By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Web Editor.
Like the Bob Dylan song says, “The times, they are a-changin’…” His words ring true in all facets of life, and it definitely holds true in the world of sports. Through the years and decades, sports have changed and evolved. Some changes can be considered detrimental, while others are often universally applauded. Here are 10 times (in my opinion) that sports changed for the better:
- INTEGRATION: It’s really hard to comprehend that, once upon a time, African-American athletes were not permitted to play in the the collegiate ranks and top professional leagues. When America came to its senses and allowed for integration starting in the 1940s, the games we all love today not only improved, but became legitimate and more meaningful.
- TITLE IX: The 1972 legislation, co-authored and championed by Hawaii Congresswoman Patsy Mink, was the stimulus for providing female student-athletes the opportunities they deserved to participate in sports. Think about it: Without Title IX, there would be no Rainbow Wahine volleyball, basketball, soccer, softball, etc.
- LEAGUE MERGERS: In June of 1966, the more established NFL and the upstart AFL announced that they two leagues would merge. That merger would add teams like the Raiders, Patriots, Chiefs, Chargers, Jets, Dolphins, etc. to the NFL. Then, in 1976, the NBA brought in four ABA franchises: the Spurs, Nets, Pacers and Nuggets. Just imagine the NBA without Dr. J or George Gervin.
- BRINGING BACK THE SLAM DUNK: Another hard-to-believe fact is that the dunk shot was banned in college and high school from 1967 to 1976. When the shot was brought back into the game in time for the 1976-77 season, then-Oregon Duck forward Greg Ballard surmised, “Overall, I think it may be a healthy stimulation for the crowd.” Y’think, Greg?
- THREE-POINT SHOT: The three-point shot dates back as far as 1945, when a 21-foot line was used during a Fordham-Columbia game as a one-time experiment. The ABA popularized the shot in the late 1960s, even as traditionalists dismissed the rule as a “gimmick.” The NBA finally instituted the three-pointer in time for the 1979-80 season, and the NCAA officially followed suit in 1986. No longer a gimmick, the three-point shot is now part of the game as much as layups are.
- COLLEGE FOOTBALL OVERTIMES: Let’s face it, few outcomes are less satisfying than ties. Thankfully, college football adopted overtime rules in 1996, adding extra drama and excitement for teams and fans alike. By the way, the Rainbow Warrior football team have played 15 OT games and won 10 of them. They’re an enviable 8-2 in OT games on the road.
- MLB INTERLEAGUE PLAY: Sure, there are both pros and cons involved when it comes to MLB interleague play. But we’ll state the biggest positive: Since interleague play began in 1997, fans gave been able to see MLB stars they would not otherwise get to see. Mets fans, for example, get to see Shohei Ohtani in action, and Rays fans get to see the likes of Juan Soto and Bryce Harper.
- COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS: Mythical national championships made for good debates, but we like champions to prove their mettle on the field. Introduced in 2014, the College Football Playoff system has brought added excitement and legitimacy to the college game. Now the question is: Should the CFO field expand to eight teams? What do you think?
- HAWAII PREP FOOTBALL: In 2018, the OIA and ILH finalized a historic agreement that would allow for interleague contests during the Hawaii high school football regular season. The agreement provided more competitive balance and a safer playing environment, not to mention giving us big matchups like Saint Louis-Mililani, Punahou-Mililani, Waianae-Kamehameha, etc.
- FREE AGENCY: Once upon a time, if your favorite professional team sucked, chances are it would suck for a very long time. Today, with free agency, teams have a chance to get better in a hurry. Just look at what’s been happening this week in the NFL. Teams like Miami and Jacksonville are stocking up on top free agents, making them better and the players richer. Win-win.