Friday, April 24, 2009

Keys to Even More Ridiculous Success: The NFL

Soccer (Futbol) is the obsession in 194 of the Earth's 195 countries. In the United States we have a totally different way of savoring our sports which has led to the popularity of situation-based games.

Baseball dominates our history books as "America's Favorite Past Time." However, in the last fifteen to twenty years we've experienced a paradigm shift in our favorite professional sport from baseball to football. The reasons why this shift occured are very easy to list, but not in the least bit interesting. Instead, finding ways to bring about perfection in our nation's most popular sport are a better use or our time.

What we'll do this morning is identify the faux problems to ignore and the few real problems the National Football League has and give pragmatic examples of how to fix them. First, to the favorite topic of major sports media outlets...


1. Uninteresting Pre-Season- Many, many fans and sportscasters believe the 4 exhibition games are such a monstrous waste of time that there is an out-cry to limit the pre-season action to only two games and expand the regular season from 16 to 18 games.

There are 3 reasons this won't happen. First, coaches need that time to evaluate their team and best trim the roster from 85 to 55 players at the end of training camp. Solidifying real talent and depth for the grueling 17 week regular season schedule is absolutely necessary for a team's survival in the NFL.

Second, as mentioned, the NFL regular season becomes a war of attrition by week 12 or 13. Adding another two weeks to the schedule will inflate rosters, salaries, and injuries. None of which are good for teams, good for players' health, or good for the quality of post-season action fans want in January.

Third, because of those two reasons it matters not what the fans and media clamor for when the NFL Players' Union is against it. This idea is D.O.A. and, in reality, not something fans truly want if the ramifications of the action were easier to see.

2. No NFL in L.A.:This is only an issue in Los Angeles and the NFL Headquarters in New York. It's true, missing the nation's #2 media market is a painful financial blow to the league, but it could be easily fixed if Los Angeles would get serious about its football and one of the small market dumpster-fire organizations (Lions, Jaguars, Browns, Rams) want to sell.

Nation-wide, the fan population of football is still the largest, the most rabid, and it's still growing. L.A. or not, the NFL is popular. It's not like basketball, which takes a huge hit when the Lakers or Celtics aren't in the championship mix.


Addressing the list of problems below will result in even greater fan interest and even greater revenue streams because of the better finished product the NFL will have.

1. Rookie Salaries: The Oakland Raiders paying JaMarcus Russell $35 million in guaranteed money is an embarrassment to the league, and is just one of dozens and dozens of examples of seemingly small details that have a much larger impact on the game than intended.

Inflated rookie salaries for teams with high draft picks (meaning very bad teams at the very top of the draft board) kills their ability to compete because the financial anchor of a top draft pick limits a team's ability to work other deals in free-agency and other potential draft picks. When the top pick becomes an NFL Bust, it sets the franchise back 3 or 4 years when dealing with the financial and personel ramifications.

Solution: A set rookie salary based on the player's field position and draft position. The NBA has something like this already in place, and is one of the only things the professional basketball league has done right.

This system would still pay rookies well, but would eliminate hold outs and make top draft spots coveted positions again instead of tremendous financial gambles/weights on bad teams.

2. Pensions for Former Players: Before 1985 the "player salary" to "league income" ratio was ridiculous. It gave rise to the only NFL player's strike and the modern era of salaries in football. The men who built the game (1945-1984) didn't receive much compensation at all ($25,000 tops), worked other jobs in the off-season, and didn't have the top-flight medical care for the injuries which has resulted in very decrepit old men. The game owes these men, who built the league, this base level of care and honor.

Solution: The NFL is a $120 billion business, it can reasonably afford to pay out medical care and pensions to its former greats for the next 25-30 years. After that, the program can be removed altogether. It is simply the right thing to do and can be easily paid for by taking small percentage of current players' salary to cover the $20 million a year these pensions would cost.

3. Full Time Refs: The NFL does a fantastic job of policing its officiating. However, it is a job coveted only by those who can afford it. An NFL ref receives $36,000 in salary and are listed as "part time employees" of the NFL. Allowing refs to work on their trade full-time would lead to better game officiating and an overall better product for the fans and players.

Solution: Dole out $130,000 a year in salary and benefits for refs to train year-round. The cost increase is once again nominal and could come out of general league funds.

4. Permanent Collective-Bargaining Agreement: The salary cap has created a lot of parody in the NFL and has made the NFL off-season much, much more interesting (and revenue enhancing) than its professional rivals in baseball and basketball.

Pitching salary caps to fans and team owners are not the problem. The NFL players' union is the real challenge. The last CBA was strong-armed into place by the owners last time by threatening a lock-out.

One of the worst things that could happen to the NFL is an un-capped system that further stratifies player salaries and makes the 32-team league into a four team show like baseball with the Yankees, Red Sox, Angeles, and Cubs. In football this would look like the Cowboys, Redskins, Raiders, and Giants being the only fan-bases being played to in the national media.

Solution: Get another CBA done any way possible.

After going over the list, the problems are relatively easy to fix for the best professional league in the world. I don't know if they will ever be addressed the way I suggested, but to see a league so near the cusp of perfect homeostasis keeps my attention focused on the intrigue of the NFL.

Enjoy the draft weekend!


Tiffany said...

No NFL in L.A. might be a faux problem for the NFL, but I think it's a real problem for college football because all of the media centered there instead throws their support behind USC and the level of hysterical hyperbole that surrounds them is second only to the disgusting salivation over the Gators. (Sorry, Taft. I don't meant that as a personal jab. I really, truly don't.)

I can't help but wondering if LA was to get a professional football team, if we'd be able to stop hearing speculation as to if Pete Carroll is coaching THE GREATEST COLLEGE FOOTBALL TEAM EVER this year...again...and again. They aren't. Shut up and find something else about which to write.

Taft said...

Tiffany, No apology necessary and no offense taken!

College football is clearly starving, we all agree on that.

And I surely wouldn't get upset with the homeless guy who is hungry and salivating over the grade-A choice cut steak that is right in front of him.

After this season, 3 championships in 4 years? I'd be salivating too if I was the national media.


No need to apologize at all.