Which Sports Would (And Wouldn’t) Be Embraced By The World If They Were All Invented Today?

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Back in 2014, I got really, really into the World Cup.

After it was over, I vowed to continue to watch soccer and pledged to be as into watching professional leagues around the world as I was with the tournament. After looking into the options, I decided that I would start following the Premier League and was then faced with a unique challenge: trying to determine which club to support.

This was unique for me because I’m a Boston sports fan and have always been one. I never made a conscious effort to become a fan of the city’s teams nor did I ever make a conscious decision to do so; it just happened. I grew up in Maine and everyone I knew rooted for those teams so it was only natural for me to do the same.

I eventually took a quiz that someone recommended in an attempt to find a club (I got Everton) and subsequently followed some team-related accounts on social media in an attempt to keep myself up to speed.

However, it didn’t last long (but that’s a story for another time).

What’s important is that during the process, I had this strange and foreign sensation of being massively unfamiliar with a sport. I didn’t totally understand what clubs were in the Premier League, what the Champions Cup was, and how the hell the season was almost a full year.

Uniforms weren’t uniforms—they were “kits”—and if a team is particularly ass, it somehow gets relegated to a less prestigious league. Also, all of these games—sorry, I mean “matches”—require American viewers to wake up far too early on Saturday mornings to watch them.

Again, it didn’t last long.

I was recently reminded of my brief flirtation with the Premier League when a buddy sent me a text about a conversation he had at the office. He and his co-workers started thinking about what sports would be the most (and least) popular if they were all suddenly created today and the world had to figure out their various intricacies.

That got me thinking, and after reflecting upon it for a while, I decided to do a deep dive into which ones would (and wouldn’t) be embraced with open arms.

The Safe Bets

Soccer

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I might have recovered from my soccer bug but it’d definitely have some staying power.

Why? Because it doesn’t take much to play it. It’s as simple as that.

There’s a reason why soccer is the most popular sport in the world and it’s not because it’s a fantastic workout and gets you in tip-top shape. Soccer is cheap as hell to play. All you need is a ball!

Cleats? Optional. Shinguards? Also optional. An actual net? You don’t need one if you can round up a few rocks or have some people throw their drawstring bags on the ground.

You don’t even need 11 people per side if you want to play soccer. Six or eight will do. Hell, you could even play with two or three people if you really wanted to.

Soccer could survive the apocalypse. If a Walking Dead situation ever presented itself (or coronavirus indeed brings the world to its knees) soccer could still be played.

This is a lock if there ever was one.

Basketball

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Basketball is a close second to soccer with the only difference being you can’t just play with a ball. You also need some sort of hoop.

I don’t even know where you can find a peach basket these days, but if there’s an empty milk crate or a bucket lying around, you’ve got your hoop.

However, you should be warned:  both of those hoops are super unforgiving when it comes to layups.

The Maybes

Baseball

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I initially thought baseball would be a non-starter. Hell, barely anyone keeps up with baseball as it currently is. Would that change in a scenario where baseball was just invented and introduced to the masses?

For starters, it would need to move faster. Baseball games take forever. Games between the Yankees and the Red Sox take even longer than that, which is impressive because the whole idea of something taking forever implies that literally nothing could be more endless.

However, that’s how long games between those two teams seem to be. They defy logic in amazing ways.

In 1911, the average length of a nine-inning baseball game was one hour and forty-seven minutes. It eventually topped two hours in 1937 but having most games last longer than that didn’t become a regular thing until ten years later in 1947.

Baseball then hit the two-and-a-half-hour mark at the end of the 1960s and in recent years has regularly averaged a run-time of over three hours (Yankees-Red Sox games routinely clock in at over four).

Here are some things I’m cool with doing for four hours or more (listed in no particular order):

  • Sleeping
  • Going to the beach
  • Seeing Phish live
  • Watching movies or episodes of The Office when I’m sick at home

That’s about it.

Football games are also pretty long but they don’t feel as endless as baseball games do—with the notable exception of college games.

Those contests seem to go on for so long that between when they start and when they end, I’ve shaved twice, contemplated several life changes, acted on a few of those life changes, sworn off junk food, eaten junk food, and read a thoroughly-researched book about the start of World War I.

How great would it be if Major League Baseball could get back to having games last under two hours? That was one of the things I liked about soccer. For the most part, you know a soccer match is going to last for about two hours.

If whoever is introducing baseball to the world in this scenario can do so with the caveat that no game would be longer than two hours (maybe two-and-a-half at the very most) then it has a chance.

However, you would need to get rid of games that last longer than 12 innings. If the score is still tied at that point we do a quick home run derby to decide on a winner.

Hell, we might as well try to institute that change right now.

Lacrosse

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The major barrier to entry here is the equipment required to play lacrosse in the modern age. It makes the sport expensive and the price tag that comes with picking it up would no doubt turn people away.

In this new world that we are living in, it’s all about inclusion, kids. Lacrosse is the oldest sport in North America and was invented by Native Americans all the way back in 1100 A.D.

Back then, those playing definitely did so without all the equipment players wear today, (not to mention those mesh shorts all lacrosse players wear. They probably didn’t have much in terms of shorts at all).

Soft European colonizers were the ones who introduced safety measures into the game and paved the way for the version of the sport that’s played today.

I’m in favor of safety, but I think that if we could find a middle ground where not as much equipment is needed, we could create a version of lacrosse that is much more affordable for people to play.

So, in conclusion, baseball needs to tighten things up and lacrosse needs to start cutting costs.

The Football Conundrum

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Whether or not football would survive if it were introduced today is a tricky question to answer for a variety of reasons.

The first is the precarious position football currently finds itself in thanks to the violent nature of the sport. Hell, at this point, you could argue there’s a chance (albeit slim) that it won’t be able to survive the next couple of decades without some major changes.

Sure, football’s been making adjustments from the professional level all the way down to Pop Warner but it does feel like it’s only a matter of time before a player dies on the field.

I will admit I don’t see football going extinct at any point. It’s too big and popular. If something tragic were to happen, I’d like to think that someone smarter than me could figure out a way to keep the sport going.

But how would we react if someone were to introduce the sport to us now?

Wouldn’t we be skeptical? Wouldn’t we be worried that could actually get killed? Wouldn’t we be super concerned about the long-term risks of being routinely concussed?

It’s not like the only reason why we know so much about concussions now is because of football. I mean, it’s a big reason, but it’s certainly not the only one. If football didn’t exist, we’d know about them, so if football was abruptly introduced, we’d be hip to concussions and we’d rightfully have questions.

I do think football would survive though. Why? Because football is dope.

However, which form of football would actually gain the most traction? If the sport were to be invented today, and as a result, all things were equal, which would be more popular: the NFL or the XFL?

Don’t dismiss this so easily. The NFL is king because of our history with it and our institutional knowledge of the sport and its teams. The XFL is and will always be the younger brother.

However, that perception is based on the fact that the NFL has been around forever and the XFL simply pops in during the league’s offseason to keep football junkies entertained in the absence of “real football.”

That would not be the case here, as football would have just been invented and introduced to the public with two different options presented.

So, again, if all things are equal and both the NFL and XFL are unknown commodities, which one survives and which one doesn’t?

Is it the NFL with its more conventional rules and overall feeling of maturity? Or does the XFL survive with its sense of reckless abandon and desire to place having fun ahead of almost everything else?

Even if you’ve just only watched highlights of the XFL so far this season, you have to admit it’s pretty cool. The changes it’s made that differentiate itself from the NFL are compelling, whether it’s their kickoff rules or alterations to overtime.

The play might pale in comparison to the NFL, but in this scenario, NFL players could be playing under XFL rules, which would give it the upper hand.

And thus concludes the only time the XFL gets a leg up on its big brother.

The Definitely Nots

Golf

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To all the golfers out there, I’m sorry. Golf is out. Golf is way out.

You can make your case for why it would survive, but in a world that is overcrowded and already seriously taxed when it comes to natural resources, could golf courses actually become a thing? They take up so much damn space!

There is no way that if you came up with the sport of golf today you could convince cities and towns to give up 200 acres to build a course. They’d laugh you right out of the building and go back to reviewing plans for more housing developments and hospitals and strip malls. You know, stuff people generally need.

I don’t care what your Uncle Bob might say. You don’t need golf to live but you do need hospitals. Strip malls? Eh, kind of depends what’s there. However, if there is an ice cream place right next to a liquor store, then you definitely do.

Also, 18 holes of golf can take upwards of four hours. Who the hell has that kind of time?

I’ll give you this: if golf cuts it down to nine holes tops then maybe we can talk. But if golf is stubborn and demands eighteen holes and all that comes with it, that’s a deal-breaker.

Uncle Bob is just going to have to keep himself busy reading biographies about famous military generals and asking you what’s the deal with fantasy football (assuming that’s a thing in this alternate reality) just like everybody’s uncles do.

Tennis

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I don’t think tennis survives. I just don’t see it happening based on the scoring system alone.

Why are the first two points worth 15 apiece but the third one only counts for 10? What the hell is “love” supposed to mean? Sure, there might be answers to those queries but I think people would have too many questions they want answered to deal with waiting for an explanation.

Sorry, tennis. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that it feels like you’d be a hard sell.

The Winter Sports

Skiing and Snowboarding

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Some folks believe in climate change and some don’t. That’s fine. Believe what you want even if virtually all of the experts on the planet have definitive evidence that the latter group is burying their heads in the sand that could soon be covered by the world’s rising oceans.

I will say that it’s been sixty degrees here in New Jersey for the past few days, and last night, we had a severe thunderstorm. It’s March and that seems strange.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that the climate is changing, and when it comes to winter sports like skiing and snowboarding, it’s not necessarily changing for the better. For large parts of the country, winter just isn’t what it used to be and snow is becoming somewhat of a rarity. For ski resorts, I’d have to imagine this is presenting challenges when it comes to keeping powder on the mountain.

For several years, the U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships used to take place in Vermont but was forced to relocate to Vail to ensure that there would be snow for the event. Snow in Vermont shouldn’t be a concern, but alas, it is.

Given the uncertainty surrounding winter, I’d have to think that coming up with sports that are dependant on the general existence of the season could be tricky.

We might have to chalk up snowboarding and skiing as TBD for now.

Hockey

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Another winter sport that could face some resistance is hockey.

Hockey could be problematic partially because of the same obstacles facing lacrosse in that it’s pricey to get into the sport.

I also think if it was introduced today, the inventors would feel compelled to mention that parents of hockey players will have to wake up incredibly early to get their kid to practice, which might be a deal-breaker (at least for the parents).

The pesky climate change issue also would be tough for hockey. Yes, there are rinks where people can play it but there’s something to be said for having a frozen pond accessible; a place where you can learn how to skate and learn how to play for free. If you eliminate frozen ponds (which are currently disappearing at a steady pace) you’re eliminating a key asset for young players.

History has repeatedly shown that if you eliminate resources from young people and in turn prohibit them from exploring new things, it’s not going to end too well.

It’ll be tough, hockey, but just know that I’ll be rooting for you.

Lightning Round!

Skateboarding

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Yes. It’s fun. People will always want to have fun. Plus all you need is a board. That’s pretty easy.

Surfing

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This one has a chance because, like skateboarding, it’s pretty dam fun. It’s definitely a commitment though thanks to the price of boards and you also have to have access to waves, which the sizeable majority of people do not.

It might end up being incredibly niche, but if James Cook managed to popularize it when he started to sing its praises in the 18th century, I could see it catching on now.

Gymnastics

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No shot.

Swimming

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I mean, swimming has been a thing forever but no one is going to take the time to learn butterflies and backstrokes when there are far more efficient ways to move around the water.

Bowling

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Probably. After all, Uncle Bob is going to need something to do that also allows him to pound beers while playing. We took golf away from him so this seems like a viable alternative.