The Terrelle Pryor in the NFL Debate… Size Isn’t Everything

June 14, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

On February 6th, 2008, every high school football senior in the country with hopes of playing at the next level had to make a decision. It was National Signing Day, where those recruits commit to the college program they wish to be a part of.

Every recruit, that is, except one.

A quarterback out of Jeannette, PA, by the name of Terrelle Pryor thought he was special, and that the rules of everyone else didn’t apply to him. And so, while everyone else was announcing their intentions for the fall, Pryor decided that he would not make his announcement until more than a month later, on March 19th.

We should have seen it coming then.

Terrelle Pryor has fallen right in line with many other phenom talents who are targeted at a too-early age as the next great athletic superstar. Throughout their formative years, when most kids are learning very important life lessons about maturity, responsibility, and accountability, these teenage “superstars” are instead being told they are ‘special’. Exceptions and excuses are made on their behalf for their mistakes, and before you know it, they are shut off from the rest of the world, living within the bubble of “I am better than everyone else.”

Think about the recent antics of other children (which is exactly what they are) who were thrust far too soon into the limelight that is sports stardom – LeBron James and Bryce Harper quickly come to mind. All of these amazingly talented athletes may be physically prepared for the rigors of top-tier athletic competition, but none have shown the maturity necessary to cope with those rigors, and none have demonstrated an ounce of consideration for anyone around them, DESPITE the fact that they all play TEAM SPORTS.

Still, we hope with each new kid brought to us by ESPNU or Rivals.com as the ‘next great thing’ that THEY will be different. We continue to blindly believe the myth that age naturally brings wisdom and maturity, when so many before them prove time and again that is just not the case in sports. We believe that a kid who hasn’t even gone to prom yet can manage a multi-million dollar lifestyle, when most adults aren’t capable of it.

And with every new revelation made about the misdeeds of Pryor and his cohorts while at The Ohio State University, it becomes more evident that he has continued to behave as though the rules just did not apply to him. HE was the superstar, and everyone else should be grateful that HE is a part of their system.

So it came as a surprise to no one when he once more ducked out on accountability and consequence by running away from the NCAA.

Once again, while his so-called ‘team’ will be suffering the wrath of the NCAA, Pryor gets to just walk away, untouched by sanctions that will largely (if not entirely) be levied specifically because of his actions.

Terrelle Pryor is special, and the rules don’t apply to him.

Does that sound like someone an NFL General Manager, Head Coach, or FAN would want on their organization?

Character issues to the side now (which are more than enough to turn any NFL GM off to the prospect of Pryor as a member of their organization), there are plenty of reasons from a performance standpoint that would ALSO be reason to look the other way when Pryor and new agent Drew Rosenhaus come knocking at your team’s door.

Yes, Terrelle Pryor is a physically gifted athlete. He undeniably has the build required to play in the NFL, and is an all-around athlete. His combination of size and speed are what got him noticed in high school, and what led the Buckeyes to an amazing 33-6 record during his three-year tenure with the program.

But for Pryor, the REAL story is not in the wins, but in the losses. His poor decision making ability in many of those games led to very costly turnovers, some of which decided the outcome of games.

When Pryor is leading a juggernaut team against the bottom-feeders of the NCAA, it is easy for him to look good. The talent of the team around him, and the support of a stifling defense that was the hallmark of Ohio State football under Jim Tressel, all compensated for Pryor’s inability to make good decisions.

He extends plays far too long, creating opportunities for the defense to force turnovers, and he forces passes into areas that should not be tested. That is why his ratio of barely more than two TD passes for every interception pales in comparison to TRULY successful quarterbacks of recent years such as Cam Newton (4.3 TDs to every INT), Sam Bradford (5.5 TDs per INT), or even fellow Buckeye Troy Smith (4.2 TDs per INT).

With very few exceptions, any time that Terrelle Pryor found himself in a pressure situation with the game resting on his shoulders, he failed to deliver. Instead, he USUALLY committed a costly mistake which actually hurt his team more than if he had done nothing at all.

And to top it all off, the projection for his pro potential is not even at the position he played in college. You see, everyone knows that he can’t hack it as an NFL QB, so they are instead HOPING that his size, speed, and strength will make him a successful weapon somewhere (anywhere) on the field.

So if I were General Manager of an NFL franchise, and was presented at the supplemental draft with the opportunity to draft a low-character, poor decision making, selfish, prima donna attention-seeker who will have to learn an entirely new position because everyone already knows he cannot be successfull at the only position he has experience in, my answer is a resounding ‘NO THANK YOU!’

The best thing for Pryor AND for the NFL would be for him to spend a few years in either the CFL or the UFL, developing some strong character traits, and proving to the world that he is more than just hype and bad publicity.

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The Criminals in College Sports Debate Verdict

March 29, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

 

I must give my colleagues, Sports Geek and Loyal Homer, credit. After two years of working together, debating all the biggest issues in sports, they managed to bring out yet another first in TSD history!

For the first time ever, I actually disagree with BOTH arguments (well, at least partly).

The question was to debate whether or not coaches and universities should look into juvenile records before deciding which recruits to extend scholarship offers to. Both Sports Geek and Loyal Homer, although arguing for very different causes, essentially raised the same point – that character matters in sports.

According to Sports Geek, character matters in the sense that it helps people to gain experience. To Sports Geek, growth and second chances for everyone, not just athletes, to make us all better people. Past mistakes do not always serve as an indicator for future actions, though, and so Sports Geek feels that they should not be held against the children (that, after all, is what they are) who commit them.

On the other hand, Loyal Homer argues that character matters, which is precisely why college sports need to clean up their act. Too much is forgiven in sports, and it is tarnishing the reputation of what is supposed to be honest and fair play among student athletes. Instead, we hear more and more about Player ‘X’ from university ‘Y’ and their escapades that resulted in someone getting arrested, or worse, hurt.

But as I said, I disagree with both of them – Character does NOT matter in sports.

We like to SAY that character matters in sports, and realistically, it SHOULD matter in sports, but it is time for us all to stop perpetuating the lie.

We don’t care about character in our athletes at all. We want our athletes to win, and that’s it. We as a fan base may curse athletes who commit some act of moral or criminal wrongdoing. But then we conveniently turn that ire off when the player brings greater success to our team.

It is true that the Florida Gators had a plethora of criminal charges stocking their active roster for the past five football seasons. But they also have two National Championships during that stretch. What do you think Gator fans care about? Would any of them trade in even one of those two National Championships to clear the names of their beloved team’s roster? Hardly.

When Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes caught TD passes in the New York Jets playoff victory over the New England Patriots, were any of the Jets fans booing them?

How long did it take before Steelers fans welcomed Ben Roethlisberger back into the fold with open arms? My guess is about 20 minutes and 20 seconds into his first game back, when he completed a scoring pass to Mike Wallace.

It is time to stop pretending that we demand our athletes to live to a greater moral standard, because when push comes to shove we do not really care at all.

But now that it is time to step off of my soap box, I still need to crown a winner for this debate.

Just because I fundamentally disagree with the key message in both arguments, that does not mean I disagree with their entire arguments. And while I disagree with the principle of Sports Geek’s position, it is for that exact same reason that I am awarding him the verdict.

Because an athlete’s character does not REALLY matter to us in sports, past flaws should not be counted against recruits. As Sports Geek points out, kids make mistakes all the time. Some may be more serious than others, but that does not mean that they should be excluded from the opportunity to better themselves.

In fact, if we as fans REALLY want to see those games that we love cleaned up, then we absolutely MUST forgive the past transgressions of the kids that make childish mistakes. Those who are supposed to be “responsible” adults should assume that responsibility and actually COACH these kids. That’s right – It is the program administrators that must be held to the higher standard.

Coaches like Bruce Pearl, Jim Tressel, Lane Kiffin, and countless others are the ones setting the example for these kids that it is okay to bend and break the rules as long as you win games, and THAT is where accountability should be held.

In many cases, these coaches will have a greater impact on the lives of the student athletes than anyone else ever could. They need to act as mentors, role models, and leaders for the kids they are guiding. If they can live up to a higher standard, I can GUARANTEE you that the athletes will follow suit.

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The Criminals in College Sports Debate

March 15, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

College football coaches are always on the lookout for the next possible gridiron superstar.

Each coach’s wish list is different, but the criteria is almost always the same – speed, smarts, and size usually rule the day.

So where does an intangible like character come into play?

Every program would love to have a guy like Tim Tebow in their locker room. He was a good player with a solid moral foundation to back it up. He was a leader on the field and off, and became the poster child for the ‘good guy’ in college football.

But while Tebow was hoisted up as the pristine face of the Florida Gators, the rest of their football program were certainly no Eagle Scouts. Since 2005, 25 different players from the Gators have been arrested, including 12 charges of felonies or violent misdemeanors.

Florida is not the only program to deal with criminal activity from its players, either.

Every year we hear more reports about college athletes who find themselves involved in illegal matters that can make Ohio State’s tattoos and Brigham Young’s honor code violations sound like a church bake sale.

As further evidence of this growing problem in college sports, a recent study has uncovered that there is an alarming number of student athletes with criminal records, specifically among the ranks of the top programs.

Because these athletes become high profile representatives of high profile schools, does it make sense for those universities to dig even further into the respective pasts of their prospective recruits?

Should Universities in the NCAA examine the juvenile records of those students they intend to recruit?

Our resident Loyal Homer believes that universities absolutely should begin examining those juvenile records, while Sports Geek feels that they should not.

Is this a viable way to clean up the game and its programs? We are about to find out…

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The Best Coach Without A Title Debate… A Lifetime of Jazz, Concluded by the Blues

February 24, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Optimist Prime.

After 23 years, Jerry Sloan walked away from the Utah Jazz. Mid-season.

After 23 years, Sloan intimated that he just didn’t have the energy or the desire anymore, and that he knew “this was the time to move on.”

Translation – Jerry Sloan QUIT.

I don’t care that he coached the same team for 23 years, or that he won 1221 games. I also don’t care about his two Western Conference championships, or the Hall of Famers he’s coached, and I don’t care that he is one of only three coaches in the NBA with at least 15 consecutive winning seasons.

I don’t care about those things because none of them matter now. Why? Because Jerry Sloan is a quitter.

So tell me please, how can he be the greatest coach in sports without a title?

It is not like he left in the off-season, or even at the end of a contract because he was tired and ready for his golden years. There are no health issues that anyone is aware of, and no personal matters to attend to. He just decided at the end of a basketball game in the middle of the season that he was taking his things and going home.

He gave no warning, left his organization with no backup plan, and just walked away.

It may be harsh to call Sloan a quitter, but that’s exactly what I am doing, and I’ll say it again – Jerry Sloan cannot be the greatest head coach across sports without a title. Because he is a quitter.

Optimist Prime is going to portray Sloan as a legendary coach with a legendary tenure in the Jazz organization. But the only REAL accomplishment he ever showed was an ability to not get fired.

Owning the longest coaching tenure in sports with the same team does not make you great. In that “illustrious” tenure, which spanned 26 total seasons… the one that Optimist Prime will be raving about… how many times did he even SNIFF a shot at a championship? Twice, that’s it.

Think about the great AFC coaches of the NFL during the 1980s and 1990s. They were tasked with coaching in an inferior conference, loaded with inferior talent, against an NFC group that was better funded, and better skilled.

I’m talking about guys like Dan Reeves, and Marv Levy.

No matter how great of these coaches might have been, they simply did not have the weaponry to stack up against teams led by Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, or Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin.

But these were great coaches, and they had more comparative success in their shortened tenures than Sloan did over a much longer career.

Reeves coached for only 23 years, but won his conference four times. Levy managed to win four conference championships in only 17 seasons. Once again, Sloan boasts only two conference championships over a 26 year career.

While Sloan’s regular season W-L record is impressive, his playoff presence left much more to be desired. Over his career, he won only 98 playoff games, compared to 104 losses, for a playoff win percentage of .485 (that’s a losing record). Compare that to Reeves (.550), or Levy (.579).

If Sloan isn’t the greatest coach across sports without a title, is he at least the greatest coach in NBA history without a title? Once more, the answer is “no.”

That claim should belong to Don Nelson, who retired last season after 31 years in the NBA.

Nelson, a three-time NBA coach of the year, has won more games as an NBA coach than anyone else in league history. That puts him ahead of Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, Red Auerbach, and every other “great” to have coached in the league as far as wins go. But for all those victories, Nelson does not have a championship to his credit.

In fact, Jerry Sloan was never even the greatest coach in the league for a single season during his tenure, having never been recognized as Coach of the Year. While guys like Nelson, or even Mike Fratello (also without a championship) have managed to at least garner honors as the top coach within a single season, Sloan falls short of the mark yet again.

Make no mistake, Jerry Sloan had an impressive coaching career. But his legacy, highlighted only by endurance, and marred greatly by the manner in which he left the game, falls far short of the standards set by so many other great coaches out there never fortunate enough to win a championship.

I’m sorry, Mr. Sloan, but this is one more title you have failed to clinch.

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The Greatest NFL Franchise Debate… Yinz Got a Long Way To Go

February 3, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

We have heard all the numbers.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have won six Super Bowls, and could win their seventh on Sunday. The franchise has also tied the Dallas Cowboys for the most Super Bowl appearances (eight) and playoff victories (33) in NFL history.

If the award for being the greatest franchise in league history was given for Super Bowl success, then the Steelers would win the title hands down.

That, however, is not the case.

Perhaps an argument can be made that the Pittsburgh Steelers are the greatest franchise of the Super Bowl era (and even that is based only on the quantity of Super Bowls won). But for a league like the NFL, whose rich history and tradition extends FAR beyond just the league’s current championship game, the assumption that the Super Bowl is the only standard by which franchise greatness can be determined is completely absurd.

Furthermore, making the statement that the Pittsburgh Steelers are the greatest franchise in NFL history, because they have the most Super Bowl success is like saying that Florida is the greatest college football program because it has won the most BCS national championships.

Break down and assess the qualities of the Pittsburgh Steelers that are lauded as justification for the title of “Greatest Franchise in NFL History.” Analysis shows that the Steelers are actually lacking in both quality AND quantity.

We Got Six. How Many Yinz Got?
Ask anyone in Pittsburgh why they think the Steelers are the greatest franchise in NFL history, and that is the response that you will get. Of course, they are referring to their unprecedented six Super Bowl championships (with a possible seventh on the way).

When you consider the fact that there are still five franchises that have never won a single Super Bowl – let alone six Super Bowls – I cannot deny the impressive stature of that claim.

But let’s add the perspective of history to that claim, and see where it REALLY stacks up.

Professional Football in America began in 1920, with the official formation of the NFL coming two years later in 1922. Since then, there have been 88 different NFL championships awarded, only 44 of which were titled Super Bowls.

That means the Super Bowl era only accounts for HALF of the league’s ACTUAL history. So what about the OTHER half?

During that 44 year stretch, the Pittsburgh Steelers won exactly ZERO championships, while teams like the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, and Cleveland Browns owned the gridiron.

In fact, when you look at the total number of professional football championships won, the Steelers six titles ranks them as FIFTH on the list, behind the Green Bay Packers (12), Chicago Bears (nine), Cleveland Browns (eight), and New York Giants (seven). That means that, with a win on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, the “alleged” greatest Franchise in NFL history will climb to the lofty peak of being tied with the New York Giants for only the FOURTH most championships in history.

Conveniently Ignoring History
While the Pittsburgh Steelers have been among the most dominant franchises of the second half of the league’s 88 year history, the team’s first-half performance was ABYSMAL. But the “Yinzers” seem to have forgotten about THOSE years.

For the first 37 years of the franchise’s history the Pittsburgh Steelers played to a combined record of 168-270-18. That’s a HORRIBLE winning percentage of just .368. During that same period the Steelers recorded only five seasons with a winning record (that means 32 losing seasons), and only one post-season appearance, a 1947 blowout at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Then came Chuck Noll and the Steelers’ Dynasty of the 1970s, when the franchise earned four Super Bowl Championships between 1974 and 1979.

Again, the 1970s marked a very impressive run, and the accomplishment cannot be ignored. But when you consider that five year stretch in the context that the league had already crowned 52 OTHER NFL champions before it happened, the accomplishment loses some if its significance historically.

Similarly, the present-day Steelers organization has essentially dominated the league for a period of five years, from 2005–2010.

Therefore, in the 88 year history of the NFL, the Steelers have been dominant for two five-year stretches. THAT’S IT!

The VAST MAJORITY of the Steelers’ 77 year history was spent in pathetic futility.

Other Historical Comparisons
The Pittsburgh Steelers may be tied with the Dallas Cowboys for the most post-season victories in NFL history, but again, many of those victories came at a time in the league when more post-season games were played each season. Using the 2005 Super Bowl championship as an example, that year alone accounted for FOUR different post-season victories.

In terms of historical context, getting four post-season victories in one year is not nearly as impressive as getting a playoff victory in four consecutive years. The team that can consistently sustain post-season success over an extended period of time is by far the greater franchise.

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers, in a 77 year history, have reached the post-season 26 times. By comparison, the Dallas Cowboys have reached the post-season 30 times in a history that spans only 50 years. That’s more appearances by the Cowboys in fewer seasons, and simple math will tell you that the Steelers reach the playoffs only 34 percent of the time, while the Cowboys have done it 60 percent of the time.
  • As for total franchise victories, the Steelers are once again fifth on the list with 541 total victories, behind the Washington Redskins (547), the New York Giants (636), the Green Bay Packers (664), and the Chicago Bears (704).
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers boast a franchise win percentage of .520, ranking them 14th out of 32 active franchises.
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a total of 19 Hall of Famers. Compare that to the Chicago Bears (26), or the Green Bay Packers (21).

Keeping Things in Perspective
No matter which way you slice it, the Pittsburgh Steelers fall WELL SHORT of historical superiority. The franchise does not have the most championships, the most Hall of Famers, the most wins, or the best win percentage. And, for the first FOUR DECADES of existence, the Steelers were the bottom-feeders of professional football.

They are a team that was founded before World War II, but not until the mid-1970s did they have ANY success. The only REAL success came in two very different five-year periods that have book-ended the last 40 years.

Yes, the Steelers may have won the most championships in the NFL over the last 44 years, but do they deserve the title of Greatest Franchise in NFL History?

Not by a Cleveland Mile!

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The Best One-Loss Season Debate Verdict

January 26, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Optimist Prime and Babe Ruthless.

It is not very often that you can compare and contrast the radically different sports of horse racing and football, but that is exactly the context of this debate.

Both the 2007 New England Patriots and the horse Zenyatta flirted with immortality before it was cruelly ripped away from them at the zero hour. For the Patriots, they stood on the cusp of becoming the only team in NFL history to cap off a perfect 16-game season with a Super Bowl victory, while Zenyatta entered her final race with the hopes of being the only horse to retire at a perfect 20-0.

Both performed spectacularly. While they may have fallen short of becoming legends, their respective destinations should not overshadow their brilliant journeys.

If we hopped into the way-back machine, and were to assess the 2007 Patriots BEFORE the Super Bowl matchup against the Giants, then compare that to the career of Zenyatta BEFORE the 2010 Breeder’s Cup Classic, whose performance would history deem as being greater?

On history’s behalf, allow me to answer – Zenyatta.

What ultimately won the day for Zenyatta (and vicariously for Optimist Prime) is the fact that Zenyatta’s career was legendary BEFORE her final race. The fact that she lost to Blame at the 2010 Breeder’s Cup Classic is an unfortunate close to her legacy, but she had already established herself among the greatest horses ever to run – win OR lose.

Over her career, as Optimist Prime points out, Zenyatta significantly changed the sport of Horse Racing. In a sport where notoriety traditionally comes from success at the fabled Triple Crown races, Zenyatta blazed a new path to horse racing superstardom.

Thanks to Zenyatta, no longer is a Kentucky Derby victory a pre-requisite for horse racing greatness.

Think about the greatest horses in racing history – Secretariat, War Admiral, Affirmed, and more. Each was made great by their performance in the Triple Crown. Likewise, consider the horses of modern racing who have reached superstar status – Barbaro, Big Brown, Smarty Jones, and more. Just as with the former group, it is their respective Triple Crown performance that give them notoriety.

Zenyatta was different.

Instead of hoping to catch superstardom at the spectacle of the Kentucky Derby, she was the first horse to win two separate races at the Breeder’s Cup, was the first Mare to ever win the Classic, and no other horse has more consecutive Grade/Group One victories than Zenyatta. She became a celebrity by virtue of her outstanding CAREER, rather than her performance in three individual races.

Not since Man o’ War had a horse so captured the public’s eye without racing in the Triple Crown, and that is only because Man o’ War’s time came BEFORE the Triple Crown.

It is true that the New England Patriots also set many records. As Babe Ruthless mentions, they remain the only team ever to complete an undefeated 16-game regular season. But the NFL is always evolving. As it evolves, the statistical accomplishments of previous eras lose relevance. For the very same reasons that Babe Ruthless mitigates the 1972 Dolphins’ perfect season (because it came over a 14, rather than 16, game season), folks will one day mitigate the records of the New England Patriots as we now move closer to an 18-game season.

What does not lose relevance, though, is the fact that there has already been a perfect champion in the NFL. No matter how great the statistical achievements of the 2007 Patriots (as pointed out by Babe Ruthless), they were attempting to REPEAT history, not make it. Yes, it is true that the 1972 Dolphins played two less games, but they were nonetheless perfect champions.

Unlike the 2007 Patriots, Zenyatta was a pioneer.

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The Best One-Loss Season Debate

January 24, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Optimist Prime and Babe Ruthless.

In most years – and in most sports – the notion of perfection is lost long before the possibility is truly believed.

Each sport has its own idea of what constitutes perfection. But, no matter the sport, competitors who flirt with perfection draw a lot of attention. As they near that perfect effort, the pressure mounts. By the time the moment arrives – whether it is the tenth frame, the ninth inning, or the final game of the season – the world is watching.

In that moment when perfection is realized, history is instantly made. But how do you measure a failure to make history, especially when it comes in the final seconds of the quest?

Which brings us to our question for the day.

Whose one-loss effort was better, race horse Zenyatta, or the 2007 New England Patriots?

The 2007 New England Patriots tore through the regular season and stood one game away from becoming only the second team in NFL history to complete a perfect season before losing to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.

In 2010, race horse Zenyatta entered the Breeder’s Cup Classic with an unblemished 19-0 record. The Breeder’s Cup was to be Zenyatta’s final race, and a victory in that race meant that the horse would retire at a perfect 20-0. But in the stretch, it was the horse Blame that claimed the Cup.

History will define both legacies by the number in their respective “L” columns, but we are going to look past those unfortunate numbers for today and focus on which “W” column is greater.

Babe Ruthless feels that the New England Patriots quest for immortality was the better of the two, while Optimist Prime thinks Zenyatta takes the crown (even if only by a nose).

You see… losers can still be winners!

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The Which Lockout Hurts More Debate… NBA Enjoys Fans Thanks to Fair Weather

January 19, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Optimist Prime.

I am just going to come right out on the record – 2011 could be a really lousy year for sports, ESPECIALLY if we have lockouts in both the NBA and the NFL.

There is little doubt that fans would miss the NFL more than they would the NBA. That is not intended as a slight against the NBA, but when you consider the relative popularity of each sport, the NFL is far and away the king. The loss of the NFL, a league where popularity supersedes the NBA, would correspondingly supersede the loss of the NBA.

But we are not arguing about the sport that would be MISSED the most if they both close up shop for part or all of the next season. We are arguing about which sport itself which has more to lose. In answer to that, there is also little doubt – this time it’s the NBA.

Think about it. The NFL is the undisputed champion when it comes to fan support. While the loss of the NFL will greatly impact fans, the clamor for its return will be equally as great. The moment a deal gets signed, and REAL NFL players once again take to the gridiron, fans will flood back in droves. The NFL would not skip a beat in fan support.

The NBA will not be so lucky.

The NBA’s popularity right now is not sustainable. The league has prospered thanks to media obsession and the celebrity of LeBron James. The circus of “The Decision,” as well as the media frenzy in trying to predict where LeBron will sign, has single-handedly fueled the NBA’s national relevance for the past three seasons.

I am not exaggerating. Since 2008, the biggest stories out of the NBA were all about whether LeBron’s latest comments or actions could be an indication of his intentions for the summer of 2010.

Then, once “The Decision” was announced, fans have continued to follow the NBA, because they wanted to A) see how LeBron and company performed in Miami, and B) boo him whenever he comes to town.

Whether good guy or villain, the NBA owes its relevance to LeBron James.

As soon as LeBron goes away, the media will stop caring, the fans will forget, and the league loses all relevance.

Why the difference? Because unlike the NFL, where parity guarantees that every team can contend for the post-season every year, the NBA is completely dominated by a very small handful of franchises, a reality that is demonstrated in several different ways.

Fan Attendance
Even “bad” teams in the NFL repeatedly sell out each of game. In fact, during the 2010 season, nine different franchises AVERAGED sellouts for the entire season, and 30 out of 32 teams averaged to sell AT LEAST 80 percent of their total tickets. Compare that with the NBA, where only seven teams are averaging sellouts for each home game, with nine of the teams in the league failing to even reach that 80 percent total.

Value
When Forbes published their list of the 50 most valuable sports franchises in the world last year, all 32 NFL franchises were on the list BEFORE a single NBA franchise was named, including the Buffalo Bills (33rd), Jacksonville Jaguars (37th), and Detroit Lions (38th). In fact, even the Formula One’s Ferrari Team (16th) is valued greater than any franchise the NBA has to offer. (In case you are wondering, the NBA barely even cracked the top 50, as its two most valuable franchises – the Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks – checked in at 49 and 50, respectively).

What do these numbers mean? They mean that fans love the NFL more than the NBA. Even the perennial “losers” like Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo continue to generate greater revenue, and sell more tickets, than the very best of the NBA.

If NBA fans can’t even support their winners in the same manner as the NFL, what on earth is there to entice fans in Minneapolis or in Memphis to come back to the league once they’ve had a few months to forget that their teams stink?

Yes, the NFL would lose a TON of money while the players sit out, but the recovery would be exponentially faster than that of the NBA. It is not the immediacy of the lockout that these leagues need to fear, it is the long term ramifications. Between the NFL and the NBA, the road to recovery will be MUCH rockier for the hoopsters.

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The Risky Draft Declaration Debate… Don’t Be a Fool, Stay in School

January 17, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

Normally, I would be the guy screaming that a college football player should go pro the moment that he is deemed NFL worthy.

Unless you are a player who could use the extra year of college to help vault yourself into a much more worthwhile draft position (like moving from being a late first/early second-round selection one year to a top-ten overall projection the next), the extra year of college will probably not do you any good. In fact, you should take the money now and run, because the opportunity for a multi-million dollar contract won’t always be on the table, but while opportunity to finish your college education almost surely will be.

That is exactly the advice I would normally give to an underclassman NFL prospect. But the 2011 NFL Draft is not going to be a NORMAL draft.

What good is time spent in a gym, when it COULD be spent on the field actually keeping you fresh and in GAME-READY condition? More, what good is being drafted to an NFL franchise with the promise of a multi-million dollar contract that you can’t collect on because the league is on lockout and NOBODY is getting paid?

Well, those are exactly the prospects facing underclassmen who decided to take the early leap into the NFL.

The reason this year is different is because of the still unresolved issue with the still unresolved collective bargaining agreement between the players and the owners. This is not your standard, run-of-the-mill contract negotiation, either.

Without getting into the minutiae of how each and every negotiation has processed, here is a simple breakdown of how we ended up where negotiations stand (a more thorough, but still understandable, explanation can be found here):

The current CBA was originally scheduled to expire in 2013, but owners chose to opt-out two years early. They feel that the players are taking too much of the league’s money, and have basically drawn a line in the sand, hoping to force the players into a renegotiation. With issues like an 18-game schedule, rookie salary scales, and player safety still unresolved, the likelihood of a new CBA being settled before the next season gets underway gets slimmer and slimmer.

In this situation, A plus B equals lockout.

With a lockout looming on the horizon there will still be an NFL Draft, but after that, all league operations cease. That means no trades, no rookie camps, no OTAs, and most importantly, no training camp and no regular season.

What that likely means to the group of underclassmen taking the early plunge into the NFL, is no security, and no playing time.

They will miss out on a most crucial period in their early NFL development – Rookie Camp. They will miss out on the opportunity to practice with and get to know their new teammates. They will miss out on the opportunity to test their mettle and learn from playing with NFL veterans.

Most importantly, they will do so WITHOUT guarantee of a paycheck, and without the luxury of a safety net that previous season salaries have afforded their new teammates.

What they SHOULD have done is follow the lead of Andrew Luck. Luck, who was almost certainly going to be the top overall draft pick, has decided to forego his opportunity to enter the NFL as an underclassman to return to Stanford for his final college season.

It is true that he will gain nothing financially. But while players like Cam Newton, A.J. Green, Mark Ingram, and Ryan Mallett are sitting in a weight room somewhere just hoping that a deal gets done, Luck will be playing real, competitive football.

Now I know what you are thinking (and what Loyal Homer has probably written)… what if Luck gets hurt in his final college season? Won’t that cost him money?

Well, Sam Bradford suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder at Oklahoma, not once, but twice. When the draft came around, who went first overall? Bradford, to the tune of a six-year, $78M contract.

Adrian Peterson suffered MANY injuries over his college career, including a broken collarbone that ended his final season after only a few weeks. But that didn’t stop the Minnesota Vikings from drafting him seventh overall, and signing him to a six-year, $40.5M contract.

I think it’s safe to say that both Bradford and Peterson are doing great right now, and with sports medicine being what it is today, the likelihood of a REAL career-ending injury is very slim. Most, if not all of the underclassmen from this year, would have played out their final NCAA season without incident. Those who were injured would likely STILL not have seen it impact their NFL earning power.

It’s a simple choice – risk missing an entire year of playing time to enter a league with no structure, and most importantly, no guarantee of a paycheck, or stay in college and continue to improve your skill set ON THE FIELD in REAL competition, while adding to your future value in the NFL.

For those who took early eligibility, they have essentially put a blindfold on and dove head-first into a career without having any idea what to expect. By waiting one more season, this year’s underclassmen could have let all the NFL CBA dust settle. Then, when they finally DID take the plunge, they would know exactly what they were getting into.

They would have at least maintained, if not improved, their NFL value… and would have done so by staying in game-ready condition for a whole year while the rest of the NFL spent their time lifting weights and twiddling their thumbs for zero salary.

Any gambler worth his or her salt will tell you that in this case, the risk is just not worth the reward. So to quote Mr. T – “Don’t be a fool. Stay in school.”

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The Pick Your Cornerstone QB Debate… I Want to Live in Mr. Rodgers’ Neighborhood

January 17, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Optimist Prime.

Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Jay Cutler, or Mark Sanchez?

In the TV hit game show Million Dollar Money Drop, if those are my four options, I’m putting the whole $1M on Aaron Rodgers.

It’s that simple. If I am running a professional football team with just one game left to win, and those are my four options, Aaron Rodgers is the guy I want under center, and for good reason. In the three seasons since taking over Green Bay’s drivers’ seat after what’s-his-name left, Rodgers has become one of the brightest young stars in the NFL.

In just a quick comparison between Rodgers and the guy he took over for (I think his name was Brett something… Favre, that’s it!) through their first three seasons as starters for the Packers:

  • Rodgers started 47 games, Favre started 47 games
  • Rodgers passed for 12,394 yards, Favre passed for 10,412 yards
  • Rodgers passed for 86 TDs, Favre passed for 70 TDs
  • Rodgers passed for 31 interceptions, Favre passed for 51 interceptions
  • Rodgers led the Pack to a combined record of 27-20, Favre’s record was 26-19

That’s right. Rodgers has already started off his career better than the greatest quarterback statistically to ever play the game. But the fact that he is already off to a better career than Favre at this point is only part of the reason why I would choose Rodgers as the field general leading my team into battle.

The REAL reason why Rodgers is the ONLY man I would want taking snaps for my team is not how he performs in the regular season, but how he performs in the post-season.

In three playoff appearances so far Rodgers has passed for 969 yards (323 yards per game average) with 10 touchdowns and only one interception. Oh yeah, he also has two rushing scores to add to that total.

It doesn’t matter who is on the field with him, Aaron Rodgers will find a way to get the ball into the end zone.

This season Rodgers has had to find ways to win without his Pro Bowl running back, Ryan Grant, and his favorite target, Tight End Jermichael Finley. Still, he managed to win games. Now he is leading the Packers into the NFC Championship Game as the hottest quarterback still playing.

Aaron Rodgers has already outgunned Michael Vick and Matt Ryan, two of the so-called top quarterbacks in the NFC. With those two out of the picture, and Tom Brady having fallen to the New York Jets, there is no quarterback left standing that can match Rodgers’ performance on the field.

Rodgers may not have the resume of Ben Roethlisberger, or the supporting cast of superstars like Mark Sanchez has in LaDanian Tomlinson and S’Antonio Holmes, but if I need one guy to win one game for me, Aaron Rodgers is that guy!

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