports victory in over half a century. And this is a shame, because soccer has a lot of things going for it. Basketball, on the other hand, has a few issues. So perhaps with a few modifications, we could solve basketball's problems, and move it closer to soccer in such a way as to make Americans more amenable to attending or watching that sport as well. Here's the program:
  1. Scoring is too easy

    Basketball games regular feature total scores of well over 200 points--and these can be very close games. There are so many points scored that the "miracle play" of Game 7 2016 was a blocked shot. Many of these points come from foul shots: uncontested penalty free throws. More come from layups and dunks where players nearly as tall as the goal just jump up and put the ball through the hoop from close range. If a player can get this close to the goal in the first place, he can usually guarantee either 2 points or a foul--which also often amounts to 2 points--because blocking a ball once it has touched the goal is illegal, and so is touching a shooting player. Soccer goals, on the other hand, are so rare that spectators hang on the edge of their seats, unable to look away on the off-chance they might miss the only goal of the game. Exciting, no?

    There are several ways we can make improvements:

    • Make the goal higher, so even the tallest players need accuracy and precision to score.
    • Replace the time limit on standing "in the paint" with a straight up ban.
    • Add a second, higher goal for even more impressive 3-point shots. Maybe even add another five-point goal even higher than that!
    • Create a Keeper position who is allowed to block shots at any point along their paths, even if they are about to fall through a hoop. Add platforms below each goal, and suspend the Keeper in a weight-neutralizing suspension system so he can jump between platforms.
    • Increase the size of the court by a factor of four in every dimension so that even getting in range of a scoring position takes clever plays and maneuvering.

    You can already see how these ideas move the game slightly closer to soccer while making the game more exciting. Increasing the court size, for instance, also makes it easier for the refs to spot fouls as the players can't be so bunched up. It also makes it feasible to put more players on the field. On the other hand, it does dramatically increase certain other problems...

  2. The game drags on too much.

    Don't get me wrong here. I'm not saying that basketball isn't normally a fast-paced sport. As an American myself, I can hold it up next to baseball and football and say "At least the players actually spend more than half the time running!" but there are so many ways in which it gets bogged down. Sure, players need a breather sometimes, and I don't mind timeouts for this purpose. At least with those, the station knows it can go to a commercial break and the viewing audience knows it can go to the toilet. But basketball has other delays: players faking injury to give their team a blow (as LeBron did in Game 7), and the endless foul shots. There's even a whole strategy based on repeatedly fouling your opponent's worst free throw shooter as often as possible in order to stop the game without losing a timeout, which is quite effective, but boring as hell to watch. It also kind of violates the spirit of the game. On top of this, we're hexadecupling the size of the court, which means even a fast break will be a quarter as fast. So...

    • Get rid of contact fouls. You can now bump or jostle or anything short of injure anyone without the game stopping. If someone wants to shoot, they now have a lot more space in which to get open.
    • Put everyone on a Segway. At 20 km/h, a player can cover the whole court in 12 seconds without getting at all winded. No need to slow the game. Players can be swapped out only when they get injured.
    • Add the ability to disrupt a ball carrier from a distance, without having to run your Segway into his, by adding some extra heavy balls, like medicine balls that can be thrown at other players to disrupt their motion or knock them off their Segway entirely. While we're at it, we can give some players bats with which to defend the ball carriers from these thrown medicine balls. Exciting!
    • Add a rule that if a player signals an injury or is no longer on board his Segway, he can be immediately replaced by another player. Play continues without waiting for the player to be removed from the court (although driving into a downed player is obviously grounds for being kicked out of the game).

    But now we've solved the tedium problem so effectively, we may be introducing an entirely new problem:

  3. This new game will be too short and predictable!

    A basketball game traditionally lasts only 48 minutes of playtime, not counting timeouts and foul breaks. Now that there are no foul shots and no injury fakers, and with shot clocks still driving the game inexorably forward, the game is bound to end way too soon! It has to last at least long enough for broadcasters to get all the paid-for ads aired. Usually, broadcasters can count on the 48 minute game getting stretched to 2 hours for a regular season game or 3 hours for a playoff game. So, now we need an exciting way to draw out the game a little bit longer.

    People also have a habit of waiting until basketball games are nearly over and tuning in to see if the score is close enough to be worth watching, citing a belief that "they just don't really give it their all until the last two minutes." Can we simultaneously make it so advertisers want to watch the whole game from the beginning? Well, NBC seems to have achieved exactly this with a different sport: American Ninja Warrior. People want to watch from beginning to end, because it divides up nicely into lots of different mini-arcs: each obstacle is a story, each failure is an ending. So why not just steal this proven idea directly?

    • Set up two identical long ninja warrior obstacle courses side-by-side adjacent to the arena. The course should change for every game, like in golf.
    • Suspend a brightly colored "egg" from a long rope at the end where both courses meet, above the water, so that it can be touched if jumped for and the wind happens to be blowing just the right way.
    • One player from each team starts running the course when the game starts, and the game ends when either player grabs the egg. If a player falls from an obstacle or touches the water at any point, they go back to the beginning, wait for the course to be reset, and try again. They can take breaks whenever they want, or optionally quit and ask for a substitute every time their team scores at least, say, ten points.
    • The contest does not end until one of the two players grabs the egg.
    • On account of this being the most strenuous task faced by any player, they ought to receive far more points than would be expected to be scored by the rest of the team on the court if they successfully grab the egg. Like maybe 150 points or so.

    Since there is no way to know how long it will take for one of these players to complete the course, viewers will be forced to tune in and watch the whole thing. The broadcaster can show the match and the runners at the same time by strategic use of picture-in-picture, moving a runner to full screen when a runner is about to do something impressive. Attendees at the game can choose which spectacle they want to watch in person, watching the other half of the contest on screens visible from their seats. Bonus advantage: this new role is one where the advantage falls to short, narrow, agile players, opening up the pros to a whole new class of people who would be considered too short! Heck, while we're opening up the sport to new players, why not merge the men's and women's leagues? The world needs a proper co-ed team sport, and most of the differences!

All that's left is to call the new weighted balls Bludgers, the new ninja warrior players Seekers, and the players with the bats Beaters and we've successfully turned basketball into Quidditch. That was the goal, right?

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