NFL in Danger of Losing Parity?
Len Pasquarelli reports that all is not well with the NFL, despite its overwhelming success with the fans. The collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union is about to expire and there are some rumblings within the ranks of ownership as well.
The fear among the smaller-revenue teams remains that clubs such as the Washington Redskins, who are paying their offensive and defensive coordinators more than several franchises are paying their head coaches, have gained too big a spending edge.
Under threat of league sanctions, some owners are reluctant to discuss the internal revenue sharing issues on the record, but it is clear there is concern over the lingering inertia. The consensus had been that an extension of the labor agreement, which expires after the 2007 season, would be in place months ago and that revenue sharing might be a stickier issue.
It seems, however, like a resolution isn’t close on either front.
“Some of the old ‘one-for-all-and-all-for-one’ philosophy is disappearing,” said one AFC owner this week. “No disrespect intended, but guys like Art Rooney and Wellington Mara must be spinning in their graves, right? I think Paul’s assessment is right, in that we seem to move forward a little bit and then retreat. Certainly [progress] seems incremental right now. We’ve got free agency coming up soon, the draft, and it seems like it will take a miracle to get [a collective bargaining agreement] before those things. And that makes it all a little frightening. I mean, the clocking is ticking, and pretty loudly.”
The NFL has long been the best managed professional sports league in the country. Its popularity is at least partly related to the fact that the owners, including guys like Mara, understood that they are simultaneously competitors on the field of play and partners in business. While some teams, like the New Orleans Saints and Detroit Lions, have been horribly managed for as long as I can remember, every one of them is given every chance to win the Super Bowl. It’s no accident that the Green Bay Packers, who play in a market that simply could not sustain a Major League Baseball or NBA franchise, have won as many Super Bowls as all three New York teams (the Jets, Giants, and Buffalo Bills) combined.
Now, parity has its downsides. It is almost impossible to keep a winning team together in the era of free agency and salary caps, especially with the scheduling and draft rules set up to make repeating more difficult. In a very real sense, fans of NFL teams are essentially “rooting for the laundry,” since the players who wear the uniforms change so frequently.
At the end of the day, the owners will likely come to their senses. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue is a shrewd businessman who has led them well, as did his predecessor, Pete Rozelle. The players, owners, and fans alike benefit from the current system.