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Players versus owners as NFL lockout looms near

By Gordy Stillman

Section: Sports, Top Stories

February 11, 2011

GRAPHIC BY Steven Wong/The Hoot

As you probably haven’t heard, since you are most likely a Brandeis student and probably do not care much for sports, the NFL and the NFL Players Association’s (NFLPA) Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is set to expire on March 3. If no new agreement is put in place by then, there may not be a 2011 NFL season to look forward to.

Back in 2008 after a meeting, the NFL owners voted to opt out of the current CBA after the recently concluded 2010 season. Owners decided they wanted a larger share of the league’s revenue. Currently, the owners receive around 40 percent of the $8 billion of revenue the league makes annually while players receive the larger 60 percent. This ignores a portion of revenue set aside for owners’ expenses that shift the revenue split closer to 50 percent each. It appears that owners want a larger share in order to regain money invested in new stadiums and other expenses more quickly.

When it comes to the post-season, teams as a whole earn less money than during the regular season. The NFL gains all ticket sales to be shared by the teams in the post-season. Additionally, the NFL pays teams a flat rate that does not cover the costs of post-season play. For instance the team that wins the Super Bowl is awarded around $3.5 million by the NFL, which generally does not fully cover the expenses of travel, equipment, etc.

On the players side of the post-season problem, we have a sharp reduction in salaries during the post-season. While star players make millions during the course of their careers, when they get to the post-season the NFL pays everyone on the team, including the bench-warmers, an equal share. While players aren’t going to go broke by playing in the post-season, they certainly do not earn a fair share of the revenue generated by post-season appearances.

Why should players receive more money in the post-season? For the same reason players make so much money in the regular season. Players run the risk of career-ending injuries every week when they go out onto the field. Whether they should be in such danger is a whole additional topic but the core reason players make large sums of money is because the average career is not all that long.

The average length of an NFL career is around three and a half seasons according to the NFLPA’s website. While players may seem to be making massive fortunes if they last several years, the players who only last at or below the average do not exactly end up swimming in cash.

While I can see why owners would want to regain their investments more quickly, I still cannot wrap my head around the idea of players getting a lesser share, even if it is still more than half, of the money the NFL generates every year. When I go to a Vikings game, I go to watch Adrian Peterson, Sidney Rice and, until recently, Brett Favre. I’ve never gone to a game with the slightest care about how the game will relate to owner Zygi Wilf. The same applies with all other professional sports; fans go to watch the athletes, not the owners.

Another issue to negotiate, is the idea of expanding the regular season to 18 games instead of the current 16. While I wouldn’t mind more games in the year, this isn’t the way to do it. First of all, the logistics would be a nightmare. Currently, each team’s schedule is made up of six games with division rivals, four games with a different division in the same conference and four games with a division from the opposite conference. The final two games are determined by how each team did relative to their own division in the previous season. Thus the team that places second in the NFC North will play against the two teams in the National Football Conference (NFC) which placed second in their own divisions but were not encompassed by the previous games.

While that may sound complicated, once you start looking at the schedules it makes sense. Adding two more games would add a degree of chaos into the mix that is outright unnecessary. A better option would be to expand the post-season and allow more teams the chance to pursue the Lombardi trophy.

I’d personally like to see the NFL implement an extra round in the playoffs and no byes. That would place every team in the post-season and make for a more interesting fight in the last few weeks.

Some could argue that doing so would make the regular season pointless. I disagree because the regular season would serve the purpose of seeding for a post-season set up as a tournament. Another compromise would be to add a round but grant all division champions a bye in the first week as eight wild-card teams battle for four spots against division champions (per conference). Sure this would put half the teams in the playoffs but it would give more fans a reason to continue watching and generate more revenue for the league.

These are just a couple of issues that the players union and the NFL need to hammer out before the March 3 deadline. Other issues include health care benefits for current and retired players as well as considerations for making the game safer to play.

With less than a month to go, the prospects of a 2011 NFL season to look forward to becomes dimmer as each day passes. Hopefully, now that the Super Bowl has finished and with it the 2010 season, negotiators can get together and forge a new, long-term agreement that can make both sides happy.

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