Where have you gone, Pete Rozelle?
The NFL turns its lonely eyes to you, wo wo wo
What’s that you say, Mr. Football fan
Pete Rozelle has left and gone away, hey hey hey
Hey hey hey
As NFL fans watch from afar at the squabble of Roger Goodell’s contract coming up for renewal, there is more than just a little disconnect. Maybe it is a sign of the times that more is not being made of this tiff. Goodell wants to be re-signed for $49.5M per year. Come again? The man should be fired.
The National Football League is corroding. The sport suffers. Goodell fiddles while his league burns. And he asks for a private jet. For life. (Later it was disclosed that he is willing to pay for it, under the NFL’s lower rate.)
In order to get proper perspective on just how bad the NFL is in 2017, let’s list the problems.
1. The product is unwatchable. On Thursday night (more on that subject later), Marcus Mariota of the Tennessee Titans scrambles for a TD. It is very clear from this unbiased observer that his knees are elevated while he dives for the goal line, getting about 1/3rd of the football across the plane before being stopped. The officials got the call correct on the field, yet it takes a full minute of rewatching this before a decision can be made to review the play. No matter. Off to commercials! By the time it was all analyzed we had wasted ~3+ minutes and indeed the decision on the field was upheld. Never mind that Cris Collinsworth and anyone else with a pair of eyes already came to that conclusion within 15-30 seconds. 3 minutes may not sound like a lot of time but it destroys the flow of the game. Repeatedly. Multiple times.
2. What is a catch? Considering that the league throws the ball over 60% of the time, one would think something as fundamental as what defines a catch would be universally understood and accepted. Not in the NFL. The rules are a mockery of the game. If I tried to actually explain what is inexplicable I might win a Nobel Prize. Or they might send me to the Pro Bowl. Oh please, no.
3. Thursday Night Football. Good God these games s*ck. Why? Because the human body needs time to recover from 60 minutes of punishing hits. The players hate TNF. Dozens of players have openly trashed the contests. These are professionals who love the game. They hate Thursday night. Why? Because they are not at their best. They are not ready. What do you expect from the product when that happens? You get sh*t piles. You get uncompetitive games. You get teams and players that are not able to put up their best. If you were running a business, would you want to put your employees in a position where they were miserable, generated sub-peak performance, and were likely to be more at risk to injury? How many starters can’t play because they didn’t have enough time to recover? Yet Goodell wants more of this. In his tenure we saw the games go from 5 per season, to 8 per season, to every single week. More games. More product for the NFL’s Network. More money. The games are often one-sided affairs. One game, NE vs TB, was won by 5 points but it really wasn’t particularly close. More often what you see is poor play, like Mariota throwing up 4 INTs en route to a 23 point loss.
4. London. More wipeouts. More bad football. But if we expand it to 4 games per season, it is more product for us to sell, either on our Network or via streaming. More money! We need that money to pay Roger $49.5M. Let’s review the final scores of these juggernaut games:
JAC 44 BAL 7
NO 20 MIA 0
LAR 33 AZ 0
MIN 33 CLE 16
5. “September is the New Preseason.” Steve Young articulated this observation of clarity about the quality of play after the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement. The CBA dismantled a lot of football practices. It made the players’ lives a little easier. But the quality suffered measurably. Each season there is a lot of turnover, as free agents move around to other teams. The combination of team turnover along with fewer practices means that the crispness and preparedness starts from a lower level in September and teams won’t be able to finish the season at the same level either. What we see are sloppy games.
6. Injuries. Football Outsiders annually chronicles the “Adjusted Games Lost” (AGL) due to injury at the end of each season. In 2010, pre CBA, the AGL was 51 Starts lost in a season per team on average. The average for 2016 was 76 starts lost per team. That is a +50% increase in injuries. It means that we are seeing less of the stars and less of the starters in favor of backups. That means yet more degradation in the quality of play.
7. Fantasy. Fantasy Football does not directly affect the game, but the insidious side effects of an audience that really could care less about the team element to the game is disturbing. It undermines the demand for why the game is played. A new generation that bets on statistics is annoying. Maybe it just shows up as the tape at the bottom of the screen not updating game scores but instead telling us that some WR from Thursday night (lol, he’s the only one with a 60 minute completed game at Sunday 2PM) is ranked 3rd this week in Fantasy points.
8. CTE. Let’s talk elephant in the room. Football is killing a lot of players. Justifying your support for a game that is destroying families is getting harder and harder. Does this kind of sport have a future?
9. Player Safety. Protecting players from savage hits is a tough job. The result is a contact sport without the contact. Do not mind the hypocrisy of playing football on Thursday with 3 days to recover from injuries. Or, the hypocrisy of Goodell’s call for more regular season games for more injuries at the end of a long season where an entire offseason is overdue for healing.
10. Officiating. How many times do we hear about NFL letters of apology written to teams acknowledging blown calls? These horrendous calls often swing the result of the game. Why bother? Why bother watching? Here’s a suggestion- take $48M of the $49.5M from the commissioner’s salary and invest it in year round training/salaries of the officiating staff.
11. The National Anthem. I do not want to get political here. Isn’t that supposed to be the point of sports and entertainment.. that this product is not political?! Yet players politicized the anthem. It has eroded support for the product. You may or may not agree with what they are protesting, but at this point the NFL suffers and we frankly do not have much empathy for the million dollar players, the zillion dollar commissioners and the billion dollar owners.
12. PSLs, Weird Jerseys, and shameless hawking. If there is an extra dollar that the NFL can suck out of your pocket for Roger’s salary, they’ll do it. NY Giants fans were suckered into spending tens of thousands of dollars for Personal Seat Licenses, the payment which obligates them to buy seasons tickets (plus preseason worthlessness). Shameless marketing assaults the wallet and the senses. “Flex games” means the NFL uproots 80,000 peoples’ schedules to fit their Sunday evening agenda. Just don’t concern yourself if you have a job to go to on Monday morning. Whatever it takes for more revenue, the fan be damned.
13. Sideshow. Most fans tune out the sideshow of how Goodell and the league handle player disciplinary issues. Except when it involves a player from their team. At that point the inconsistencies and lack of due process from the fiefdom are at best annoying and at worst despicable. Ray Rice, Deflategate and Ezekiel Elliott are but 3 examples of uneven justice.
14. Roger Goodell. Forget that this commissioner is not helping solve problems. He is creating them! In 2011 he was busy lobbying for an 18 game season and more playoff teams. Those efforts for ‘growth at any cost’ not only distract the office from tackling more meaningful issues, but it sets the league in the complete opposite direction. In 2011 he was unable to settle the labor strife. Instead, Bob Kraft and Jeff Saturday settled the issue. As we now know, it cost the league in terms of lost interest. Ratings are down for the second consecutive year. Instead of diluting the product, Goodell should be looking for ways to protect it. But it is all about the money. $49.5M per year. And a private corporate jet.
I grew up with bad Giants football but I loved the game. The Steelers and Raiders played some great games and it did not matter that my team never made the playoffs growing up. The sport was amazing.
Today, the sport is diluted and filled with bad games everywhere… Bad seasons. Bad actors. Bad commissioners. Bad football. Ratings are down 7% this year and 18% since 2015. Apparently the problems listed above are taxing the whole fanbase. If I am ready to do something else with my Sundays, that should be a warning to the NFL about improving its product. I’d work for a lot less than $49.5M to fix it.