Wednesday 3-Pointer: NFLPA Gaining Steam, Fixing MLB & Newton or Gabbert?

March 02, 2011 | Thyrl Nelson

Wednesday 3-Pointer


#1 – NFL Players Fight Gaining Momentum


I’ve said throughout the lead up to the NFL’s collective bargaining turmoil, which is either on the horizon or already upon us depending on whom you ask, that I am surprised at the consensus of the general public as most have seemingly defaulted to the side of the league (if indeed sides need to be taken here). Maybe it’s just easy for the fans to accept and expect that the owners will ultimately win anyway, and to that end it’s still difficult for the average fan to feel sorry for millionaires who play a game for a living. And most of us have sadly grown all too accustomed to falling prey to the whimsy of upper management decisions in our own lives too. What’s good for the average man…


It’s still worth mentioning, and I have several times, that as professional athletes in America go, NFL players receive far less in relative compensation than their counterparts in other sports receive, despite the fact that they play the most dangerous game with the shortest career expectancy without even the safety net of guaranteed contracts like other sports. In the end that may be a big part of what makes the NFL the most popular of the professional sports leagues now too, so finding the proper balance may not be necessary just to appease both sides, but also to maintain the competitive balance at the apparent root of the league’s success as well.


It’s also worth mentioning, and again I have…ad nauseam in fact, that the owners opted out of the current collective bargaining agreement because they felt it oppressive, this despite the fact that at the time the current deal was announced it was viewed largely as a loss for the players, and former player’s union head, the late Gene Upshaw was admonished for his efforts. The fact that the owners have winningly opted out of the agreement seems to contradict that initial assessment, and the owners appear poised to try and take even more away from the players.


As union decertification and the end of the current collective bargaining agreement now seem eminent, it appears at least that the player’s cause may be gaining some legal steam if not the support of the public at large. It seems that once decertification takes place, and individual players find themselves free to sue the league on the grounds of anti-trust, it threatens to open a Pandora’s box that the owners might rather keep closed. Remember that after compromising their own post-season, and threatening to move into the following season with replacement players it was a threat to MLB’s coveted anti-trust exemption that ultimately compelled baseball’s owners to cave to their union. Some things it seems are still more valuable than money.


Additionally, and speaking of money, the players picked up additional head of steam on Tuesday when it was announced that a federal judge had ruled the NFL acted unfairly in securing guaranteed TV money for themselves even if no football were played in 2011. It stands to reason that TV networks’ willingness to pony up that money under those conditions is based on past and future considerations, and therefore the players should be due a share of that money. It seems our courts see it that way too.


That money, estimated at $4 billion was referred to by the players union as a slush fund of sorts providing the owners with insurance in the event a 2011 season didn’t happen, and based on the lack of player salaries having to be paid out may project to leave some teams more profitable in 2011 without football than they would be with it. If owners are as cash strapped as they claim to be then this could be a significant win for the NFLPA on the brink of decertification.


#2 – Does MLB Need a Fix?


As the NFL and NBA are going through their own respective brands of labor turmoil, I wonder how much attention the folks at MLB are paying. Despite the relative labor peace that baseball currently enjoys over other leagues, their system would still be pointed to by most fans as being in the greatest need of an overhaul.


Baseball is clearly a system of haves and have-nots, and although the pure nature of the game (luck and timing) facilitates seemingly one “out of nowhere”, feel good story per season, it’s generally pretty easy to handicap the divisional races based on the payrolls of each team. In baseball the disparity (or perceived disparity) between the haves and have-nots is so great however, that small market teams have taken to running up the white flag and trying to chase lightning in a bottle on the cheap. Big market owners don’t seem to be in love with the system either as owners like Hank Steinbrenner and John Henry have taken to criticizing the practice of revenue sharing based on payroll, and at least hinted at the misappropriation of those funds by the smaller market teams.


In the end, no mater what your sport, teams in cities like New York, Chicago & Los Angeles will always stand to make more money than the rest. In baseball, those teams are allowed to reinvest that income freely and as a result make their teams even more competitive and thus more profitable. In other sports, teams in those cities are simply forced to accept and pocket their abundance of revenue while continuing to invest in their teams at the same levels as everyone else. Which is right? It’s hard to say, but in addition to baseball’s anomalous system, they also have a team from either New York, Chicago or Los Angeles in every division. How far above and beyond their contemporaries those teams have been willing to spend has so far been case-by-case.


Putting a salary cap on MLB would make teams like the Yankees more profitable but less successful on the field, having to rely on the tenants of scouting and development over earning and spending. But would it make MLB better as a whole?


The ugly and not so secret truth is that the leagues and television networks ultimately benefit when teams in larger markets compete for championships. Here the NFL is the anomaly as the Super Bowl is such an event that any two teams competing will draw big numbers, but even the Super Bowl would benefit from a match up of Giants vs. Jets for example.


To their credit, MLB has seemingly made no secret about its desire to perpetuate the causes of the big market clubs (as they are the tit for everyone else anyway). In a much shadier fashion the NBA has an inexplicable run of luck going back to the early 80’s that has seen New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston or Houston in nearly every finals; and still there you have the dynastic small market Spurs.


If it were up to me, I’d put MLB back on a balanced schedule, end revenue sharing and inter-league play, and determine the divisions dynamically, by payroll on the first day of the league’s calendar. The top payroll division could have 4 teams in both leagues, as a reward of sorts, and wouldn’t be subject to any imbalance on the schedule based on divisional alignment. In the AL the other divisions could be 5 teams each and 6 each in the NL. You might even try to figure a way to weight the wildcard standings in favor of the higher pay rolled divisions. That’s how I’d fix baseball, if we’re conceding that it needs a fix I mean.


#3 – Newton or Gabbert: Which is the Known Commodity Again?


A lot has been made after the NFL combine about the top end of the quarterback class, and their respective decisions about how much to show off in Indy. Cam Newton elected to work out fully, seemed to sell the media pretty well by way of a prepared statement offering an explanation for his icon remarks amongst other infamous indiscretions, but faltered a bit throwing the ball and in individual meetings with some teams. Blaine Gabbert decided to wow scouts with his arm and save the rest for his pro day later this month.


Despite Gabbert’s relative anonymity with the average fan in comparison to Newton’s well documented national title pursuit and all of the on and off the field drama that accompanied it, it seems that Gabbert is heading toward draft day as the known commodity and Newton as the great unknown.


I can’t imagine Newton did much damage to his stock with his workouts and he’ll have a pro day too, to improve on his throwing performance among other things. At the same time, recent history shows that QBs who have elected not to show too much at the combine have typically heard their names called earliest on draft day.


In the end, this one probably comes down to the luck of the draw. In Gabbert some teams will see a guy straight out of central casting, who spent his formative years in the Big-12 learning his craft against some of the best and most sophisticated defenses in college football. Others will see a late surging superstar, crafted after his college seasons were already in the books and look to indict him on Ryan Leaf or Alex Smith type comparisons. In Newton some will see Ben Rothlesberger with speed, a quarterback who could be a nightmare for defenses who struggled to solve Mike Vick last season, a guy who has digested 3 different playbooks in 3 college seasons and has 3 national championship rings to show for it. Doubters will make comparisons to Tim Tebow and Jason Campbell, even JaMarcus Russell, and find him an unattractive option without relying on his legs; no certain proposition at all in the NFL.


Combine numbers, pro days, team interviews and media sessions aside, teams would seem either likely to either love Newton and hate Gabbert or love Gabbert and hate Newton, which one comes off the board first (as always) will depend on which kind of team finds itself at the podium in search of a quarterback first on draft day.