COMMISSIONER FOR A DAY PART 2: New NFL Schelduling model to help create competitive balance

February 13, 2010 |

In part one of the “Commissioner for a day” series, I took it upon myself to eliminate the DH.  In my opinion, it is the first step in helping create more parody in MLB, without having a salary cap.  A salary cap will never be part of my plan, because I strongly believe that it would never get passed by the Players Union.  Why waste time with something that will never happen.  Besides, name a professional league that HAS a salary cap, that has parity.  The NBA?  I don’t think so.  The NHL?  Maybe.  That’s the one league where it seems like it has had a positive effect, by itself.  But the league lost a year in order to get it done, and the players union is no where near as powerful as the MLBPA. 

I know what you’re immediate answer is.  The NFL’s success has been because of the salary cap, and every team always has a chance.  Hogwash.  If that is the case, why are we facing an “uncapped” year in 2011?  Why did the Patriots win the Super Bowl as much as they did?  Why did the Eagles play in as many NFC Championship games in the last several years?  Is that the definition of parity?  When the same teams win, how is that parity?  Ok, I know.  The Saints just won their first Super Bowl.  The Arizona Cardinals made it to the big game last year.   I guess there is parity.  My bad.

In the NFL, the thing in my opinion that helps create “competitive balance” is not the salary cap, it’s their scheduling format.  I know, I know.  Teams play who’s on their schedule.  But in the NFL, that’s a big, big deal.  Let’s take a look at the Saints and the Bengals.

In 2008, the Saints finished the season, last in the NFC South with an 8-8 record.  So, as it turns out in 2009, they were given a last place schedule to play.  The record of all the teams on their 2009 schedule in 2008 was an impressive 142-113-1.  On the surface, it seems like their 09′ schedule would be very difficult.  As we all know, the 09′ Saints went 13-3, had the best record in the NFC, and eventually won the whole thing.  The record of all the teams the Saints played in 09′ was only 109-147.  What happened?  How is that possible?  Simple.  Teams that finished at the top of their divisions in 08′, weren’t very good in 09′.  For example, the Giants, went from 12-4 to 8-8. Miami went from 11-5 to 7-9. Carolina went from 12-4 to 8-8.  Were these teams really that good in 08′ or did the benefit from scheduling to win in o8′.  When this past season rolled around, and they had 1st place schedules, well, lets just say they didn’t play to their prior year’s success. 

The Bengals, finished 08′ 4-11-1, and in 3rd place in the AFC North.  The records of the teams on their schedule in 09′ during the 08′ season was 119-137.  So, as we all know, the 4-11-1 Bengals went 10-6 and won the division in 09′.  The teams on their schedule in 09′ went a combined 126-130.  That record even includes big successes like the Packers going from 6-10 to 11-5.  How about the Chargers going from 8-8 to 13-3.  Or even Minnesota going from 10-6 to 12-4. 

The difference between the two schedules is simple.  The teams that were good in 08′ that the Saints played in 09′ aren’t good on a consistent basis.  Miami, Carolina, and Tampa.  The Bengals, played teams that are consistently good, Minnesota, San Diego, and Green Bay.  It is so much easier for teams in the NFL to go from worst to first in one year.  First, they only play 16 games and, the schedule allows teams to be bad one year and to be able to rebound the following year.  If you finish last in your division, you play 8 games against teams that either finished last or next to last the following year.  That’s half of your games.  In the NFL, if the magic number to make the playoffs is 9, and you play 8 of your games against teams that are typically as bad as you, how can’t you improve or at least have a chance.

Imagine this.  What if the last place Orioles played half of their games against the A’s, Royals, Nationals, Padres, Pirates, Indians and Mariners this season?  Would they have a chance to compete?  Could they gain ground on the Yankees, Red Sox, Twins and Angels?  I think they could.  You think they could.  Every fan of every team in baseball would think that their team could make the postseason.  This time every year, baseball fans want to believe that their team has a chance to win the World Series.  The addition of the Wildcard has kept many more cities interested, deeper into the season.  Obviously, that’s a good thing for the fans, teams, cities, and baseball.    The way the unbalanced schedule is set currently, with teams playing the teams inside their divisions 18 or 19 times a season, hurts teams that are rebuilding.  Fans stay away, because they feel as though there is no hope.  The team has fewer dollars to spend on players due to dwindling attendance.  Top tier free agents stay away because the team is “rebuilding”. 

The easiest way for a MLB team to increase revenues, is to increase attendance.  In today’s economy, it takes more than a few bargain nights and giveaways to draw fans to most ballparks.  It takes winning.  Winning makes money.  Just ask the Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies and Angels.  Winning brings players, so that you can sustain winning.  Fans love winning.  So, if you are the Orioles, and almost 25% of your season is played against the Yankees and Red Sox, winning might just be tough.  It’s not only because of the money.  Just look at Minnesota, Oakland, and Florida.  These teams draft and develop players, are competitive, and haven’t had huge payrolls.  However, Minnesota will be in the 90 million range this year, with the opening of Target Field.

I have the scheduling format that will help fix competitive balance.  In the next installment of “Commissioner for a Day”, I will outline how the new schedule would be layed out.  Baseball is still the greatest game.  The season tells a story.  It’s different every year.  Let’s figure out ways so that we don’t always know how the story ends.