Sports commentary: Warnings and cautions

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Do we really need all of these alarms in sports?

By Mike Forster


Lately, I've learned not to let the tank run low on a certain car.  You'll not hear the end of it.

For the past couple of weeks, I've been driving a rental car.  It's a late-model Nissan Altima.

It's not a bad car, as far as rentals go.  It certainly will never, ever let me run out of gas.  That's because it has at least four different ways of letting me know when it is low on petrol, including the traditional gas gauge as well as audio and visual alerts.

I ask, how many warnings does one need to be apprised of a low-fuel situation?  The good folks at Nissan have surmised that four are needed.  I, on the other hand, feel that is about three too many.

Which got me to thinking, what types of warnings are good for sports and which are superfluous?  (And why use the term "superfluous" when the term "too many" would do just as well?)

First, let's look at an example of a warning that is valuable.  I point to soccer's yellow card.  It is employed by referees during the course of a game.  If a player is hit with a yellow card, it is a public warning that he (or she) is being cautioned against future infractions.

It's almost like a second chance.  A second yellow card, however, and the player is tossed from the game.  The crowd, then, is not stunned by the player's ejection, having witnessed his (or her) public warning.

I believe that if we all carried yellow cards with us, our courts and jails would be less crowded.

Another good warning system is found in golf.  At pro tournaments, people are positioned along the course.  When a player is about to swing, one of these people holds up a sign that warns the crowd to be "Quiet."

With scant exception, the system works, as the galley falls into a catatonic-like stupor of silence.

We could all use such a system.  Wouldn't it nice, during a romantic dinner, for your waiter to hold up the "Quiet" sign as he passed by the boor at the next table who's yammering into his cell phone? 

Other than those two, however, I'm having a difficult time identifying warning systems in sports that add a whole lot of value.

In fact, I see several which could be eliminated.

The most obvious is the NFL's two-minute warning.  This caution was put in place in the days when the game's time was kept on a watch by a referee on the field.

Since then, gigantic scoreboards have become de rigueur.  There the clock is, in brilliant lights several stories high!  How on earth can a coach not know how much time remains?

The two-minute warning is, in reality, an extra time out and an extra opportunity for television pitches for Cadillacs, Coors Light and Coca-Cola.

Another needless caution is baseball's warning track.  That's the patch of dirt that breaks up the grass before it hits the outfield wall.  It's also the patch of dirt that's supposed to prevent outfielders from breaking themselves up when they smash into the outfield wall.

I have seen thousands of baseball games.  I have never, ever, seen an outfielder pull up short in his pursuit of a fly ball that has sailed over his head.  At a mere 15 feet in width, the warning track will give a player about a 1/2 second of warning before he smashes into a very unforgiving piece of concrete, brick or steel.

How about boxing's "standing eight" count?  That basically has the ref telling a reeling boxer, "I know you're about to get knocked out, but I'll throw you a bone here."

After the standing eight, the boxer is usually quickly knocked cold.  To which the boxer might add (upon awakening), "Thanks, Ref.  I really needed those extra conks to my coconut!"

Speaking of knock outs, you may wonder why it is that I'm tooling around town in that Nissan rental, especially since I made a big deal about its low-fuel warning system(s) to open this spiel.

Well, it turns out that my usual vehicle was knocked out of commission.  Sitting in our driveway, minding its own business, the car was clobbered by some guy who was on a milk run during one of last month's major storms.

The insurance company has been a bear to work with on this one, even though we're at no fault here.

I wish we'd been warned.