I've figured out a new rule for all sports. I call it the Smart
Kid Rule. I think it will revolutionize college athletics. I
think it will return a sense of dignity to the pros that has
been disappearing with each Dennis Rodman kick to the groin,
with each Robbie Alomar expectoration, with each billion-dollar
contract handed to a true knucklehead. I think this rule, done
right, can change the fabric of American life.
The Smart Kid Rule.
How does it work?
Every team in every sport has to have a designated Smart Kid. He
(or she) is a genius, a scholastic whizbang. He (or she) is a
full-fledged member of the team, wearing the entire uniform, the
skates in hockey, the pads in football, the batting helmet with
the earflap in baseball. There's a special place for him (or
her) at the end of the bench. Maybe next to a pile of books and
a good reading lamp. The Smart Kid Place.
The Smart Kid doesn't see action often. He (or she) reads, does
a little homework, maybe types a thesis. But then, suddenly, if
the game ends in a tie: Overtime! Extra innings! That's when the
Smart Kid comes into play. Instead of the present system, a
shaky way to settle matters because everybody is tired from
playing an entire game, we have a Battle of Smart Kids. Great
drama. Great theater. The best.
The referee stands in the middle of the court or field or ice or
whatever and announces a topic. The Smart Kid from each team
runs off the bench to answer a question. Or maybe a series of
five or 10 questions. The team whose Smart Kid correctly answers
the most questions wins the game. Sometimes we get strung out
for a long time in sudden death as right answer matches right
answer. The fans go crazy at the end. They tear down the
goalposts, cut down the nets, carry the Smart Kid on their
shoulders. The Smart Kid is the hero. Sort of like the Kid Who
Kicks the Winning Field Goal.
Can you imagine the change this rule would bring to sports?
Let's see. The game would be close. The camera would focus on
the Smart Kid. The announcers would say, "Look at how calm
So-and-So, the Memphis Smart Kid, is. He just sits there,
reading his Descartes with the game on the line. How does he do
it? And there's So-and-So of Louisville. What's he doing on that
Every college would need Smart Kids, so there would be Smart
Kids recruiting. There would be scholarships. Bob Knight and
Jerry Tarkanian and Tom Osborne and Bobby Bowden would be
running around the country trying to find the smartest Smart
Kids. The pros would need Smart Kids, so there would be bidding
wars. There would be a Smart Kid section at the NFL draft
combine. There would be Smart Kid stats. There would be Smart
Kid endorsements. Smart Kids would become rich, famous, cool.
Smart Kids would have agents!
All levels of life would be affected. You're in high school.
Your friend says he's working hard to be a famous point guard.
You say you're working hard to be a famous Smart Kid.
The captain of the cheerleaders would have to decide between
dating the quarterback or the Smart Kid.
Every night, teenagers would go to bed with posters of Nobel
Prize winners and professors of particle physics on their walls,
right next to the posters of Troy Aikman, Penny Hardaway and
Ozzy Osbourne eating a gerbil.
Smart Kid trading cards! SAT scores and grade point averages
would be listed on the back!
Should the New York Jets take Peyton Manning or Orlando Pace or
a Smart Kid with the first draft pick? Let's face it, you could
use a franchise quarterback or an All-Pro offensive lineman,
sure, but you can't win the close ones without a good Smart Kid.
It's an amazing concept.
How do I think up these things?
I don't know. I'm always wondering whether they should raise the
basket, lower the basket or let players play with springs in
their sneakers. Or if an obese man would make a good hockey
goaltender. Or if the dropkick will ever come back. The Smart
Kid Rule just came to me. I thought that maybe it would be good
for sports, for our society, if once in a while we showed a
Smart Kid on television, made him the same kind of hero that we
make our athletes.
How about this? Why don't we have Smart Kids answer questions
for points after touchdowns? For free throws? For big
situations, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded? Why not have two
or three Smart Kids on a team?
Too much. The idea of just one Smart Kid on a team is bizarre
enough for the American sports mind. Sort of like an obese
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: EVANGELOS VIGLIS [Drawing of small football player reading book on bench next to larger teammates]