It’s Super Bowl Sunday (or, if my writing/editing/posting history is any indication, sometime around Draft Day), which means football is on the brain. As opposed to the other 365 days – it’s a leap year, remember – where football is on the brain. Still, it strikes me as being as good a time as anyway to take another look at how we can fix the NFL.
My devoted readers – I’m talking to you, Dad – may remember that I already did a “Fix the NFL” post a few years back, and if you don’t, you can read it here. Despite the fact that the NFL has stupidly listened to exactly none of my ideas (ok, they fixed the extra point, but they did it in a less than satisfactory way), we’re not going to rehash many of those issues here. Instead we’re going to look closer at the business and societal issues with the game more than what happens on the field.
Without further ado:
Fire Roger Goodell.
Fire Roger Goodell out of a cannon.
Fire Roger Goodell out of a cannon into a brick wall.
Fire Roger Goodell out of a cannon into a brick wall on the surface of the sun.
Have I mentioned firing Roger Goodell?
Look, I think Goodell has his fans. He has at least 32 of them, because if he didn’t the owners would’ve fired him already. Unfortunately, a drunk monkey could’ve run the NFL during Goodell’s era and there would’ve been no difference.
People will tell you that Goodell’s grown the NFL’s business by leaps and bounds during his time as commissioner. But that growth is due to, in my eyes, four things: gambling, fantasy football, the public financing of stadiums, and the DVR. I’ll elaborate.
Fantasy football and gambling are no-brainers. The NFL wouldn’t exist without it. Or if it did it would be the NBA and Major League Baseball would still be America’s pastime. Doubt me all you want, but I’m right. The NFL could probably exist without fantasy football, and it did so with explosive growth up through the 1980’s, despite two seasons with work stoppages. The reason is that football is so easy to gamble on that millions of people watch the games with absolutely no interest in who actually wins the games. And football has been gambled on since the sport began, well before Roger Goodell was able to get his grimy claws on the game.
As for public financing, if you include the forthcoming Minnesota, Atlanta, and L.A. stadiums, 9 teams will have moved into new stadiums during Goodell’s reign. Add the renovations in Buffalo and Kansas City and the fact that the Raiders and Chargers will eventually move, and you’re up to 13 teams that will have moved into new or renovated stadiums during Goodell’s reign. All of these stadiums have been at least partially financed with public funds, with the billionaire owners claiming that the government – and the public that pays for government – needs to pony up because a new stadium offers so much benefit to the municipalities. (I won’t go much into the scam, but if you want more information, go look at Field of Schemes.)
The thing is, since Jacksonville and Carolina entered the League in 1995, only the Bears, Packers, Chiefs, Chargers, Raiders, Rams, Bills, Dolphins, Falcons, and Saints remain in the same facilities; we’ve discussed the Chiefs, Chargers, Raiders, Rams, Bills, and Falcons, and only the Packers haven’t taken public funds for renovations (although the Packers breed a special breed of stupidity, as they financed their stadium by suckering their idiot fans into buying stock certificates that have no actual benefit of team ownership).
My point is that teams were suckering their fan bases into paying for their stadiums well before Goodell came into power. Hell, they’ve been doing it in every other sport, with practically every team threatening to move if they didn’t get a new stadium financed with public funds. This isn’t new, and it surely isn’t Goodell’s doing.
Finally, we come to the DVR. Back in 2000 TiVo introduced the first DVR, and as their use has become more and more common in American households, the networks are looking for DVR-proof programming. And nothing is more DVR-proof than sports. Sure, there are a decent number of people who start the game an hour late, skip the commercials, and finish when everyone else does. But for the most part people who are watching sports are doing it live, meaning they are consuming the commercials that are so important to the networks. As a result, TV rights fees for sports have shot through the roof. From 2006-13, TV rights fees were $3 billion/year. From 2014-21, they were over $5 billion. That’s not Roger Goodell’s doing, it’s because the networks are desperate.
And for all this business that Goodell had nothing to do with, what has he given us? Embarrassment. League disciplinary processes that leave us sympathetic to pieces of shit like Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, and Greg Hardy. Suspensions so heavy-handed in the Bountygate investigation that his predecessor was brought in to overturn his findings. Discipline that was probably light in the infamous SpyGate scandal, although we’ll never know because immediately after the penalties were handed down he destroyed all the evidence to protect his buddy Robert Kraft. And a ridiculous make-up suspension – a suspension he’s still suing to uphold despite the fact that numerous arbitrators and courts have ruled that the suspension was ridiculous – of Tom Brady over some deflated footballs (to make up for the aforementioned light SpyGate penalties) that were so important to the outcome of the game that the Patriots outscored the Colts 28-0 after the offending footballs were removed from play.
And that doesn’t even mention the concussion catastrophe, which I’ll get to later.
Fire Roger Goodell. Hire a drunk monkey. It’s not that hard to be a commissioner in American sports. Hell, Gary Bettman’s been doing it for over 20 years.
Fix the Concussion Crisis
Look, I get it. Football is a dangerous game. We watch as much for the bone-jarring collisions as we do for the amazing catches from Antonio Brown and the amazing runs from Todd Gurley. But it’s recently become amazingly clear that playing football at all levels kills people. It’s simply by the grace of God that no one has died on an NFL field as a result of a violent collision. It is coming and it will likely destroy the League. But the NFL can get in front of it and prevent that with a couple of easy fixes.
First, have independent concussion doctors on site at every game. Let’s make it 3 doctors at each game who will have the power to stop the game if they see a guy struggling and will review him away from team personnel to determine if he is capable of returning to the game. Players go into concussion protocol now, but players still believe that the doctors are more concerned with the team that employs them than they are with the players’ well being. So we’re removing the concept of team concussion doctors and replacing them with League concussion doctors. And just so we make sure that the League can’t step in and say that Cam Newton is cleared for the Super Bowl (when we know it would be an utter disaster for the League if Derek Anderson had to start), the doctors will be hired independent of the League. Let it be the state’s medical boards that handle it. If the NFL doesn’t like it, threaten to pull their favorable antitrust status.
Second, lifetime medical insurance for anyone who’s ever played for, been drafted by, or signed with an NFL team. This will prevent the League from even trying to make the argument that the problem wasn’t caused by their football history. Make it retroactive for any living player and have an independent board review the status of any of the decedents of deceased players. It’ll save the League on lawyers fees and it’ll gain them immeasurable public relations points. It’ll be expensive, but the NFL’s a cash cow. And when a player inevitably dies on the field, the NFL will be able to say, “Hey, we know it’s dangerous, but we’re taking care of it.”
How are we going to pay for it?
Expand the Season
But wait, DSC, how can you complain about the inherent dangers of the NFL and then tell us we need to expand the season? Simple. We’re not adding games, we’re adding weeks.
I didn’t see Concussion, mainly because the Sony email hack scandal showed that the studio pulled some punches out of fear for being sued by the League, but also because I both watched the League of Denial documentary and read the book, so I didn’t feel like paying to watch a movie that thinks Luke Wilson is a convincing Roger Goodell. But the trailer had one interesting line, and that’s that the League owns a day of the week. And it’s true: from September until early February, every Sunday is NFL Sunday. So what better way to add income then by giving them more of those Sundays?
As it stands now, we get 4 crappy preseason games and 16 regular season games over 21 weeks, with each team getting one regular season bye week. The owners have started to realize that fans don’t want to pay full price for a preseason ticket, so they drop the price of the preseason games and spread the difference over the regular season games. And we pay it, because we’re stupid sheep.
Now imagine 2 preseason games and 16 regular season games over the same 21 weeks, but with 19 weeks in the regular season. What’s the difference? I’m glad you asked. And if you didn’t ask, you should have.
As it stands now, if you’re one of the 99% of America that has cable (that’s an estimate, but it’s not far off), you get to see 5 games a week – Thursday Night Football, Sunday Night Football, Monday Night Football, and 2 on Sunday afternoon (and if you choose to skip around you can see 3 of the games on Sunday afternoon). That’s 85 games a season, or 33% of the 256 games on the schedule, and that doesn’t include the nationally televised Thanksgiving games or the occasional late-season Saturday games.
Now, expand that 2 weeks without adding any games, and you’ll see 105 games, and you’re up to 41% of the season, all without dropping another penny. And you do it in a way that helps player safety, and everyone loves that.
You may recall that in my prior diatribe about fixing the League I suggested that the final week of the regular season should be the final Sunday of December, with the playoffs starting the first week of January. With this in mind, Week 1 would take place the week of August 23 and Week 19 would take place the week of December 27. Is August 23 early? Yes. However, this would mean that the preseason games would start on August 9 (no sooner than normal), with the “real” games starting sooner. And who would hate that?
(Well, Major League Baseball, but we’re not talking about them right now.)
So how will it work? Each team plays a 16-game season with 3 bye weeks. The players get added time to rest and recover and we likely see more players playing more games. There will be no bye weeks from Weeks 1-4 and 17-19. Two divisions each (one from each conference) have a bye week every fourth week from weeks 5-16, with the same divisions on the same bye weeks to eliminate any competitive advantage with teams getting longer gaps between bye weeks.
What’s the benefit? You just gave the networks two additional weeks of DVR-free unstoppable NFL programming, which always finishes at the top of the ratings. That’s roughly 12% more games for the people to see, and, more importantly, 12% more TV revenue. At $5 billion a year as it currently stands, you’ve just added $600 million additional revenue without requiring the players to play another game.
If this isn’t the most brilliant and simplest fix to the game, I don’t know what is.
Lifetime Bans for Violent Criminals
Greg Hardy is a pile of shit who threw his girlfriend onto a futon full of assault weapons while she begged him to kill her, paid her off so that she wouldn’t press charges, and then promised to come out guns blazing when his suspension was up (and let’s not even discuss his comments about his opponents wives and girlfriends).
Adrian Peterson whipped the shit out of his 4-year-old son, scraping his legs and testicles, and while he was off on a league-mandated sabbatical (he was only retroactively suspended), he got caught smoking weed and threw himself an elaborate Egyptian-themed birthday party where he refused to allow anyone to discuss the charges against him. He has shown zero remorse and seeks no redemption, despite the fact that publications such as Sports Illustrated really want to give it to him.
The NFL Players Association, because these pieces of shit are dues-paying members, are required to stick up for them, so when Goodell tries to do something good like banish these monsters in a manner that fits their crimes, he does it based on guidelines that aren’t in place and require the NFLPA to stick up for them.
So I say ban them for life.
Electrocuted a dog? Gone. Killed a guy while you were driving drunk? See ya. Knock your wife out and then dragged her out of an elevator? Banned. Threw your girlfriend onto a pile of assault weapons? Outta here. Beat the shit out of your kid? Get out.
Playing football is a privilege. In exchange for your considerable talents you are paid a ridiculous sum of money and expected to not be a total garbage human being. If you fail to do so, that privilege is taken away. And for anyone who says we’re taking away his right to earn a living, save it. We’re not doing that. He can go work as a janitor, or a clerk at a 7-11, or, perhaps, he could use his college education, say he made a mistake in job interviews and it’s cost him dearly, and hope he can make something of his life.
But if you’re guilty of committing a violent crime, you’re done.
And just so we don’t let the teams off the hook, they’ll be required to pay the remaining guaranteed amount of his contract to a charity of the victim’s choosing. We won’t be total dicks though…we won’t make them take a salary cap hit.
“Fix” the Playoffs
Let’s face it, the NFL playoffs are about as good as it gets, second only to the NCAA tournament in terms of excitement and watchability. But it can get moderately better with a few tweaks.
First, add a wild card team. The NFL ditched one of their wild card teams when they expanded to four divisions in 2002; this corrects that issue. It also makes securing the top seed a more important endeavor as it gives that team the only first-round bye. And perhaps most importantly for the League, it gives them two additional playoff games, which means additional revenue. An opening-weekend tripleheader on both Saturday and Sunday would be to everyone’s liking, I’m certain.
Second, seed the teams by record. I’m fine with division champions being guaranteed a playoff berth (for the most part…I’ll get to that in a second), but that’s it. In the 2015 playoffs, all four home teams lost in the Wild Card round. If we seeded based on record, two of those teams would’ve played on the road. The NBA is going this route, and while I hate to tell anyone to follow the NBA’s lead, in this case they’ve got it right.
Third, and definitely more controversially, a division title doesn’t guarantee you a playoff berth. If you’re under .500 and there’s a team that has a better record than you and would otherwise be left out of the playoffs, you’re out and they’re in. If you’re at or above .500 and a team has 2 more wins than you and would otherwise be left out, they’re in and you’re out. Don’t like it? Tough. I hate rewarding teams for geography.
(If you read my first “Fix the NFL” post, you’ll notice I proposed a massive overhaul of the playoffs and the divisions. I like that better, but this is more realistic.)
Kill the Coin Toss
There’s no such thing as home field advantage in football (same thing in basketball, but again, not my concern here). In baseball you get the last at-bat at home, in hockey you get the second line change. So the home team gets to determine whether to kick off or receive. Same thing for overtime. This eliminates any potential embarrassments such as the one we saw in the Green Bay-Arizona playoff game this year.
(And for you degenerate gamblers out there, because the Super Bowl is a neutral site, we can keep the coin toss for that game and that game only.)
I don’t have a simple fix for this one. All I know is that the NFL’s overtime is stupid. They changed it a few years back because the ball was taken out of Brett Favre’s hands after the Vikings lost the coin toss in the NFC Championship game (never mind the fact that Favre threw an asininely stupid interception that prevented the Vikings from kicking the game-winning field goal in regulation). So now both teams are guaranteed a possession in overtime unless the team who wins the coin toss scores a touchdown on the first possession. That’s just needlessly complicated.
The simplest answer is to just eliminate the sudden death nature of football’s overtime and play the full 15 minutes. And because I’m lazy, let’s just do that.
We’re instituting a couple of simple changes. First, you have as many challenges as you have timeouts. If that means you get 14 challenges and because the refs keep screwing up and you keep correctly pointing out that the refs keep screwing up, so be it. Get the call right.
Second, everything is reviewable. Some penalties are just obvious and aren’t really the judgment call that the referee’s union would like you to believe. Illegally batting a ball out of bounds? Reviewable. Picking up the flag on an obvious pass interference? Reviewable. Thumb barely grazed the quarterback’s helmet, leading to a nonsensical facemask call? Reviewable.
(Is it obvious I’m a Lions fan?)
Are you going to review a missed hold on 2nd-and-8 in the 2nd quarter? No. But you are going to review a play that would’ve given you the ball back late in the game or ended the game on the final play.
Third, institute a “Common Sense Committee”, or CSC. The NFL refuses to fix the catch rule, which makes sense because it’s not like whether a catch is a catch should be the simplest question to answer in the NFL. So because we’re not going to fix the rule, we’re going to institute a committee that asks for a common sense ruling when such a ruling is required. So who’s on the CSC? Simple. Four drunk fans from every team (and yes, it’s football, they must be drunk). When there’s a call that goes to replay (whether that’s by a coach’s challenge or on a turnover or touchdown), the CSC – excluding the representatives of the two teams involved – is called to review the play. If the CSC disagrees with the outcome of the replay, the CSC’s decision wins out. Utilizing the CSC, there’d be no such thing as the “Calvin Johnson Rule”.
The League will tell you that officiating is fine, that the percentage of incorrect calls was no different this year than it was in previous years. This may be correct, but this year the mistakes were in particularly high-profile situations. The NFL is a $12 billion enterprise that uses part-time officials. I’m not the only one who finds this ridiculous. The officials are crucial, and one needs only look back to the Fail Mary – a call so bad that it quite literally ended a strike by the officials’ union – to see how important they are. So make them full-time paid employees and I guarantee it gets better.
(Although we may lose the greatness that is Ed Hochuli, because he’s a well-paid attorney in his “spare” time.)
We’re also allowing the League to correct the outcomes of games. In two circumstances this season – a missed false start that would’ve led to a 10-second runoff and the end of the game prior to a game-winning field goal; and an incorrect face mask on the final play of the game that led to an untimed completed Hail Mary – bad calls resulted in outcomes different than what should have actually happened. In these cases, the NFL is to be allowed to step in and change the outcome of the game. It’s an extreme example and would not happen often, but it is a possibility.
Draft Pick Compensation for Incorrect Calls
This idea is so absurd that I’m completely separating it from the notion of fixing the officiating. Will it ever happen? No. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to talk about it.
Take the Week 4 game between the Seahawks and Lions. With 1:45 left in the game, Calvin Johnson caught a pass, gained the first down at the Seattle 1, then fumbled the ball into the end zone, where Kam Chancellor illegally batted it out of bounds. The referees incorrectly ruled it a touchback – the illegal bat should’ve given the ball back to the Lions at the spot of the fumble – and the Seahawks were able to run out the clock and win the game. Because we don’t KNOW that this game would’ve turned out differently – and thus the NFL wouldn’t change the outcome of the game retroactively – we send the game to a committee for draft pick compensation. After the season, teams would send egregious calls such as this to the committee for review to determine how much the bad call impacted the outcome of the game and how much that game impacted the remainder of the season. If the committee determines that the game would have ended differently, they determine the round of draft pick compensation. The actual winning team loses their draft pick in exchange for the next “natural” (i.e., not impacted by trades) draft pick of the actual losing team.
(In this situation, the Lions would’ve had the Packers Hail Mary game overturned on account of the incorrect face mask call, making the Lions 8-8 and the Packers 9-7. The draft pick compensation committee would’ve then determined that with the ball on the Seahawks 1 with first down and under 2 minutes to play, the Lions likely would’ve won that game, which would’ve made them 9-7 and in a tie with – and more importantly holding the tiebreakers over – the Seahawks and Packers, which would’ve given them a playoff berth. Loss of a playoff berth or a playoff game is an automatic first round draft pick, with the Seahawks receiving the Lions’ next draft pick, in this case their second rounder.)
(On a completely unrelated note, I’m now horribly depressed.)
Give the Lions and Browns 2 Additional Wins to Start the Season
Look, they need it. Either they’ll screw it up themselves or the refs will do it for them.
These 2 wins will not be used for playoff seeding.
Depressing stat: Since the Browns returned to the NFL in the 1999 seasons, the Browns and Lions have made the playoffs a combined total of 4 times (out of 34 total team seasons). If you spotted them each 2 wins to start the season, that number goes up to a total of 7 trips to the playoffs.
But seriously, fire Roger Goodell.