The concept of "normal" has felt like a folly for nearly a year now, the idea that every facet of life will go back to what it once was or how we remember it, like putting on dress pants and a collared shirt for work.
Take a moment and allow yourself to reflect on the sports world as we know it, or knew it, pre-pandemic, when fans packed stadiums, the Vikings played defense and Zoom was how fast we drove on I-394, not an interview tool for coaches and athletes.
Alas, much has changed. Not all of it for the worse, though. This time hasn't been all wasted. Some rule changes in sports in response to COVID-19 have improved the product, so much so that my preference would be to make them permanent, not temporary, when life, ahem, returns to normal.
Case in point: the NHL's "baseball-style" scheduling format this season. To reduce travel, the league is mimicking baseball's model in hosting what amounts to series — always back-to-back games against the same division opponent and occasionally four consecutive games.
Love this concept. Not for an entire 82-game season, but the NHL should find ways to incorporate that model to some degree whenever the league returns to a regular schedule.
This scheduling quirk creates a mini-playoff series vibe, which I find more interesting in a long season than a late January game against a random opponent.
Playing the same opponent consecutively lends itself to strategy adjustments, developing story lines and bad blood. The carryover effect adds extra emotion that might not necessarily be present under different circumstances.
If an opponent takes a cheap shot on Kirill Kaprizov, the Wild can seek retribution two days later and not have to wait possibly a month.
Please, though: Enough of the staged fights at opening faceoff. If players honestly need to see their teammate having his face punched to get excited and energized to play, that is a sad commentary on the sport.
Other keepers, from baseball: universal DH, seven-inning doubleheaders and putting a runner at second base in extra innings. Make all those permanent whenever Major League Baseball's feuding neighbors stop fighting and iron out a new collective bargaining agreement.
The National League apparently might return to its roots with pitchers batting this season after the league implemented the universal DH for the truncated 2020 season. Boooooo!
I've always found it odd that one sport operates by two sets of rules. Sorry, baseball purists.
Yes, allowing pitchers to bat requires more in-game strategy from managers, but it also usually leads to automatic outs. Call me crazy, but I'd rather watch Nelson Cruz hit than Jose Berrios.
The seven-inning doubleheaders introduced last season were gold, a throwback to my childhood when traditional doubleheaders were far more common. Pretty sure my dad purposely picked doubleheaders for our family outings to watch the Atlanta Braves play because what parent doesn't love a two-for-one deal?
Doubleheaders allowed MLB to squeeze in more games, while shortening them to seven innings didn't force managers to burn out their bullpens. The physical toll on players is minimized with only 14 innings.
MLB should make Sunday doubleheaders a regular feature, which will be a huge draw once fans are allowed back into stadiums.
MLB instituted a radical rule change last season by placing an automatic runner at second base to start extra innings. The idea is to eliminate marathon games that seem like they will never end.
My initial reaction to this plan was, huh? It sounded goofy, like something my friends and I would scheme up in backyard whiffle ball games when we were kids.
Then I watched it put into practice and … loved it.
I found it fascinating to see how managers handled their strategy. Did they insert a fast pinch runner for the guy on second? Did they attempt to bunt him over or swing away?
That rule change injected more drama into games. Some might call it contrived drama, but so what? It was unique and interesting, and it gave fans something to discuss and debate.
The pandemic forced sports leagues to get creative and try new things. They stumbled into some ideas that deserve to stick around, long after this pandemic finally ends.