Goodell needs to act fast to avoid lockout

BY foxsports • February 4, 2011

Only now does it occur to me that Roger Goodell doesn’t fully appreciate my efforts. I can’t recall ever shilling for a man in a suit as I have for the NFL’s commissioner.

After his first year on the job, I was writing that Goodell had already learned more than baseball’s commissioner-for-life, and that the comparison was an embarrassment to Bud Selig.

I’ve applauded Goodell’s stances on player safety (recall that the Tagliabue regime refused to even recognize the game had a concussion problem) and player discipline. His handling of the Michael Vick case was particularly impressive, as it balanced severe punishment while preserving the possibility of redemption. You get the feeling that Goodell is a good man, and that his father — a Republican senator who courageously defied his own party on the issue of Vietnam — would be proud.

But this idea of locking out the players, it’s wrong. And to be frank, it should be beneath Roger Goodell.

Sunday’s Super Bowl (FOX pregame at 2 p.m. ET, game time at 6 p.m. ET) between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers at the $1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium is expected to be the single most economically successful game in the history of sports. Last year’s Super Bowl drew 106.5 million viewers; this year’s should bring more. Hell, 55 million tuned in to the AFC championship.

What’s more, the league has more than kept pace with technology during this commissioner’s tenure. You can watch NFL football on your PC, iPad, iPod or phone. You can watch every game on a variety of cable packages. Then, of course, there’s the NFL’s own network.

The state of the league is so flush that the NFL Draft is considered a bigger event than either the MLB or NBA playoffs. Then again, professional football isn’t merely unlike the other sports. It seems unlike any other business. Even in the worst of times, it has demonstrated itself to be recession-proof. The league will take in about $9 billion in revenue this season. Still, Goodell’s owners — the same consortium of geniuses who put a Super Bowl in Jersey — are preparing to padlock practice facilities come March 4, when the collective bargaining agreement expires.

Where are all those free-enterprise Republicans? If you can’t make your business work on $9 billion, you shouldn’t be in business.

I’m not yet quite sure what to make of a union boss who calls himself “D.” Still, let me quote DeMaurice Smith, as the Players Association’s executive director made a lot of sense at his Thursday presser: “The business of football is probably the best economic business model in the country because that $9 billion was generated during the worst recession in our lives.”

And the owners want players to give back a billion dollars a year for the next seven years.

At his own press conference Friday, Goodell spoke of the need to “grow this game.” Sounds great. But here’s what it really means: He wants more superfluous monstrosities like that thing in the Meadowlands.

“Since 2006,” he all but whined, “we have not built a new stadium.”

Hold up. Since when is it the responsibility of players — who, overpaid as some might be, still constitute the labor end of this equation — to get stadiums built? Doesn’t the league have lobbyists and politicians for that?

Will the owners share their tax breaks with the players? No. And they couldn’t if they wanted to. Your typical NFL player lasts 3.4 years in the league. Your typical owner is there for life.

“The owners don’t love the game,” union president Kevin Mawae said. “They love the money.”

Certainly, they don’t love the game enough to play concussed, as their employees do regularly. Then again, there’s nothing wrong with loving money, either. Owning a team is a spectacular investment, with franchise values having risen 171 percent between 1999 and 2009, according to Forbes. The average franchise is now worth more than $1 billion.

These numbers belie the owners’ main complaint, that 60 percent of their revenue goes toward players’ salaries.

Smith says the figure is 50 percent, and that the first billion is effectively taken off the top and not counted against the salary cap.

For the sake of comparison, NBA teams — with almost 40 fewer roster spots per squad — spend 57 percent of “basketball-related income” on players. Still, with a football lockout looming, it’s impossible to tell which side is lying more, as the owners refuse to open their books.

“We have to get beyond the negotiating ploy of opening the books,” Goodell said.

Again, hold up. How is that a negotiating ploy? If you have nothing to hide, then why hide it?

Goodell should go easy with his umbrage here. Does he really expect players to take owners at their word? Someone with Goodell’s political pedigree should know better. The tactic doesn’t merely lack transparency. It’s borderline Nixonian.

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