Thursday, March 02, 2006

Random Sports Musings

I started listening to sports talk radio during my commutes about 3-4 months ago (I listen to WTEM 980. My commute lines up with Mike & Mike in the morning and the Sports Reporters in the afternoon (I listen more for Andy Pollin than Steve Czaban, whom I really just don't like, but that's for another post). I used to listen to NPR, Air America, and Democracy Now, but I found that I got enough news reading blogs during the day, and it was just too depressing. I enjoy keeping up to date on sports (which would otherwise be hard since Mrs. H and I don't watch TV), and it's mind numbing enough to make the drive home go quickly.

This morning, on Mike & Mike, they were discussing the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) talks in the NFL. Here's a nytimes article about the whole situation. The basis for discussion was that if football fails to sign a new agreement, then there will be no salary cap in football for the 2007 season. (If you're a non-sports reader, the salary cap means that the total salary that a team pays out to all it's players is limited - about $95 million in 2005.) If it comes to pass that there is no salary cap in the 2007 season, and the season is played, then it is highly unlikely that the players will not sign another CBA which includes a salary cap.

I mean really, could you blame them? Most normal people would never work for a company that essentially limits how much you can make. We go into a job knowing that a company doesn't have inifinite resources, but also knowing that if we continue to perform well, we will continue to get raises. If the company can't give us a raise, well, then we'll look for other employment. There are thousands of companies that hire programmers and scientists, but unfortunately for football players, there is only one company that they can work for - the NFL.

I've always been ambivalent about sports unions. I'm very pro-union otherwise, so I identify with the players. It doesn't take alot to see how much owners can make on professional football teams. The players are the reason that owners can make so much, so they deserve a large chunk of what the team takes in. Also, the average fan doesn't appreciate how risky professional football is to the players. The average career length is on the order of 4 years. A player needs to go in to the league and get as much money as he can, because he doesn't know what's going to happen. This is illustrated by the story of Gabe Rivera (You'll have to read down the article a bit, and Rivera's fortune is sadly entwined with Dan Marino in Steeler fan's memories, which overlooks the tragedy of the whole thing).

So, I definitely feel for players who are trying to get everything that they can. At the same time, I want to watch my team be good. I want my team to be able to keep the best players that they can. I don't want to see a good team get broken up by some already rich player going for even more money (see: Neil O'Donnel). So as a fan, I lie a bit more with the owners. And really sports unions are such a weird thing anyway, becase as I said before sports are run as monopolies. What to do?

Baseball doesn't have a salary cap, and I think it's one of the reasons that I don't like it. The Pirates are never going to win another world series. It's that simple. The same few teams every year are going to make the playoffs. Yeah, there'll be a Marlins or a Twins from time to time, but you already know that Boston, New York, Atlanta, and St. Louis are going to be there this year. It's boring. It's boring because teams aren't forced to break up from time to time and spread their players /money around to the rest of the league. In football the money is spread and the seasons are more interesting. Hopefully I'll be able to show that with the data I've been working on.

I do believe that football is not as good as it was in the past (I can be curmudgonly at times). Yes, the athletes are better trained and simply better now, but the teams are not because you can't accumulate an unequal amount of talent on one team now. So, no, there won't be the types of games that you saw in the 70's and 80's in the playoffs between two really outstanding teams, but now more teams will actually have a chance to make the playoffs, and I guess in the end that's what's most important. (As a related topic, it's not actually goals scored in hockey that matter. It's goal scoring chances that keep fans involved.)

So I really hope that the two sides in the NFL are able to come together on a new CBA in the near future. I would hate football to become baseball. I have a low enough opinion of sports these days anyway (another post). As much as I complain about the Patriots of the past few years being the kings of "Slightly Above Average", I'd rather have the interesting seasons that we've had lately. It's hard for me to say that, but I think it's true.

(If you made it this far, congratulations. I apologize for the varied and uncontrolled track of this post, but it's what happens when you start and stop and start again.)


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