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National pastime no more

After reading fellow columnist Eric Cooper's piece, "A year without football," which appeared in yesterday's paper, my friend Solomon and I began to discuss our upcoming sports fate - a year that potentially would go on without the NFL and the NBA. College athletics would dominate the sports market in the absence of these two powerhouse organizations. While I'd typically be fine with that prospect, Monday night's unwatchable championship game gave me cause to be a little bit more concerned.

But what sport did we purposefully leave out of our thoughts about the future of the sports world? Baseball, and more specifically, Major League Baseball. Why? Well, simply, the MLB stopped being relevant a long, long time ago.

Now, don't get me wrong. I enjoy an afternoon at the ballpark as much as the next guy. But the time has come to accept baseball's status as the No. 3 sport in the country.

Want proof that baseball is no longer America's favorite pastime? Let's do some simple number crunching: In 1980, 42 million people on average watched the World Series on NBC. In 1990, 30 million people watched the World Series on CBS. And in 2008, the World Series garnered a whopping total of 13.6 million viewers - fewer viewers than the amount that watched any episode of "NCIS" since the second season and each of the episodes of "American Idol." But perhaps more importantly, the 2008 World Series viewer rating failed to top the rating for every single "Sunday Night Football" game on NBC.

When one league's regular season product outperforms your sport's championship series, then you know you have serious problems.

But why is baseball struggling so much to attract large national audiences in recent years? Why is it disappearing from the national stage?

Well, I have a theory. The other day during his radio show, Tony Kornheiser argued that baseball was great because of the fact that a fan could turn on his TV any day between April and September and watch a game. And as much as I respect Mr. Tony, that's the exact reason why baseball is losing its relevance. As our national attention span seems to be decreasing with an increasing velocity, our tolerance for baseball's eight months of grind decreases, as well. In having a grueling 162-game season, baseball ensures that no single one is really all that important or that vital. The last two weeks of the season can provide a little more intrigue, but sometimes teams' fates are decided long before then.

I'm not entirely convinced that the MLB should return to a 154-game season or anything like that, but I know the organization is not heading in the right direction. The "big" proposal floating around baseball this offseason included an increase in the number of wild card teams that would earn berths into the playoffs from one team to two teams. This would force a postseason - which already has been pushed into November because of television contract obligations - to extend even further. With the addition of extra wild card teams, the postseason could continue until Thanksgiving if the added series lasted seven games.

Is that really what people want to see? Baseball in snow? Is the MLB going to begin to schedule the World Series to take place in Miami every year to guarantee good weather, much in the same way that NFL schedules the Super Bowl year in and year out?

The proposal to increase the amount of wild card teams, combined with Bud Selig's hesitance to adopt any technology that didn't exist in 1906 into the game or make necessary rule changes, are exactly the reasons as to why baseball's reign as the nation's top sport has come to an abrupt end.

Simply put: Baseball is no longer America's favorite pastime.

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