Thursday, July 17, 2014

Nets -- neutral or not?

The hot issue before the Federal Communications Commission involves the Internet and whether users who are willing to pay more should have access to better service -- i.e., faster upload and download speeds. Opponents of this concept argue that from its beginning the Internet has served all users equally without playing favorites and that it should remain neutral.

The FCC has extended until tomorrow the period for public comment on net neutrality, so I thought it would be helpful to look at net neutrality in sports.

Like basketball. The net hanging from each basket does little more than catch the ball after it goes through the rim. The only time the net influences the game occurs when a player touches it while the ball is on the rim, resulting in a penalty for his or her team. Otherwise the net is not involved in the outcome.

That's not to say the net is unimportant. When the net is missing, as it is on many playground courts, it can lead to endless arguments: Did the ball go through without touching the rim or did it miss the cylinder altogether? Can't you just see LeBron James nose-to-nose with Tim Duncan? The shot went through. No it didn't. Yes it did. No it didn't. Did. Didn't.

Arguments like this would be even more frequent in soccer, hockey and lacrosse, where the net is nearly indispensible in proving that the ball or puck actually went through the goal mouth. It's hard for the defense to argue that a shot missed when the evidence is right there, caught in the net like a largemouth bass.

Even so, one can still play basketball and these other sports without a net -- but not tennis (both court and table), volleyball and badminton. The net is central to each game, in both theory and reality. No net, no game.

Let's face it, however important the net may be in sports, it favors neither one side nor the other. The net is neutral.

Does that clear up the issue, commissioners?

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