Tuesday, July 26, 2011

NFL is back!, and other labor thoughts

I don't really like spending too much time thinking about or reading about strikes, lockouts, labor negotiations, etc - basically the business side of sports, simply because its mostly just boring.  I honestly don't understand why fans always complain about greed and ego during this time, as if they never knew it dominates the world in the first place.  If they became an owner or a player tomorrow, they would be engaged in the same fight over money themselves.

The fact simply is that the enormous amounts of money at stake are precisely what makes this sport great.  Our greatest players work hard to make as much money as they can negotiate.  The franchises exist to maximize profit.  The push to make money is what has created the NFL and everything about it that we all love.  Ultimately, winning = more money.  True, "the love of money is the root of all evil" (notice it says "love of money", not just "money"), but it is still possible to handle large amounts of money fairly and equitably, knowing the advantages it brings to all.

So, only the fans are invested in the NFL for reasons other than money - mainly for entertainment or for self-identity.  But it must be understood that putting up with labor negotiations are part of our cost of enjoying sports.  It isn't until they miss regular season games that we should really care.  This time, the NFL has successfully resolved its issues nearly 7 weeks before the first game.  Would you say this summer has really been worse the past few summers of endless Favre talk?  Anything is better than that.

As far as my opinion on whose side I agreed with more between the owners and players this time, I think I leaned more toward the players.  The owners locked out the players on an existing agreement - it wasn't a strike.  And it is incredulous to me that any NFL owner can claim that they are losing money.  They were also unwilling to open their financial books to the players or the courts and even planned a failed insurance maneuver in case of lockout hoping to outflank and therefore outlast the players.  Lastly, Carolina's owner, Richardson's blatant disrespect of dignified and accomplished player reps like Manning and Brees during negotiations is just off-putting.  If I was a player, I would never choose to play there.

Also, while the NFL is obviously hugely successful, by comparison the NFL players get a smaller cut of the pie seemingly than NBA or MLB players do.  In contrast, I'm more likely to side with NBA owners than players in their current dispute.  I absolutely believe that many NBA owners are struggling and that many players are grossly overpaid.  I wouldn't mind if the lockout extended until February, since its completely boring before then anyway.  And if the entire season was missed, that's just one less chance for Kobe to win another ring before his body betrays him.  But I digress.

Overall, the NFL system is far superior to the other two and I think the only real issue that has bothered me about the NFL has been resolved.  I'll first go over my biggest issues with the NBA and MLB.

The NBA's guaranteed contracts essentially handcuff teams into making stupid franchise killing moves such as making Rashard Lewis the 2nd highest paid player this past year at $22 million.  Guaranteeing a player something like $100 million dollars over 6 or 7 years is essentially a recipe for disaster.  Why do they need to work hard anymore after that contract?  What if they weren't the player they were projected to be years from now?  If it were up to me, I'd essentially eliminate guaranteed contracts, like the NFL model.  If any players need guaranteed contracts, its NFL players, don't you think?  I would also disallow the rising salary model.  Why would a 34 year old be making more now than when he was still in his athletic prime producing as an allstar at 29?  Eliminating guaranteed contracts would help all teams have the opportunity to stay more competitive year after year, therefore creating a better league.

MLB has a plethora of problems, much of which I have railed on previously, but for today in comparison with the NFL, (in addition to the ridiculous guaranteed contracts - Barry Zito makes $18.5 million and he didn't even make the Giants' postseason roster)  I will only bring up the lack of a salary cap.  The Yankees payroll this year is $202.7 million.  The Kansas City Royals?  $36.1 million.  You realize that NY 3rd baseman, Alex Rodriguez, himself makes $32 mil this year.  Utterly ridiculous.  The only reason why MLB standings don't always correlate to the payroll is simply because teams with loads of money get locked into the aforementioned horrible guaranteed contracts.  So basically its a stupid system with two stupid policies helping to offset each other and making the whole stupid thing palatable for stupid fans.  I just see a whole lot of stupid.

I recently had a Yankees fan try to tell me that salary caps are socialist in nature and that this is America.  Yes, I believe in America's exceptionalism, and I hate socialism (- I fear that our very own President holds the exact opposite view on both, but that's for another blog, which I have no intention of ever writing).  But the problem in the Yankees' fan explanation is that if the world were MLB, USA would be the Yankees.  On the world stage, of course we should dominate and we should strive to be the most powerful and the most successful.  But this isn't the world and obviously not every American is a Yankees fan.  In this country, it should be equitable for all.  It should be equal opportunity by the rules.  Life might not be fair, but our games should be.  I realize that cities like NY and LA will have a natural advantage in a multitude of ways (bigger fanbase means more TV money; a more attractive destination for free agents; etc) but that's just more reason why a hard salary cap would help to balance the playing field.  Even the NBA soft cap, which the Lakers abuse to no end since they can afford the "penalties", isn't enough.

Winning teams in all sports should have to do it through skillful scouting, superior technical development of young talent, astute moves by the front office, great coaching and solid franchise to fan relationships.  Not simply by opening a wallet.

Back to the NFL.  The only real issue that I had with the NFL system was the exorbitant rookie contracts.  One of the highest paid player on the team should not be a 22 year old rookie QB who has never taken a snap.  Last summer, Sam Bradford got a 6 year, $78 million dollar contract, $50 million of which was guaranteed up front.  Starting from this year, the 1st pick, Cam Newton, will only get half of that.  I know the Panthers are very happy about that, after seeing what JaMarcus Russell did the the Raiders.

Other things I like about this deal.  It is probably one that will last 10 years.  We can get back to Brett Favre watch next summer.  I also like that the new deal allows injured players to receive up to $1 million the year after their injury and $500k the 2nd year after their injury.  In such a brutal sport without guaranteed contracts, this is the right thing to do.  I like the option for health care for life for current players.  And I like the $620 million being set aside in the 10 years for the pre-1993 retirees pensions.  But mostly, I just like that they're gonna play starting Sep 8th.

Extra Point

By the way, one of the most interesting football articles I read this summer was actually not about the lockout, but instead about Virginia Tech's research on football helmet models and concussions.  It is astounding that the NFL has not formally come out with a stance on which models are better for preventing concussions.  I think its obvious that the NFL is guarding itself against liability issues, but its about time for them to put a lot of effort - meaning money and research - into trying to prevent concussions.  And it starts with helmets.  Hopefully high schools and colleges everywhere take Va Tech's study seriously.  At the very least, helmet makers will now know they will be held accountable by someone.

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