January 14, 2008, 11:52 AM ET
Gigantism Is Degrading Basketball and Football
The regulation basketball hoop is 10 feet from the floor. Kenny George, point guard for the University of North Carolina-Asheville, is 7 feet 7 inches tall. He’s the tallest basketball player of all at this time, though surely not for long, as coaches scour the world for mega-humans. With ease, he blocks opponents’ shots and drops them in for his own team. Not much skill is involved. The most effective countermeasure is an opposing giant, not always available.
In football, high-school players in the 250-pound range are no rarity. In 2005, [i]The Washington Post’[/i]s pick of 44 top high-school players listed 19 over 250 pounds, and four who topped 300 pounds, including one who registered 340. (Where’s the war on obesity?) Among the pros, most offensive linemen top 300. It is not unreasonable to suspect that some, perhaps much, of this weight is not of natural origin, despite the memorable explanation of William “Refrigerator” Perry, who weighed in as high as 370 pounds during his 1985-1993 career with the Chicago Bears: “Even when I was little, I was big.”
Big numbers, but they fall short of the biological limits for human weight. Around 600 pounds is reported to be tops for sumo wrestlers, with most in the 400-pound range. There’s plenty of growth potential in football, even as medical studies show that the bigger they are, the sooner they’re likely to die.
Clearly needed are carefully crafted handicap systems designed to neutralize the desirability and pernicious effects of giantism. The need is more urgent in basketball, where the super-tall players remain rare. Nonetheless, when they’re present, they distort the game. For football, super-heavies are sufficiently abundant to supply most teams at all levels of play. But here, too, tonnage takes precedence over skill. Moreover, there’s the health issue, as young men aspiring to play football bulk up to catch the eye of recruiters.
For both sports, the new scoring systems should deduct points for total team height or weight over specified amounts. In basketball, with a base of six feet per player, for example, a five-man squad would clock in at 360 inches. Exceed that amount and points would be shaved from any score. In football, with a base of 200 pounds per player, an 11-member team would be allowed a maximum combined weight of 2,200 pounds. Exceed that amount and here, too, points would be lost.
The effects can only be beneficial for the two sports. The need to hold down team height and weight would open the games to smaller players who now are excluded. And the need to consider size as a variable in reaching a winning score would add an exciting element to game strategy.
Many details remain to be worked out. But the need is plain as is the basic remedial principle: skill over gigantism.