May 22, 2007
Goodell’s Goodwill Gaffe
by Bob Hulsey
I was going to write a column about how Draft Day is like Christmas Day except fewer people get what they really want. Now you can thank NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for giving me something else to write about.
Last week, Goodell trotted out the trial balloon (at least I hope it’s just a trial balloon) to add one more week to the regular season for all 32 teams to play a game outside the U.S. Like a lot of bad ideas, this one was offered with good intentions but, apparently, little forethought.
Goodell sees how the NBA and Major League Baseball are getting talent flow from other countries and receiving a residual profit marketing their teams and stars overseas. The Houston Rockets, for example, probably draw better TV ratings in China than they do in America. That money filters back here in merchandizing and endorsement deals. Other than a stray Australian punter, the NFL is purely an American product. Apparently, NFL Europa is not making much of a dent and their roster exemption program for non-American players is not planting seeds either.
Now, I’m a fair-minded individual who is open to changes in the game, but this new idea is one the NFL would have a lot of trouble implementing which they’ve seemingly failed to consider.
First of all, it might create an international incident sending the Cincinnati Bengals overseas. Of course, they could be sent to Havana as a Mariel Boat Lift in reverse, but some other team has to go along with them. Maybe the Raiders or Ravens could be that club, but they simply haven’t produced enough criminals lately to match the pumpkincats.
Seriously, there are visa and customs considerations to make. What happens if another government stops Michael Vick while boarding a flight and finds a marijuana-like residue in the hidden compartment of his water bottle? Do you really want a DNP in the regular season because a player gets caught going through customs with something he shouldn’t? Even if it turns out to be nothing illegal?
Finding 16 venues to host these games on the same weekend could be another major task. Most of the sites would be converted soccer stadiums and the local soccer clubs might resent the disruption of their seasons for these gringos and gaijin.
Further, the international venues are not created equally. A road trip to Toronto or Mexico City can probably be handled with minimal inconvenience, but trips to Europe or Asia compressed into the normal NFL work week will generate some loud complaints from players and coaches.
The league tries to keep a lid on it, but if you get NFL players to speak off the record most absolutely hate those international exhibition games in places like Tokyo, Sydney and Barcelona. Imagine yourself a 6-5, 330-lb offensive tackle stuck in an airline seat for a dozen hours and you get the first hint of how unpopular they are.
Now imagine you are forced to endure jet lag and an opening kickoff that could be 9 a.m. or 2 a.m. local time to accomodate American television – in a game that now could determine your playoff chances – and you’ll quickly see the disenchantment coming. Some players returning from the Far East have said it took them three weeks to completely get over the disruptions to their sleep and work habits. Those wouldn’t be weeks filled with other exhibition matches as they are today. They might be critical games against division arch-rivals.
Speaking of television, those lucrative contracts would have to be re-worked as would the collective bargaining agreement with the union because of the season expansion.
The schedules, which are presently so easy to figure that you know next season’s matchups as soon as the current season ends, would need to be reworked as well. Would that 17th game be an interconference game or a conference game? If it’s a conference game, it could factor into current tie-breaking scenarios. Even if they aren’t, would it be fair to put the Giants in a game against the Colts for Manning Bowl II while the arch-rival Cowboys drew our lowly Texans? The great thing about the current set up is that the matchups are predetermined by past results and the only variable is the way the weeks are drawn up. Throwing in an arbitrary 17th opponent muddies the waters and will lead to howls of league favoritism.
Finally, the last barrier to overcome with international football games is the unthinkable – terrorism. That’s not to say that teams aren’t vulnerable to attack in America but, it seems to me, the chances of a season-altering catastrophe go up when the league must depend on foreign governments to protect them from a deadly incident. Granted, I thought the terrorists would strike at the Athens Olympics and that didn’t happen, but putting on 16 events all over the world is a little different than bringing the world to one secured spot.
Commissioner Goodell, I haven’t even mentioned the negative publicity you’ll get about the growing carbon footprint of the NFL jetting throughout the globe to entertain people who may or may not even care at the expense of the planet’s viability, but that’s for another time and another columnist.
Every NFL Commissioner has made a big mistake they’ve eventually regretted. I’m ready to count this idea as yours. The NFL doesn’t need this, and it creates far more problems than the one it allegedly solves. Pop this trial balloon as quickly and quietly as you can.
Bob Hulsey last left the American continent in 1985. That was all he needed to know about overseas travel not to try it again.
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