Friday, September 10, 2010

Borifying the NFL

Every year the NFL tinkers with a great sport, which usually results in a negative effect. This year has so far followed suit. Football is a delicate balance between sport and business; for several years now the scale has been tipping toward business, and it's getting ever harder to enjoy the competition.

-- Tonight I watched the 2010 opening game between the Saints and Vikings. Favre was clearly rusty and unfit due to his late arrival to camp. Why was he late? Who knows, but once the Vikings offered him a huge raise and massaged his delicate ego he changed his mind and showed up to camp.

-- Every year my favorite team seems to turn over large numbers of players. How can I stay committed to a team every year when the locker room sports a revolving door?

-- Rules changes have damaged competitiveness. Quarterbacks are over-valued and over-protected; defensive backs can barely look at receivers without getting flagged for interference; there is an unbelievable amount of time-outs, commercial breaks and slow-downs due to instant replay calls; players fall down and drop the ball, but don't get charged with a fumble, etc.

-- Pass interference is the most ridiculous rule the NFL has. It's called so much during a game that games are often decided on the basis of a referee blowing his whistle. The penalty for offensive pass interference results in the offensive team advancing to the spot of the foul. If, then, a quarterback throws a sixty-yard pass, and the defender is called for pass interference, it is tantamount to a sixty yard gain. The assumption is that the offensive player, were it not for being interfered with, would have caught the ball. However, if the pass interference happened in the end zone, there is no assumption that the receiver would have caught the ball. So, the offensive team gets the ball at the one-yard-line instead. Does that make sense? Of course not. There is never a guarantee that a receiver will catch any ball thrown his way.

-- When offensive pass interference is called, there never exists the assumption that, were it not for the pass being interfered with, the defender would have caught the ball. To be consistent, whenever an offensive player is called with pass interference shouldn't the defensive team be credited with an interception?

-- The league itself is structured and run as if it were a small communist country in Eastern Europe. Instead of allowing teams to reap the benefits of hard work, and spend their profits any way they wish, the NFL is forcing parity upon the league. It is patently un-American to force teams to share their wealth, either through extorting profits or limiting teams' ability to use those profits to gain an edge on the competition.

-- Parity slowly ruins the sport. The more parity there is, the less distinction there is between teams. Following the league is more fun when there are teams to hate (usually the "haves") and underdogs to root for (the "have nots"). Right now, on any given Sunday any team could beat another. On its face, this seems positive. But it ultimately dumbs down the league; it's exciting when a weaker team squeaks out a win against a giant, but there really are no "weaker" teams any more (maybe a few). The only real difference between teams nowadays is the jerseys.

-- Instant replay is just plain boring, and it smacks of self-importance. Instant replays almost always occur at pivotal and exciting times during a game. They destroy momentum, excitement and pace, and they force folks to endure ever more TV commercials. In the end, even the Superbowl is just a game. It's just not that important to get each and every call perfectly correct.

-- Corporate influence hurts the blue collar fan. How many middle-class fans, the ones who wear their team's jerseys and buy advertisers' products, actually get to attend playoff games and Superbowls? Very few. Corporate sponsors, NFL cronies, families and friends, media employees and guests of the above people get seats at the most important games.

-- Greed is ruining the sport. Both owners and players alike are greedy; neither of these entities care a lick about the basic fan, and it's the basic fan that pays for everything through ticket sales, concessions, team merchandise and advertisers' products. Players charge for autographs, owners and players combine to overcharge for tickets and, thanks to greed, fans are priced-out of important games. Not only are they priced-out of playoff and Superbowl tickets, but taking Joe fan's seat in the stadium is usually some corporate sponsor.

Despite all of these annoying aspects to professional football I, like millions of Americans, will continue to be riveted to Sunday and Monday football on TV. It is still a great sport. Like a lot of things in our culture, however, the folks in charge need to learn when to leave a good thing alone. A few more changes to football and they'll lose me, and I won't be the only one hitting the door.

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