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I served in the US Navy from 2002-08; four of those years were as a Nuclear Propulsion Operator aboard an aircraft carrier. I engage in political activism in various Democratic circles when I am able to. I have a cat, and I am an uncle.

All opinions that I express are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization that I represent.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

SUPER BOWL SHADOWS FUTURE NFL LABOR PROBLEMS




I penned this piece and sent it to the North Texas Daily before the last Super Bowl. It did not get published in the paper. I guess they prefer to talk about the zombie apocalypse than actual news stories.

On February 7, millions of people across the United States will tune in to Super Bowl XLIV to watch the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints play for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. What many people watching the game do not realize is that this could be the end of the National Football League (NFL) as we know. If the NFL Owners and the NFL Players Association do not come to terms for a new collective bargaining agreement, the 2010 season would become uncapped. After that, the 2011 season could be potentially locked out and lost due to a labor dispute.

Football fans of this current generation do not remember the last time the NFL went on strike. The first one occurred in 1982 when the NFL went on strike for 57 days during mid-season. It was caused due to players association wanting a larger piece of the gate receipts. The strike proved to be disastrous as television networks scrambled to replace NFL programming. CBS re-aired the Super Bowl XVI contest between the San Francisco 49ers and the Cincinnati Bengals. NBC filled its Sundays with extra baseball games and even games from the Canadian Football League. ABC's Monday Night Football was replaced with movies. Two all-star games, one in Washington, DC and the other in Los Angeles, were proposed during the strike with hopes to feature stars of the NFL. Hardly any NFL players showed up to those all-star games and attendance reflected that. When the NFL returned to play that November, the league finished the year playing a total of nine games and an expanded playoff that featured eight teams from each conference. The league's Most Valuable Player (MVP) was Washington Redskins kicker Mark Moseley, the only time a kicker has won the MVP award.


The last time the NFL went on strike was 1987. Out of all the professional sports to go on strike in the last twenty five years as most memorable, this ranks a close second behind Major League Baseball's (MLB) strike in 1994 that resulted in a World Series not being played since the early twentieth century. This NFL strike was also loosely based on the 2000 movie The Replacements starring Keanu Reeves as a quarterback getting a second chance to play professional football and Gene Hackman as the coach of this squad of misfits, castoffs, and ne'er-do-wells. Again, the players went on strike due to monetary reasons.


The owners decided that instead of losing money while the players were on strike as they did in 1982, they would use replacement players. Only one week of regular season games was lost and a 15 game schedule was played with the normal 10 teams qualifying for the playoffs. The public was not pleased with the use of replacement players. These replacement players were called scabs. Fans boycotted these games, and some networks threatened to pull the games featuring replacement players from their broadcast schedule. The quality of play at best was terrible. Eventually players slowly crossed the picket line after realizing they could be replaced at will.


Finally the owners and player came to terms of a new labor deal. The last game featuring replacement players was a Monday Night contest between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins. Many Cowboys players, including stars such as running back Tony Dorsett, quarterback Danny White, and linebacker Randy White, crossed the picket line to play in this game. The Redskins squad was made up entirely of replacement players. The Washington Redskins were the only NFL squad to not have one player cross the picket line during the month long strike. The Cowboys were heavily favored in this contest and many people did not give the Redskins a chance. Final score: Redskins 13, Cowboys 7.


The strike of 1987 paved the way for the current setup of free agency and the salary cap that was achieved in 1993. During this time, the NFL has achieved its status as one of the most popular sports league in this country due in part to the prolonged period of labor peace. Since the NFL achieved this, each of the major professional sports leagues in North America has either had their seasons reduced or even canceled by lockout. The National Hockey League (NHL) has had two lockouts, the first occurring in 1994-95 reducing the schedule to 48 games; the other in 2004-05 canceling the season and the Stanley Cup not being awarded since the Flu Pandemic of 1918. The NHL has not achieved the same level of pre-lockout popularity since returning to play in October 2005. MLB appeared to have recovered in terms of popularity from the strike of 1994 until the recent performance enhancing drug scandal caused fans to question the integrity of the game. The sporting public is almost surprised if you mention that the National Basketball Association played a 50 game schedule due to lockout during the 1998-99 season.


Some NFL owners, such as Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, want to back out of the salary cap claiming that it is hurting the owners' bottom line. What Mr. Jones fails to see is that because of the salary cap, the NFL has competitive balance both on the gridiron and in the owner's box. The salary cap and free agency has allowed the teams based in small cities such as Green Bay, Denver, and Buffalo to compete on the same level as teams based in the large metropolises such as Dallas, both New York franchises, Chicago, and New England. If the current system was not in place in 1993, would have the Green Bay Packers been able to sign Reggie White, a key piece that led to their first Super Bowl championship since the days of Vince Lombardi?


I have watched the NFL religiously since 1994. I grew up and still am a fan of the Dallas Cowboys. Watching football on Sundays is something I look forward to during the autumn months. I hope that the players and owners learn from history and the other North American professional sports leagues about how disruptive labor disputes are to their customers: the fans.


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