So, for those of you who follow the NFL, you realize that the 2011 Season is at risk. And for those of you who don’t, the many-way contract that governs professional football expired at the end of last season and The NFL has been negotiating with the Players Union and the Owners and whoever else for some time now to come up with a new contract. This time, all kinds of changes were brought to the table—extending the regular season to 18 games from 16, changing the formula for distributing revenues, requiring teams to spend more on player salaries. The negotiations have gone to court, there are “secret” negotiations going on, there might be a deal soon . . . . .
At the end of the day, the controversy is largely about money how much money there is and how to divvy it up. How big is the pie, how big are the plates and how do we know that everyone gets their fill. Of course, not everyone gets a seat at the table—for instance, fans have little say in stadium ticket prices, and there is something called the NFL channel now and some games are only shown there, requiring fans to ether buy that channel or find somewhere to watch a game that has that channel.
It’s not all money, exactly. A longer season—even if it is an exchange of pre-season games for more regular season games—affects strategy and players. Changing the season means changing how coaches and teams approach the playbook, manage themselves physically, the level of risk and reward in each game, at what point the season is a washout/ rebuilding year, how many games are within division and thus the effect on standing and playoff potential, etc. I’m no expert on the NFL—just grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin. It’s kind of like those carnations that florists dye all sorts of colors by putting stuff in the water. You’re just sort of there and it soaks in over time.
And I guess that really gets to the core of it, for me at least. There’s plenty to Green Bay, and the city has weathered fine the slings and arrows of NFL fortunes in the past. Actually made a pretty good show of that season with the lockout back in the 80’s—there was, like, a dentist who was the second string quarterback or something? And he was pretty good. Having said that, an empty Lambeau is not what anyone is looking for in the fall of 2011. >:| Everyone would like to see the Lombardi trophy stick around for a second year—but not because there was no season. I actually think the small market teams are in a better position in this debate. They have a different role in the community and the dollars and cents pan out differently in places like Buffalo and Green Bay and Nashville.
So a longer season means more games that count, more times when you gotta go for it, and that means more time with your first string going full tilt. Which gets me back to Green Bay. Guys like Bart Starr, Ray Nitzschke, Brett Farve, Reggie White, Aaron Rodgers, Charles Woodson are the hometown heroes in my hometown, they have a lot of visibility. When they have to take a lot of hits, it is hard on not just the body, but the brain. When someone is in an accident, and their body is injured, there are whole wards in hospitals to help them get better. But the mind? Closed skull brain injuries tend to be underrecognized, and a lot of them affect impulse control. So, suddenly Steady Eddie is drinking too much, driving drunk, talking to girls when he should be at home with the wife, etc. And he still has to go out the next week and get hit. That stuff lands in the newspapers and the radio and the TV and guess what? The same kids who live for those football heroes hear about the stuff they get into and maybe it is just me, but I believe it becomes a justification to behave badly.
Keep in mind that anyone who plays in the NFL has been playing football for years before they get there. There’s college and high school and junior high/pee wee. So, that guy you see taking hits on Sunday—even if he is a rookie–has been taking hits for probably at least eight years before he landed in the pros. And he has to keep getting socked for 10 years in the NFL before he qualifies for his pension. Most don’t make it, so there is an argument for shortening the years players need to qualify for pension—that is another plate on the table, or should be.
So, if the season is shorter (or the same length) how do you solve the NFL conundrum, make everybody happy, make the deal pencil out and get everyone to camp on time? Here’s my suggestion—cut the budget. Pie isn’t big enough? Make the plates smaller. I’m a genius!!!
OK, so the real question then is, how do you shrink the plates—or some plates—coming to the NFL table? Currently, NFL corporate is headquartered in Chicago—not the most expensive city in the United States, but it is up there. You’ve got all those executives and their hangers on making how much to live in big fancy houses on the Lake and expensive office space in downtown and the cost of living and you have to send the kids to private schools and on and on. Pick up all that admin and move it to a more affordable community, with a lower cost of living, reliable public schools, cheaper commutes, etc. When there are Owners meetings, or Players meetings, the conference and hotel costs will be much, much cheaper in Omaha. Plus, Nebraska is a huge football state. The Cornhuskers are one of the best teams in college football, they regularly send players to the NFL. But with only 32 teams, the NFL does not have a team presence in Nebraska—or other nearby states like Iowa and South Dakota. There would be a ton of community support and an opportunity to engage undertapped markets. And it would be a huge economic plus for Nebraska—it’s tough for rural economies to get money coming into the community. This would be a fantastic opportunity to pull money into Nebraska from all of the country and funnel it into economic and community development throughout the state.
So let’s save a player’s head—a hero’s head—and make the pie go a bit further. And let’s get rolling toward the 2011 season.